There were some differences between this year’s Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve and derbies of the past. But nothing—not a pandemic, not protesters—could stop the tradition of Thoroughbred racing’s best 3-year-olds battling it out down the stretch at Churchill Downs, where Authentic upset favored Tiz The Law to win the 146th running of the Run for the Roses.
Authentic and 3/5 favorite Tiz The Law loaded into the two outside post positions in the small 15-horse field. Authentic, who went off at odds of 8-1, was expected to go to the immediate lead, but it was Storm The Court and NY Traffic who were in front at the first call. As the field entered the first turn, Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez had gently urged Authentic to the lead as Tiz The Law settled just off the pace in fourth.
“We thought from the outside we might break a little slow, but by the first turn I knew we would want to be on the lead but I wanted to do it gradually,” Valezquez said of Authentic. “Once he got to the turn, he settled well. He let me do whatever I wanted to do.”
Setting opening fractions of 22.92 and 46.41, Authentic held an easy lead down the backstretch. As the field rounded the far turn, Tiz The Law and jockey Manny Franco made their move to challenge Authentic. The two colts ran head-to-head down the stretch, with Authentic turning in a gutty performance to hold off Tiz The Law and cross the wire 1 ¼ lengths in front in a time of 2:00.61. Tiz The Law finished second, 3 1/4 lengths in front of 46-1 Mr. Big News.
“Every time I asked him for more, he gave me more,” Velazquez said of Authentic’s stretch run. “I knew the horse to beat was Tiz The Law, so I waited until I saw that white face next to me. When I went left-handed, this horse responded so good, I was like, ‘Oh yeah, come and get me.’ It’s a great feeling when you ask your horse for more and he gives you everything he has.”
It was the third Derby win for Velazquez, who was also celebrating his 200th Grade 1 stakes win. Authentic’s win gave trainer Bob Baffert his sixth Kentucky Derby victory, tying him with Ben Jones for the most wins in the prestigious race.
“I’ve been fortunate to have these great jockeys win these races, but that race was won by Johnny,” Baffert said, giving the credit to Velazquez for his ride aboard Authentic.
Baffert was supposed to send two horses postward in the Kentucky Derby, but his other entry, Thousand Words, reared and fell in the saddling paddock and was scratched by the track veterinarians. In the melee, Baffert’s assistant trainer, Jim Barnes, was injured and taken to the hospital by ambulance for a possible broken arm.
“I told Johnny, ‘Just do it for Jimmy,’” Baffert said in a post-race press conference. “This has been a roller coaster year, but it’s the love of the horses that keeps me going. They’re the best therapy a human can have, and I love being around them.”
Baffert also praised B. Wayne Hughes, the owner of Spendthrift Farms LLC, who owns Authentic in partnership with MyRaceHorse Stable, Madaket Stables LLC, and Starlight Racing.
“I am so happy for him, because he has been in this game for so long. He deserves to win this race,” Baffert said of Hughes, who also co-owns Thousand Words. “I’m prouder to win it for him. He can say he won the Kentucky Derby now. Back in May I told his daughter, ‘I’m going to win the Derby for your dad.’ But I thought it was going to be Thousand Words.”
MyRaceHorse is a syndicate that offers shares of racehorses to the public at affordable prices—in Authentic’s case, $206 for .001% ownership. More than 4,200 people bought into Authentic prior to the Kentucky Derby and proudly posted on social media after the race.
A tweet by Jason Barrett read: “We are Kentucky Derby winning owners!!!!! May only own a nose hair but it’s still ownership,” while Jack Cantillion tweeted, “I paid $206 dollars at the start of the season to buy a tiny share in this horse, loved following him all year and I’ve just won the #KyDerby sitting on my couch in Ireland. What a sport.”
Aside from the history-setting moments in the race itself, the 146th Kentucky Derby will be remembered for several other notable breaks from tradition. The biggest change was the date: The race traditionally held on the first Saturday in May was moved to the first Saturday in September due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Belmont Stakes, traditionally the third leg in the Triple Crown, became the first leg this year, while the Kentucky Derby was the second leg.
As concerns about large public gatherings continued through the summer, Churchill Downs made the decision to run the Kentucky Derby without spectators. While the grandstands were empty, thousands of demonstrators gathered peacefully outside the racetrack to demand justice for Breonna Taylor.
Bugler Steve Buttleman played the call to the post to an empty grandstand, then played “My Old Kentucky Home,” but not before a moment of silence was held in recognition of racial inequalities. Several jockeys who ride in the Kentucky Derby wore leg bands emblazoned with the words “Equality for all.”
The Preakness Stakes will run on Oct. 3 as the third leg of the Triple Crown. Had there been a Triple Crown winner this year, the title would have come with an asterisk to mark the break from tradition. Belmont Stakes winner Tiz The Law’s Triple Bid ended Sept. 5, with Authentic’s win in the Kentucky Derby.