By Nicholas Godfrey
USA: Authentic will start a hot favourite to follow up his front-running Kentucky Derby triumph by becoming a record eighth winner of the Preakness Stakes (10.36pm BST) for his trainer Bob Baffert in the $1 million highlight of a glittering Saturday programme in the States.
Revised US Triple Crown races for 2020
The final leg of the Triple Crown in this upside-down, coronavirus-affected year, the 145th running of the Pimlico Classic finally takes place four weeks after the Run for the Roses – and four and a half months after its usual scheduled slot in the middle of May.
What is more, the Preakness also has to share the limelight with no fewer than five other G1 events elsewhere amid a slew of Breeders’ Cup preps – several of them at Keeneland, where this year’s two-day championship will be held on November 6-7.
Authentic (Bob Baffert/John Velazquez), who overcame a wide draw at Churchill Downs to thwart Tiz The Law, is joined by stablemate Thousand Words (Florent Geroux), scratched before the Kentucky Derby after misbehaving in the paddock and injuring Baffert’s assistant Jimmy Barnes.
Art Collector (Tommy Drury/Brian Hernandez) gets his Classic chance after being scratched in the week leading up to the Derby owing to a minor foot issue.
Those who did run at Churchill Downs going in again are third-placed Mr Big News (Bret Calhoun/Gabriel Saez), Max Player (fifth, Steve Asmussen/Paco Lopez) and NY Traffic (eighth, Saffie Joseph/Horacio Karamanos).
Added spice arrives in the shape of Kentucky Oaks runner-up Swiss Skydiver (Kenny McPeek/Robby Albarado), bidding to become only the sixth filly to win the Preakness and the first since the brilliant Rachel Alexandra in 2009.
Elsewhere, Keeneland stages no fewer than nine Breeders’ Cup ‘Win and You’re In’ Challenge series races over its ‘Fall Stars Weekend’, headed by the $750,000 Shadwell Turf Mile (10.57pm BST) in which front-runner Halladay bids for back-to-back G1 wins after the Fourstardave.
Breeders’ Cup Mile winner Uni faces Chad Brown-trained stablemate Newspaperofrecord in the First Lady (9.51pm BST), while Kentucky Oaks winner Shedaresthedevil and Wesley Ward’s Royal Ascot runner-up Golden Pal are among the big names on Sunday’s card at the Lexington venue.
What they say about the Preakness
Mr Big News: “Typical situation, improving three-year-old, and here we are running October 3 and he’s moved forward, improved and taken us there. We’ve got to be better, honestly – we’ve got to improve, and Authentic has to either regress a little bit or have some kind of trip that’s unfavourable to him and favourable for me. He was very impressive Derby Day. He earned it. He set hot fractions and finished up well. So there’s a margin there that we’re going to have to find a little more horse.” Bret Calhoun (trainer)
Art Collector: “I think his last two works have kind of shown his hand a little bit. I don’t think you could ask the horse to work any better. He seems like he’s happy enough – he’s kind of throwing his ears up, galloping out and certainly galloping out strong enough and at this stage, he’s showing some animation around the barn and out on the grass when he’s grazing, and just seems like a horse that’s doing well, that we should be able to go take our best shot with.” Tommy Drury (trainer)
Swiss Skydiver: “I know she will make the distance without any problem and I think she will like that racetrack. Of course, she has raced everywhere and whatever racetrack she has raced over she has handled great. It was a tough call between racing against straight three-year-olds or older fillies and mares or turf, which was briefly thought about; there are no three-year-old filly Grade 1s. She gets a little bit of weight off and she’s continuing to do good. She continues to impress us every day. She eats great. You can’t have fear – we’d like to get the big prize and here we are. It’s all gravy. She only cost $35,000. She’s done more than we’d ever dreamt and she hopefully continues to do that.” Kenny McPeek (trainer)
Thousand Words: “He’s fast. He gets away from there. I added a little blinker to him. He’s got a lot of speed but he’s not as quick as Authentic. If he gets into a nice rhythm and is right there you just never know. As the gamblers say, he is the ‘other Baffert’. Thousand Words has been very good here. I expect him to run a big race too. He’s getting over the track really well.”
Bob Baffert (trainer)
Jesus’ Team: “It’s very exciting. I’m very nervous, too. I have only one year training in USA. It’s the best race of my life. It’s a great chance to show the abilities of the horse. He didn’t have any luck in his last three races but he’s getting better with his races and I’m very sure he’s going to run a good race.” Jose D’Angelo (trainer)
Authentic: “I would have loved to run two weeks later [after Kentucky Derby] because he was just full of himself two weeks afterward. It’s just giving horses time to freshen up. You have new shooters now. It’s so turned around now but I feel real good about it and I think he’s going to run his race. He hasn’t regressed. He looks great. He’s put some weight on. He’s shiny.”
Bob Baffert (trainer)
Pneumatic: “Pneumatic is doing extremely well since his win in the Pegasus. We’re excited about getting him the opportunity at this level. He had an outside draw in the Pegasus, a little bit shorter field, but an outside draw nonetheless. Joe (Bravo) worked out a really good trip and hopefully he can do the same.” Steve Asmussen (trainer)
• Visit the Preakness Stakes website