Secretariat

An Authentic Winner of Vox Populi Award

The fans have spoken, and although this year’s five finalists in the Vox Populi Award were one of the most competitive groups in its history, with four horses receiving a significant amount of votes, it all came down to which horse did more for the sport, while putting together a championship campaign. ~ Steve Haskin

An Authentic Winner of Vox Populi Award

By Steve Haskin

 

When Penny Chenery came up with the idea for the Vox Populi Award 10 years ago it was to “recognize the racehorse whose popularity and racing excellence best resounded with the public and gained recognition for the sport during the past year.”

Now that we have the official terminology of what the award represents, let’s see if we can decipher its meaning and see how it applies to this year’s winner Authentic.

Did Authentic win because he won the Kentucky Derby and Breeders’ Cup Classic and is a sure bet for Horse of the Year? One would hope not. That is what the Eclipse Awards are for.

Did he win because he was the most popular horse in the country? Well he certainly received the most votes, but was he more popular than Monomoy Girl and her remarkable comeback at age 5? More popular than racing’s new “Iron Lady” and throwback Swiss Skydiver? Did he inspire more affection than Canada’s one-eyed wonder Mighty Heart and 7-year-old slayer of males Starship Jubilee? Or invoke more familiarity than the old warrior Whitmore and his four-year quest for Breeders’ Cup glory? Those questions are difficult to answer, but one wouldn’t think so if you base it solely on Authentic’s stakes accomplishments and the adoration he received from the general public. And he certainly didn’t have people converging on Bob Baffert’s barn to visit him as they did for American Pharoah.

So that leaves “gained recognition for the sport.”

That certainly is open to interpretation. We know how the aforementioned horses gained recognition for the sport and what they gave to racing fans. But what exactly did Authentic give to racing fans? That is where he in his own way stands apart from the others in a profound way. While they gave fans great backstories, some of them your typical Cinderella tales, Authentic gave racing fans something horses normally don’t give them – hope.

Hope in the future of the sport in the sense that ordinary folks who once could only dream of owning a racehorse, even a lowly claimer, now for the first time can see that dream become a reality. For the 5,300-plus fans who went on MyRacehorse.com and put up $206 for a chance at a brief thrill, reality would far surpass even their wildest dreams as they became an integral part of the fabric of the sport, while bringing hope to others who will now try to repeat the fairy tale written by Authentic.

By providing that hope for the future, as well as the thrills and emotions experienced by so many at racing’s highest level, Authentic most certainly gained recognition for the sport in ways never before imagined.

So, this was not necessarily a case of an overload of Authentic shareholders casting their vote. It was about a horse who, unlike former Vox Populi winner American Pharoah, provided so much more than just being popular on a one-on-one basis.

Remember long ago when you were a kid sitting atop a beautifully adorned carousel horse, and you kept reaching for that brass ring, just for the thrill of grabbing hold of it? Well, because of Authentic, that carousel horse became a living, breathing entity and that brass ring you grabbed hold of turned to gold right before your eyes. And now others will hop on the carousel for their chance to experience racing’s ultimate thrill ride.

One who already has experienced it is Leslie Bonnette from Stanford, Kentucky, and her words describe beautifully why Authentic is a deserving winner of this year’s Vox Populi Award.

“That $206 was the best money that I have spent through this crazy COVID world,” she said. “I retired to Kentucky from Arizona because of my love of horses. Secretariat will always have a piece of my heart and I was lucky enough to have two of his daughters until the end of their lives. Then came Authentic. I have never seen him in person – yet – but he, like Secretariat, has filled a piece of that love I have for the horses. He amazed me as I watched him compete– even if it was owning only a couple of hairs from his tail. Now I am waiting to visit him in person at Spendthrift Farm when he is available after his duties with the ladies. I will be the one standing by him in amazement and gratitude. I can now truthfully say that I own a piece of a Kentucky Derby winner with pride.”

For Susan Lehr of Laurel, Maryland, it took a little convincing before she invested, but Authentic has changed her life, and for that she will always be grateful.

“I bought one share for myself and one share as an engagement gift for my nephew and his fiancé who are also racing fans,” she said. “Little did I know it would be a gift that keeps on giving.

When Authentic won the Derby it took several minutes to sink in. Then my nephew called me and his excitement was infectious. Purchasing a micro-share of Authentic through MyRacehorse and watching him win the Kentucky Derby and the Breeders’ Cup Classic has been the ride of a lifetime. The cost of being part of normal racehorse ownership syndicate is out of reach for the average person. A mere $206 investment brought me the same excitement, joy, and elation as someone who owned the horse outright.  The feeling comes in waves; the immediate excitement at the moment of victory, the disbelief that you own a whisker of a Kentucky Derby winner, then the pride in sharing your story with friends and family. 

“Sure, I’ll likely get a return on my investment through breeding dividends but being a micro-shareholder of Authentic has not been about money.  It’s been a once-in-a-lifetime experience.  I’ve gained 5,314 friends and I imagine that each time I hear someone utter the word ‘authentic’ in general conversation I’ll be beaming.  The experience has been priceless and this feeling will last forever.”

Bobby Bulger and his wife Lisa run the Monmouth Park Facebook page and are fixtures at that track. So they always have a soft spot in their heart for horses who compete there, especially Maximum Security, to whom they became extremely close. But when Authentic won the Haskell they had no idea what that victory would lead to.

“Coming into the Haskell, I had never seen Authentic in person and I fell in love with him in the paddock,” Bobby said. “Unlike Max who’s built like Mike Tyson, Authentic was more on the side of Lennox Lewis — longer and leaner and more athletic looking. Lisa came to me prior to the Derby and her birthday and asked me if I would buy a share of our Haskell champ Authentic for her birthday gift. I jumped at the opportunity to give Lisa what she wanted, and it was something that made me quite happy as well.

“Being a shareholder of our Monmouth Haskell champion was beyond exciting. But on Sept. 5th, 2020, a year unprecedented in every way, we officially became shareholders of a Kentucky Derby winner, something neither of us could ever have imagined. I’m not sure that it has totally sunk in yet. That is, until our Kentucky Derby win photo arrived as a shareholder of Authentic. We are now linked to this horse eternally.”

All you have to do is read these comments to appreciate just what Authentic meant to so many people and the door he opened for others to share these same kinds of thrills. Will there be another Authentic for those who hop on the carousel? No one can answer that, but as long as the brass ring is there, people will continue to reach for it, now knowing that it can turn to gold at any time.

Right now that gold ring may be frolicking in a field somewhere or is about to begin training, just waiting for you to snatch up one of those strands of hair from his or her tail. One thing about a carousel, it keeps going round and round, and thanks to Authentic you never know when you will be aboard for the ride of a lifetime.