Secretariat

The Horse That Won’t Leave Me Alone

Here are my thoughts, afterthoughts, and somewhat whimsical thoughts of this year’s Breeders’ Cup, which, as usual, had plenty of storylines, both good and bad. ~ Steve Haskin

The Horse That Won’t Leave Me Alone

By Steve Haskin

 

After the Kentucky Derby I wrote a column on how I, or dare I say my wife, blew an opportunity to own a micro share in Authentic through one of the colt’s co-owners MyRacehorse.com. But micro or not, sometimes a strand a horse’s tail is worth more than a strand of golden pearls.

But that’s OK, there are no regrets, especially since I have said all year that Authentic didn’t fit the profile of a Derby winner. Then he got beat by a filly in the Preakness and all seemed normal once again. He wouldn’t have the audacity to rebound from that and beat the best older horses in the country as well as Tiz the Law once again under far better conditions for the runaway Travers winner.

But I noticed something in the Preakness. Authentic’s Thoro-Graph figure was a sensational negative-3 ¼, which was a great deal faster than the winner. That figure also made him the fastest horse going into the Breeders’ Cup Classic, faster even than his illustrious older stablemates Improbable and Maximum Security.

We witnessed in the Derby and Preakness just how far Authentic had progressed mentally from his races in the spring. That progression manifested itself in his gutsy performances. Whether he won or lost he had become a fighter, a mentally tough pro who no longer believed in waving a white flag as he did in the Santa Anita Derby when he let Honor A.P. sweep by him without a fight.

So that gave him credibility in the Classic, but would they let him dash out to a clear lead and control the pace as he did in the Derby and the way he wants to run? Certainly Maximum Security wouldn’t allow it, nor would Global Campaign. And you knew for certain that Derby runner-up Tiz the Law would be tracking him like a bloodhound chasing a drag. He was not going to let the scent fade this time. And how about Higher Power bringing his California speed east well before the Breeders’ Cup and turning in five spectacular works at Keeneland?

But then something happened. Keeneland, or whoever was in charge of such things, decided, as some racetracks tend to do on big days, that track records equate to quality, and on Breeders’ Cup day the track had somehow turned into a paved highway. There were no fans in attendance, but that didn’t mean they couldn’t break track records all day. And break them they did. Six-furlong record…gone. Seven-furlong record…gone. One-mile record…gone.

And now came the big finale. When I covered the Classic for the Blood-Horse I usually had to write 3,000 to 3,500 words. In this space I can accomplish that with far fewer words. Authentic goes to the lead. The others decide to become merely spectators and are content to just watch his Big Ass Fanny get smaller and smaller. Just like on the old Keeneland conveyor belt, Authentic bounds away in isolated splendor as if in a morning workout. The result: the mile and a quarter record…gone. Speedway closed. Breeders’ Cup over. Horse of the Year decided. Story written. And to rub salt in the wound, he had the audacity to tack on a million-dollar bonus by winning the Haskell, Derby, and Classic.

It didn’t take long for my Facebook page to explode with comments about the track like: “Infuriating,” “a total farce,” “ridiculous,” “shame on them,” and to sum it up, someone resorted to Woody Allen’s classic line from the movie Bananas: “It was a travesty of a mockery of a sham of a mockery of a travesty of two mockeries of a sham.” One veteran horsewoman wrote: “On Friday morning, standing on the apron, my first thought was ‘Well, I hope they put the cushion back on. It sounded like thunder out there.’”

This is not a knock on Authentic by any means. He has proven himself to be the fastest of the fast with a warrior’s attitude and the ability to outrun his speed-oriented pedigree.

Not owning a snippet of his flying mane is well behind me. I can appreciate the horse for what he is and what he has meant to the thousands of people who did cough up the $206 to be part of this magical adventure.

But now that the Classic is over I can finally rid myself of the spectre of this horse. My wife couldn’t care less because she isn’t the one who feels compelled to write about him. Well, actually neither do I if I don’t want to. We all know that the ownership, headed by Spendthrift Farm, is not going to resist the siren’s call of the breeding shed and all those big bucks the shareholders will be able to start raking in.

In fact, to show what a sport I am and how much I feel the racing fans deserve another year of Authentic to see what further growth there is, and to possibly allow him the chance to get inducted into the Hall of Fame, I dare, no doubledare, no doubledogdare, Spendthrift Farm and partners to keep him in training next year even at the expense of me having to endure his presence hanging over my head for another year. Either way I win. But I am thinking of the sport we know as horse RACING. The sport needs Authentic to race next year. So does Authentic’s legacy.

