Trends or angles sometimes can grab one’s attention when it comes to sports in general or horse racing in particular.
How about this trend? Prior to last Saturday’s game between the Los Angeles Lakers and Denver Nuggetts, whenever the Lakers had the lead going into the fourth quarter in a playoff game, their win-loss record was 68-1.
And now it’s 69-1.
The Lakers had the lead going into the fourth quarter last Saturday, but not by much. After three quarters, the Lakers led by just three points. The young, talented and scrappy Nuggets were, not surprisingly, giving the Lakers a battle. But the Lakers went on to win by a score of 117-110, propelling the great LeBron James and superstar Anthony Davis to the NBA Finals.
When the Lakers have had the lead entering the fourth quarter in a playoff game, they now have won that game 98.5% of the time going into the NBA Finals.
There is a trend in horse racing that has an even higher percentage of success. It’s a trend that so far has been successful 100% of the time!
Do you want to know what trend in horse racing has succeeded 100% of the time? Okay, here it is. A Bob Baffert-trained Kentucky Derby winner running in the Preakness has won the Preakness 100% of the time.
All five of Baffert’s Run for the Roses victors -- Silver Charm in 1997, Real Quiet in 1998, War Emblem in 2002, American Pharoah in 2015 and Justify in 2018 -- also got the job done in the Preakness.
I’m of the opinion that Authentic is going to make it six for six in terms of Baffert pulling off a Kentucky Derby-Preakness parlay.
These are my Preakness selections for Saturday’s 145th running of the $1 million Preakness at Pimlico Race Course (it’s the same Top 4 as on my Top 10 last week):
2. Art Collector
3. Swiss Skydiver
AUTHENTIC IS MORNING-LINE FAVORITE
Pimlico oddsmaker Keith Feustle has installed Authentic as the 9-5 favorite on his Preakness morning line.
I do not relish saying this, but I have to call them as I see them. I think the 9-5 morning-line price is too high. I say this knowing full well that it is not easy to go lower than 9-5 on the favorite when the field is this big. That’s because the more Authentic’s price is lowered from 9-5, the higher the prices for some of the others in the field of 11 would need to be adjusted higher.
Fuestle has Authentic close to 2-1. I would make Authentic close to even money. He is a Kentucky Derby winner who is one loss away from being undefeated and is trained by Bob Baffert. As such, I am expecting Authentic to get quite a bit more betting support than 9-5, which is why I would make him 6-5.
The Preakness morning line is listed below, followed by my odds:
PP Horse (ML) My Odds
1 - Excession (30-1) 50-1
2 - Mr. Big News (12-1) 12-1
3 - Art Collector (5-2) 5-2
4 - Swiss Skydiver (6-1) 6-1
5 - Thousand Words (6-1) 8-1
6 - Jesus’ Team (30-1) 50-1
7 - Ny Traffic (15-1) 20-1
8 - Max Player (15-1) 20-1
9 - Authentic (9-5) 6-5
10 - Pneumatic (20-1) 15-1
11 - Liveyourbeastlife (30-1) 30-1
RECALLING BAFFERT’S “BIG THREE” EARLY IN YEAR
Hall of Famer Baffert had not one, not two, but three strong Kentucky Derby candidates. They were, alphabetically, Authentic, Charlatan and Nadal.
On March 17, Churchill Downs announced it was moving the Kentucky Derby from its original date of May 2 to Sept. 5 because of the coronavirus pandemic.
At that time, Baffert’s “Big Three” occupied the No. 1, No. 2 and No. 4 spots on my Kentucky Derby Top 10:
Top 10 for the Sept. 5 Kentucky Derby on March 17:
3. Honor A.P.
6. Tiz the Law
7. Ete Indien
8. Sole Volante
9. Thousand Words
10. King Guillermo
Charlatan and Nadal finished first in their respective divisions of the Grade I Arkansas Derby on May 2, the original date of the Kentucky Derby.
It’s not outlandish to think Baffert might have won the Kentucky Derby with either Charlatan or Nadal if the race had been run on the first Saturday in May. (Personally, I think it would have been Nadal. But we will never know.)
On May 19, the New York Racing Association announced a change in the date and the distance for the Belmont Stakes stemming from the pandemic. The Belmont would be run on June 20 at 1 1/8 miles rather than on June 6 at its traditional 1 1/2-mile distance.
