By Nicholas Godfrey
So you know Bob Baffert capped an eventful year with Authentic leading home a Breeders’ Cup Classic one-two. You’ve probably seen the race – and all the others on a memorable card – but here’s some other stuff you might like to know …
What’s going on?
Classic: Authentic is ‘best horse in America’
Authentic became only the fourth horse to win the Kentucky Derby and Breeders’ Cup Classic in the same year as he led home stablemate Improbable for an emphatic all-the-way victory in America’s richest race.
The one-two was a redemptive result for legendary trainer Bob Baffert, whose year has been plagued by controversy amid several failed dope tests.
“He’s the best horse in America,” said Baffert after winning the $6m contest for the fourth time after Bayern (2014), American Pharoah (2015) and Arrogate (2016).
The son of Into Mischief has never finished worse than second in seven career starts, winning five. He follows Sunday Silence (1989), Unbridled (1990), and American Pharoah in adding the Classic to the Derby in his three-year-old season.
Authentic scored by two and a quarter lengths over Improbable, who ran on late to head outsider Global Campaign for second. The controversial Maximum Security, third member of Baffert’s so-called ‘Dream Team’, weakened into fifth.
“I’d have loved to have run 1-2-3 but I’m proud of my horses and what a way to end the year after what we’ve gone through,” said Baffert. “I love this sport and it’s a great day. That was awesome. I tell you what, I needed that, didn’t I?”
First Classic for ‘emotional’ Johnny V
Authentic was completing a Breeders’ Cup double for Baffert and jockey John Velazquez after a spectacular triumph via Gamine in the Filly & Mare Sprint.
Baffert took his BC total to 17 winners – second only to his great friend D Wayne Lukas with 20. Johnny V now has 18 Cup winners, second to Mike Smith on 26. However, the hugely popular veteran had never before won the Classic.
“I’ve been chasing this race for quite a while and to have the opportunity to do it and to win it is incredible,” said the 48-year-old jockey. “What a feeling – the older I get the more emotional I get.”
Track record – after several other track records
On a lightning-fast Keeneland surface where it paid to race on the pace and on the rails, Authentic set one of many track records on the card, stopping the clock in a startling 1m59.19s for the 1m2f to take nearly a second of American Pharoah’s previous best of 2m00.07s.
Gamine (Filly & Mare Sprint) and Knicks Go (Dirt Mile) also established new course records making all on the dirt track in Breeders’ Cup races, while unbeaten Nashville did the same on the undercard.
Tiz The Law ‘never settled’ in sixth
Belmont Stakes winner Tiz The Law was trapped inside horses for much of the race before dropping out of contention in the stretch and finishing sixth.
“My horse never settled for me,” said jockey Manny Franco. “He was pulling me the whole way hard. When I sent to looking for him he was done.
“I was inside looking for a way to get out to a clear run. I had wait longer than I wanted to. It is what it is.”
Filly & Mare Sprint: Gamine is ‘the baddest bitch in the land’
The superlatives – plus the odd colourful epithet – were flying after a stunning track-record victory from star-crossed filly Gamine.
Not least from trainer Bob Baffert, who described the daughter of Into Mischief as both “the fastest filly I’ve ever trained” and “the baddest bitch in the land”.
Owner Michael Lund Petersen wasn’t to be outdone. “Obviously she’s an amazing freaking horse,” said the owner nicknamed the ‘Great Dane’ after watching a spectacular display from his $1.8m filly, in a league of her own with a 6¼-length score in a sizzling track-record time of 1m20.20s for the 7f.
‘BS stuff and stupid contamination’ – Bob Baffert
Gamine’s race record now reads as three wins from five starts, all three having come in G1 company – by a cumulative margin of more than 32 lengths!
However, the bare facts don’t tell the whole story as she has unwittingly been a central figure in an eventful year for her trainer Bob Baffert, whose horses have returned a slew of positive dope tests.
Gamine herself was disqualified after a winning debut on the Arkansas Derby, while she has again returned a positive test after coming third in the Kentucky Oaks on her last start before the BC.
Baffert, who has vowed to “raise the bar” on this issue in future, has cited cross-contamination on both occasions – via a human back-pain analgesic and cough syrup. But you could sense his relief after Gamine had slammed her rivals at Keeneland.
“We know one turn is her game and it was spectacular,” he said. “She’s brilliant and her owner Michael Lund Petersen stood behind me the whole time. He never wavered and he knows all that’s been happening was BS stuff and stupid contamination. I’m proud he’s with me and he’s got bragging rights now.”