So I have thrown down the challenge. Let’s stop retiring our stars when they are still basically teenagers. Now, you may ask yourself, does he really want this horse to hang around another year and torment him or is he really serious about keeping him in training for the good of the sport?

Just remember, I grew up in this sport watching Buckpasser, Damascus, Dr. Fager, Seattle Slew, Affirmed, and Spectacular Bid remain in training at 4 and solidify their greatness. I know the joy and excitement of seeing a horse reach his full potential, just as the younger generation has seen the potential of Triple Crown winners American Pharoah and Justify and other 3-year-olds go unfulfilled.

If Authentic leaves us after eight lifetime starts, racing will have chipped away another piece of its already eroding structure. As for me, I will miss seeing what he can accomplish next year with even more maturity and I will feel badly for all the deprived fans. But at least I won’t have to write about him anymore.

Oh, by the way, if anyone wants to sell their share at a profit, I can go up to $207.

The Rest of the Story

Robert La Penta wisely decided to stay home and watch the Breeders’ Cup on TV rather than cheer on his Sprint runner Whitmore and Mile runner Uni in person. As much as he wanted to be there, especially to say farewell to his beloved 7-year-old Whitmore, who was making his fourth attempt at the Sprint, he decided not to take any risks.

“I was seriously considering going,” La Penta said. “It’s not the same there with Covid, and I am high risk, being only 80 to 90 percent back from Legionnaires disease (that nearly killed him several years ago).”

By watching on TV, La Penta was able to see something that lifted his confidence level. As Whitmore was being loaded, he lashed back in full force with his hind legs and didn’t miss the assistant starter by that much.

“When I saw him kicking, I thought, ‘I’m good.’” La Penta said.

After Whitmore drew off to win the Sprint, capping off an amazing career and chalking one up for the oldtimers, La Penta could not hold back the tears. “I’ve been crying since he won,” he said. “What a legend. What a hero.”

And that is what racing needs more than anything – heroes.

Before the Breeders’ Cup, Jill Baffert, wife of trainer Bob Baffert, admitted the trying times the family have been going through, especially with the two positive drug tests from Gamine this year, both attributed to contamination.

“We’re just trying to stay down and avoid all incoming missiles,” she said. “Thank God for the horses… they are the bright spot in hard times.  We’ll get through it. I’m praying so hard for Gamine to win. That sweet little thing has so much going on around her. She’s such a love, so beautiful and kind. It crushes my soul; all of it.”

So, as if to show just what a sensational filly she is and to silence the doubters, she went out and crushed the fastest filly sprinters in the country to remain undefeated around one turn. Beautiful and kind, she has proven once again she is a freakishly fast filly who can run the proverbial hole in the wind.

And, of course, a salute to the great Monomoy Girl and all those who were willing and able to bring her back after 18 months, having already won a championship and an Breeders’ Cup race. It was so wonderful to see such a sporting gesture get rewarded. Now she can retire as one of the truly great ones.

What a shame that the amazing campaigns of Swiss Skydiver and Starlight Jubilee had to end so ignominiously, with the indefatigable Swiss Skydiver stumbling badly at the start of the Distaff and dropping back to the rear the field where she had no chance. She did put in a strong run along the rail, but could not sustain it, especially on such a speed-favoring track. And then you had the 7-year-old Canadian-based former claimer turned Horse of the Year Starship Jubilee, who was coming a Grade 1 victory over the boys in the Woodbine Mile, stumbling so badly at the start she threw her rider. A sad ending for both fillies.

And finally a shout out to the remarkable Irish-trained filly Magical, who once again finished second in the BC Turf. The 5-year-old mare concluded her career with 16 consecutive races against the boys, 14 of them Grade 1, and finishing in the money in 15 of them. She will be missed.

Make of the 2020 Breeders’ Cup what you want. It came at a tumultuous and trying time in America and, except for the racetrack, brought two days of excitement and sanity to racing fans.

OK, I’ll go up to $208 for that Authentic share.

11/9/20 Postscript:

Authentic retired — what took them so long?

There are two sounds I am hearing today:

“Ka-ching” — the sound of a cash register 

“Bang” — the sound of another door slamming in the face of racing, and the sound of the door of the Hall of Fame slamming in the face of another horse whisked off to stud at 3.

Photo by Eclipse Wire courtesy of Breeders’ Cup