Kentucky Derby: Bob Baffert has two shots to topple Tiz the Law

Trainer Bob Baffert has two shots Saturday to upset Tiz the Law and win his record-tying sixth Kentucky Derby.

Tiz the Law, the 3-5 morning-line favorite, is going to be a handful. If he breaks well and establishes position before the first turn, good luck beating the son of Constitution. He’s that good.

But what about Authentic and Thousand Words, Baffert’s two colts? Are they good enough to beat a horse that’s already won three Grade I races this year – the Florida Derby, Belmont and Travers Stakes – and appears to be getting stronger with each race?

Well, yes and no.

Both have shown they have the talent to win the 146th Run for the Roses and enable Baffert to catch Ben Jones, who won his six Derbies between 1938 and ’52. They’ve both won graded stakes and it’s pretty well a given you don’t discount a Baffert horse in a big race, let alone a Triple Crown race.

Bob Baffert, the trainer of Thousand Words and Authentic talks with the media during the morning training for the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs on Sept. 3, 2020 in Louisville, Kentucky. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

But both have huge question marks hanging over them just one day out from the Derby.

Authentic, a son of Into Mischief, has been beaten only once in five career starts, and that lone loss came in the Santa Anita Derby when he broke out sharply at the start and then raced wide the whole way.

He still finished a game second that afternoon behind Honor A.P., another of the Derby contenders, and he’s got the type of tactical speed that makes a horse dangerous in any race. He can go to the lead or he can stalk and save his best for the stretch.

But can he get the Derby’s mile-and-a-quarter distance? When he won the Haskell on July 18 at a mile and an eighth, he was all out under Mike Smith to hold off Ny Traffic for the victory. He didn’t look like a horse that would enjoy the extra eighth of a mile.

Afterward, Baffert downplayed the effort, saying Authentic is the type of horse that gets lazy in the stretch and you must keep after him. He didn’t seem concerned. But one of the horse’s owners, Jack Wolf, admits to some concern heading into the race.

“Obviously he didn’t finish well (in the Haskell),” Wolf said. “You’ve either got to be one of two schools of thought — one is that he can’t get the distance, or the other that he is a silly, immature horse that was a May foal. Quite honestly, I don’t know which one it is.

“I hope it’s not the one that he can’t get a mile and a quarter, but you know, his pedigree suggests that he may be limited to the mile and an eighth. We’ll see if we can get him out there and see if he can hold his speed for a mile and a quarter. Hopefully he can.”

Then there’s Thousand Words, who was sharp as a tack as a 2-year-old, tailed off a bit early in his 3-year-old campaign and now appears to be rounding back into form. If you like him, you’ve got a juicy 15-1 morning line to play with.

Kentucky Derby: Bob Baffert has two shots to topple Tiz the Law
Thousand Words and jockey Flavien Prat win the Robert B. Lewis Stakes, giving trainer Bob Baffert his 3,000th win, on Feb. 1, 2020, at Santa Anita Park. (Benoit Photo)

The Pioneerof the Nile colt won his first three starts, including the Grade II Los Alamitos Futurity last winter and Grade III Robert B. Lewis Stakes at Santa Anita on Feb. 1. But then he hit a bump in the road, finishing fourth in the Grade II San Felipe Stakes and 11th in the Oaklawn Stakes at Oaklawn Park on April 11. The luster had come off and he looked like anything but a viable Kentucky Derby candidate.

But Baffert gave Thousand Words three months off and he resurfaced with a strong second behind Uncle Chuck in the Grade III Los Alamitos Derby on July 4. When he upset 1-5 favorite Honor A.P. in his next outing, the Shared Belief Stakes at Del Mar on Aug. 1, he looked like the old Thousand Words.

“His win in the Shared Belief seems to have turned him into a different horse,” said Ned Toffey, the general manager of Spendthrift Farm, which owns Thousand Words. “He’s a little bit more like we saw as a 2-year-old. He’s worked well, he’s much more aggressive in his works. Really excited about his chances.”

This looks like a four-horse Kentucky Derby, with Tiz the Law, Authentic and Honor A.P. the major players and Thousand Words hanging around with a shot. Baffert’s got two of the four that can find the winner’s circle. A .500 batting average is good in any sport.

Follow Art Wilson on Twitter at @Sham73

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