Distaff: Monomoy Girl magnificent – again
Monomoy Girl’s impressive repeat victory in the Distaff came two years after she had won the same race at Churchill Downs. Her career record now stands at 13 wins from 15 starts – and one of those defeats was a DQ. She has been beaten only once on the track, by a neck as a two-year-old.
Winner of both the Kentucky Oaks and Breeders’ Cup Distaff at Churchill Downs during her magnificent three-year-old campaign, Monomoy Girl missed the whole of last year owing to colic and a hamstring injury before returning in 2020 to win all four starts after an 18-month layoff.
The formidable five-year-old, who has won seven G1s altogether, is set to be retired to the paddocks after going through the Fasig-Tipton sales ring on Sunday.
She is the fourth two-time winner of the Distaff after Bayakoa (1989-90), Royal Delta (2011-12) and Beholder (2013, 2016).
“I can’t tell you how proud I am of this mare,” said trainer Brad Cox.“She means the world to me and it’s a lot of pressure when we run her.”
Brad Cox: ‘This feels like Richard Mandella’
Monomoy Girl was Brad Cox’s fourth winner of Breeders’ Cup weekend, completing a Saturday double after the victory of Knicks Go in the Dirt MIle.
The Kentucky-based trainer also landed a double on Friday’s card with Essential Quality (Juvenile) and Aunt Pearl (Juvenile Fillies Turf). Cox has now won seven Breeders’ Cup races in just three years since his debut triumph in the 2018 Distaff at Churchill Downs – with Monomoy Girl.
“This feels like Richard Mandella,” grinned Cox. “Seriously, this is amazing. It’s a tribute to my team, my owners, so many other people. These horses showed up on the big day, when it counted.”
“Mandella won four in just one day, which is incredible,” said Cox. “But we’ll take four in two days. It’s unbelievable, really.”
Swiss Skydiver stumble ‘didn’t cost us the win’
Swiss Skydiver, who beat Classic winner Authentic in an epic Preakness, stumbled at the break. “It maybe cost her a little length or two position-wise, but it didn’t cost us the win,” said jockey Robby Albarado.
The way she ran in the Preakness, she doesn’t have to validate herself from here on out.”
“She’s a special filly and everybody knows her. She gets a little time now and will come back next year stronger.”
Dirt Mile: Knicks Go smashes course record
Making the most of what looked a speed- and rail-favouring surface, Knicks Go shattered the track record with a blistering performance to become trainer Brad Cox’s third winner at this year’s Breeders’ Cup.
Owner by Korea’s Racing Authority, the four-year-old is unbeaten in three starts since joining Cox this term. However, while he was an eyecatching ten-length winner at Keeneland in minor company a month ago, it is a long way from an allowance optional claimer to being sent off 9-5 favourite at the Breeders’ Cup.
Knicks Go stopped the clock in a breathless 1m33.85s for the Mile – smashing the 1m34.54s set by Liam’s Map in the same race five years ago.
“This was never something that we even had on our target when we ran this horse a month ago,” said Cox. “That was just a preparation race for possibly the Clark Handicap or the Cigar Mile.”
Sprint: Moquett ‘grateful, just grateful’ for Whitmore
There won’t have been many more popular winners Stateside at Keeneland than veteran sprinter Whitmore, who romped home by 3¼ lengths to win the Sprint – on his fourth run in the $2m event, after finishing eighth, second and third in the last three seasons.
The seven-year-old gelding has been racing at the highest level for the majority of his six-year career, which started with a maiden victory at Churchill Downs as a juvenile in 2015. He was last of 19 finishers in Nyquist’s Kentucky Derby the following year before being reborn as a sprinter.
In emotional mood after the race was trainer Ron Moquett, for whom Whitmore has won 15 of 38 career starts. “I’m just grateful,” said Arkansas-based Moquett. “Grateful for the horse. Grateful to everyone that sends me well wishes and congratulations after the race. Just grateful.”
Having also scored on Golden Pal on Friday, jockey Irad Ortiz was winning his 11th Breeders’ Cup race; for Moquett, who is also a part-owner, it was a first.
Shall we talk about it?
Bob Baffert (Gamine’s trainer): “That’s the baddest bitch in the land right there! We know one turn is her game and it was spectacular – she’s the fastest filly I’ve ever trained, she’s brilliant and her owner Michael Lund Petersen stood behind me the whole time. He never wavered and he knows all that’s been happening was BS stuff and stupid contamination. I’m proud he’s with me and he’s got bragging rights now.