At that time, two of Baffert’s “Big Three” ranked No. 1 and No. 2 on my Belmont Stakes Top 10. Nadal was No. 1. Charlatan was No. 2. Authentic was not on the Top 10 because he was going to run in the June 6 Santa Anita Derby instead of the June 20 Belmont.
Unfortunately for Charlatan and Nadal, they both were unable to race again after the Arkansas Derby.
On May 28, it was announced that Nadal had emerged from a four-furlong workout in :48.80 at Santa Anita with a condylar fracture in his left foreleg. He was retired from racing.
After Nadal’s retirement, Charlatan ascended to the top spot on my Belmont Stakes Top 10. But then on the morning of June 6, it was announced that Charlatan not only would miss the June 20 Belmont, he also would not be running in the Sept. 5 Kentucky Derby due to an ankle injury.
With Charlatan sidelined, Tiz the Law took over the top spot on my Belmont Stakes Top 10. Tiz the Law won the Belmont by 3 3/4 lengths.
On the afternoon of June 6, Authentic finished second, 2 3/4 lengths behind Honor A.P., in the Santa Anita Derby.
In mid-June, the once-rosy picture for Baffert’s “Big Three” had deteriorated. Nadal’s racing career was over, Charlatan was on the shelf following ankle surgery, while Authentic no longer was undefeated.
A NEW “BIG THREE” FOR BAFFERT IN THE SUMMER
Following the setbacks to Nadal and Charlatan, the remarkable Baffert managed to come up with what some called another “Big Three,” this time consisting of, alphabetically, Authentic, Cezanne and Uncle Chuck, though this trio never seemed nearly as powerful as the triumvirate of Authentic, Charlatan and Nadal.
On July 2, Cezanne, a highly regarded $3.65 million auction purchase, was two for two after winning an allowance/optional claiming race.
On July 4, long-striding Uncle Chuck was two for two after the Grade III Los Alamitos Derby.
On July 18, Authentic won the Grade I Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park.
But then Cezanne and Uncle Chuck fizzled.
On Aug. 1, Cezanne finished fourth in Del Mar’s Shared Belief Stakes (won by the Baffert-trained Thousand Words).
On Aug. 8, Uncle Chuck -- thought by many to be Arrogate-like -- finished sixth, 11 lengths behind Tiz the Law, in the Grade I Travers Stakes at Saratoga.
Consequently, in mid-August, of Baffert’s new “Big Three,” only Authentic was headed to the Kentucky Derby, along with a rejuvenated Thousand Words.
But as it turned out, after all the twists and turns, ups and downs, all Baffert needed in order to win the Kentucky Derby was Authentic.
It was Baffert’s sixth Kentucky Derby victory, which tied Ben Jones’ longstanding record. Jones saddled his six winners from 1938 to 1952.
AUTHENTIC FIRES BULLETS IN PRE-PREAKNESS DRILLS
Authentic has recorded a couple of sharp workouts at Churchill Downs since his Kentucky Derby triumph.
On Sept. 19, Authentic worked five furlongs in a bullet :59.20 on Sept. 19. It was the fastest of 38 works at the distance that morning. He galloped out six furlongs in 1:12.20, then went on out seven furlongs in a splendid 1:25.20.
On Monday, Authentic had another sharp workout, four furlongs in a bullet :47.60. It was the fastest of 37 works at the distance that day. His internal splits were :12.20, :24.00, :36.00 and 1:00.00. He galloped out five furlongs in 1:00.00, then went on out six furlongs in 1:13.40.
Jockey Martin Garcia was aboard Authentic for Monday’s workout.
“He’s such an amazing horse,” Garcia said. “He worked awesome.”
Garcia noted that he has “worked a lot of nice horses” for Baffert in California through the years.
“This horse is just as special,” Garcia said. “He’s doing amazing for the Preakness.”
American Pharoah, who swept the Triple Crown in 2015, is one of those “nice horses” Garcia worked on numerous occasions for Baffert.
John Velazquez rode Authentic in the Kentucky Derby. Johnny V. again has the call for the Preakness.
Based on Auenthic’s workouts since the Kentucky Derby, it appears to be all systems go for the Preakness.