“I knew she [Serengeti Empress] was going to go and I told Johnny if you get separation to get to the outside. She is doing as well as she did when she won the Acorn. She is just brilliant. She is the fastest filly going one turn I’ve ever trained. I wanted it bad for her. What she’s gone through, she deserved it.”
John Velazquez (Gamine’s jockey): “We knew that other horse would come out running, but I didn’t want to give it up too easy. I wanted to make him work a little harder. Once he passed me, I came off the rail and even then I didn’t get want to give it to him that easy either. I made sure I put a little pressure on because I know that filly is really tough on the lead. I made sure I was close to him. When I asked my filly, she was there for me.”
Brad Cox (Knicks Go’s trainer): “He’s very fast and he loves Keeneland as well. We picked the horse up last winter and he really loves it here. Joel did a fantastic job of asking him to be forwardly placed and he responded well. They went very quick and he was able to keep going. He’s got speed and he’s very good around two turns and this is a good race for him with the short stretch. A lot of things were in his favour today. He’s a very aggressive horse, he loves to train. He’s just a very classy horse.”
Joel Rosario (Knicks Go’s jockey): “It looked like he was going easy. I didn’t know how fast he was going.”
Ron Moquett (Whitmore’s trainer): “I said in the pre-race interview that whenever there are this many track records, it’s almost impossible to think a closer is going to do well. For him to run against the bias the way he did and the patience of the rider, the willingness to listen, it all worked out. I’m so proud of the horse, proud for the connections. I’m proud for everyone out there that’s thinking when you run last in the Kentucky Derby, kick them out – do right by the horse, come back, and you have a shot to reach other dreams. You don’t discard them. You just do right by the horse and it keeps working out.”
Irad Ortiz (Whitmore’s jockey): “He had a great trip. We wanted to break and have him relax and that’s what we did. He relaxed so good. I was able to cut the corner on the turn and when I tipped him out he just exploded. He’s a nice horse. He’s been running for so many years. He’s a warrior.”
Brad Cox (Monomoy Girl’s trainer): “Honestly it’s a relief. She means the world to me and it’s a lot of pressure when we run her, I don’t know why. It just is. It’s been a long road back. She’s a real race horse. She’s meant so much for so many people’s lives, she’s an amazing creature. I love her to pieces.
“Words can’t even describe it. I think she plays a big role in our other three Breeders Cup victories over the weekend. She’s meant so much to so many people’s lives. She was my first Grade 1 winner here at Keeneland. I’m just so proud of her.”
Florent Geroux (Monomoy Girl’s jockey): “What a mare, just exceptional. She’s a mare of a lifetime, very rare. It’s like finding a diamond. When you have it, you do the best you can. It’s a gift. Even after all she’s been through, being off a year and a half, to come back and still be at the top of her game is unreal. I’m super thankful for the opportunity that Brad and the owners have given me.”
Robby Albarado (Swiss Skydiver’s jockey): “She stumbled a little bit leaving there. It maybe cost her a little length or two position-wise, but it didn’t cost us the win. I had a great opportunity turning for home and get on through there and get heads-up with the champ, but she just didn’t have it today.
“I had a great opportunity turning for home and get on through there and get heads-up with the champ, but she just didn’t have it today. I’m disappointed that we didn’t win, but I’m not disappointed in her. What she has done in her career, she has never let anybody down, she hasn’t disappointed anybody.“
Bob Baffert (Authentic’s trainer): “You know what, they were all training so well and he was training well. We were disappointed after the Preakness and I was surprised with him, but he’s a quirky horse.
“I think Johnny got to know him a lot better but when I saw him out there, he’s catching up with these older horses. That’s what they do at this time of year, what a horse. He’s the real deal.
“He’s just an unbelievable horse and I’m so happy for the connections, especially Wayne Hughes. Those are his colours. We were hoping those colours would be in the Kentucky Derby, but it’s great the way it’s ended. We would have loved a 1-2-3.
“I would love to have the horse back in the barn, but unfortunately I don’t get a vote on that one. Whatever happens he has been a saviour.”
John Velazquez (Authentic’s jockey): “We talked about tactics and agreed to take advantage and get him to the rail in front. Bob said to take him to the lead so he doesn’t wander so much and keep his mind on running. It worked out. He did everything I wanted him to do.It worked out perfect.
“I didn’t think there was too much speed in the race and once I got him running past the wire for the first time it was looking good for us. The horse came back and sealed the deal – he was the best horse in America today.”
Barclay Tagg (Tiz the Law’s trainer): “I was happy with the way he came into the race. I thought he would run his race but he [Manny Franco, jockey] said he was just too keen and didn’t run.”