Additionally, I think Authentic will appreciate the shorter 1 3/16-mile distance of the Preakness vis-a-vis the 1 1/4 miles of the Kentucky Derby.
I am expecting Authentic to snag a second jewel in this year’s Triple Crown by capturing the Preakness.
BAFFERT SEEKS EIGHTH PREAKNESS WIN
In addition to Authentic, Baffert is running Thousand Words in the Preakness.
If either Authentic or Thousand Words wins this Saturday, Baffert will become the first trainer to win the Preakness eight times. Baffert and R. Wyndham Walden currently share the record of seven Preakness victories. Wyndham saddled seven Preakness winners from 1875 to 1888.
Baffert’s seven Preakness winners have been Silver Charm (1997), Real Quiet (1998), Point Given (2001), War Emblem (2002), Lookin At Lucky (2010), American Pharoah (2015) and Justify (2018).
Justify, like American Pharoah, was a Triple Crown winner for Baffert.
THOUSAND WORDS LATEST WORKOUT BETTER
On Sept. 19, Thousand Words worked five furlongs in 1:02.40 at Churchill Downs. “That clocking not only was nothing to write home about, the video of it is far from anything to rave about when viewed on HRTV,” I wrote in the Los Angeles Times’ horse racing newsletter.
Thousand Words did have a much better workout at Churchill last Saturday, five furlongs in 1:00.60. The Florida-bred Pioneerof the Nile colt did not work with blinkers on Sept. 19. He did have blinkers on last Saturday. Jockey Florent Geroux was aboard Thousand Words for both workouts. Geroux pilots the colt Saturday.
“I thought he worked a lot better today with the blinkers,” Geroux said after last Saturday’s drill. “Last week was his first work over the track so he didn’t wear them but went very easy. It was a bit more of a serious work today.”
A $1 million yearling, Thousand Words won his first three career starts, then lost his next three starts, then regained his winning form by taking Del Mar’s Aug. 1 Shared Belief Stakes at the direct expense of big favorite Honor A.P.
In the paddock prior to the Kentucky Derby, Thousand Words reared, lost his balance and fell on his side. He was automatically scratched as a precaution.
ART COLLECTOR APPEARS MAIN THREAT
I see Art Collector as the main threat to Authentic. I also respect Swiss Skydiver. If one these three do not win, I will be shocked.
Art Collector, trained by Tommy Drury Jr., and Swiss Skydiver, conditioned by Ken McPeek, finished one-two in the Grade II Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland on July 11. Art Collector prevailed by 3 1/2 lengths at odds of $2.30 to $1. Swiss Skydiver ran second as the slight favorite at $2.20 to $1.
After the Blue Grass, Art Collector won the Ellis Park Derby by 3 1/4 lengths. However, he was not entered in the Kentucky Derby after he nicked the bulb of his left front heel with a hind hoof while galloping at Churchill Downs five days before the race. According to Drury, the heel issue was nothing major, just bad timing.
Art Collector, like Authentic, appears to be coming up to the Preakness in fine fettle.
On Sept. 19 at Churchill Downs, Art Collector worked five furlongs in :59.40. The only faster clocking at the distance that morning was Authentic’s :59.20.
Last Saturday at Churchill, Art Collector worked four furlongs in :48.00. It was the seventh-fastest of 78 works at the distance that morning. He reportedly recorded fractions of :12.40, :24.40 and :35.80 en route to his :48.00 clocking, then galloped out five furlongs in 1:00.40, then went on out six furlongs in 1:13.60.
Daily Racing Form’s McGee quoted Drury as saying Art Collector is a “twelves kind of horse,” meaning a horse who often goes furlong after furlong in about 12 seconds. Drury said “it looks like that’s exactly what we got” in last Saturday’s five-furlong workout.
Swiss Skydiver had a five-furlong workout in 1:00.80 at Churchill Downs last Saturday. Her early fractions were reported to be :12.00, :23.60 and :35.80. The Kentucky-bred Daredevil filly galloped out six furlongs in 1:15.20.
“Two horses in there look pretty formidable,” McGee quoted McPeek as saying in reference to Authentic and Art Collector. “Beyond that, we ought to be tough. The filly sure is doing good.”
Swiss Skydiver certainly has logged many miles traveling. She’s won stakes races this year in Louisiana (Rachel Alexandra), Florida (Gulfstream Park Oaks), California (Santa Anita Oaks) and New York (Alabama), while finishing second in a pair of stakes races in Kentucky (Blue Grass and Kentucky Oaks).
Five fillies have won the Preakness: Flocarline (1903), Whimsical (1906), Rhine Maiden (1915), Nellie Morse (1924) and Rachel Alexandra (2009).
The last filly to compete in the Preakness was Ria Antonia, who finished 10th in 2014.
PNEUMATIC MIGHT MAKE SOME NOISE
Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen is seeking his third Preakness victory after having won it with Curlin in 2007 and Rachel Alexandra in 2009.
Asmussen’s 2020 Preakness entrants are Pneumatic, Max Player and Excession.
I look at Pneumatic as a candidate to be part of the superfecta at a juicy price (20-1 on the morning line).
I thought Pneumatic ran well in defeat when he finished third behind Maxfield and Ny Traffic in the Grade III Matt Winn Stakes at Churchill Downs on May 23. Pneumatic vied for the lead from the beginning and weakened slightly late to lose by 1 3/4 lengths, a fine try inasmuch as he went into the Matt Winn with just two races under his belt.
Pneumatic then ran fourth in the June 20 Belmont. Again, I thought it was a good effort in the context that he was so lightly raced.
After the Belmont, Pneumatic won Monmouth’s 1 1/16-mile Pegasus Stakes by 2 1/2 lengths on Aug. 15. It was decided to have him skip the Kentucky Derby and take aim on the Preakness.
It appears to me that Pneumatic has upside. If I’m right and we have not seen the best from him yet, he might run his way into the superfecta Saturday.
MEMORIES OF A RACETRACK CONCERT
Singer Helen Reddy, probably best known for her song “I Am Woman,” a No. 1 hit in 1972, died Tuesday in Los Angeles. She was 78.
The first year I worked as a steward for the Washington Horse Racing Commission was at the 1979 fall meet at Yakima Meadows. The Central Washington Fair was held simultaneously at that same site during a portion of the race meet.
One evening after the conclusion of a 10-race card, Reddy gave a concert in front of the grandstand in conjunction with the fair. I simply remained in the stewards’ stand, which afforded me a wonderful view of the concert. As for my two fellow stewards, Russ Lawler and Joe Wittman, they had no such interest in staying for the concert. They both left after we posted the “official” sign for the final race.
Reddy put on a good show. It remains one of my fondest memories from that particular race meet 41 years ago.
BAFFERT-TRAINED PAIR STILL ATOP NTRA POLLS
In light of Improbable’s impressive 4 1/2-length victory at odds of 9-5 in last Saturday’s Grade I Awesome Again Stakes at Santa Anita, he has taken over the top spot in this week’s NTRA Top Thoroughbred Poll. He ranked No. 5 last week.
Bafferet trains Improbable. Maximum Security, also conditioned by Baffert, finished second in the Awesome Again as the 1-2 favorite. He slides down a notch to No. 2 in this week’s NTRA Top Thoroughbred Poll after being No. 1 for several weeks.
The Baffert-trained Authentic again is No. 1 in the NTRA Top Three-Year-Old Poll this week. I am thinking he probably needs to win the Preakness in order to hold onto the top spot next week.
The Top 10 in this week’s NTRA Top Thoroughbred Poll is below:
Rank Points Horse (First-Place Votes)
1. 354 Improbable (28)
2. 277 Maximum Security (3)
3. 246 Vekoma (3)
4. 228 Tom’s d’Etat (2)
5. 195 Monomoy Girl (1)
6. 153 By My Standards
7. 139 Midnight Bisou
8. 108 Tiz the Law
9. 99 Authentic
10. 71 Rushing Fall
The Top 10 in this week’s NTRA Top Three-Year-Old Poll is below:
Rank Points Horse (First-Place Votes)
1. 356 Authentic (23)
2. 347 Tiz the Law (14)
3. 269 Art Collector
4. 176 Swiss Skydiver
5. 162 Honor A.P.
6. 149 Thousand Words
7. 116 Shedaresthedevil
8. 96 Max Player
9. 90 Gamine
10. 62 Mr. Big News