By Dick Jerardi
In mid-March, when nearly every track in the country, with the notable exceptions of Gulfstream Park, Oaklawn Park and a few others, shut down for weeks or months, it was unclear if the Triple Crown or the Breeders’ Cup would even happen.
It was uncertain what racing would look like when or if it returned. It was several months before racing at Parx came back. It was unfortunate, but understandable, that the Pennsylvania Derby, Cotillion and other open stakes did not happen in 2020, the purse money going to the owners who support the track all year long. With the casino also closed and the slot money that supports 85 percent of the purse structure turned off for several months, it absolutely made sense for any purse money to be reserved for the horsemen that call the track home.
So we did not have our championship September at Parx, a month that has gotten the track into the national conversation with all the important stakes races that culminate with Pennsylvania Derby Day where some of the country’s best 3-year-old colts and 3-year-old fillies race in the track’s two Grade I races.
We all missed the enjoyment and exposure that month and those races have brought the track. But it’s 2020 so we take what we get, have to be thankful racing came back at all and everybody has had a chance to earn a living.
It is no secret that the Triple Crown is the biggest thing in the game. Not sure what 2020 would have been like without it. Thankfully, the races all happened, if out of order and at the wrong times. But think about it: with the mid-June Belmont Stakes, the early September Kentucky Derby and early October Preakness, we got to see memorable performances by Tiz the Law in New York and Authentic in Kentucky, ending with the Swiss Skydiver-Authentic epic in Maryland.
When Tiz the Law dominated the Belmont and Travers, there was talk of a Triple Crown and, if it happened, would it be the same? It wouldn’t have been the same obviously, but nothing has been or could be the same in 2020. If Tiz the Law had gone on to win the Derby and Preakness, it would have been an incredible achievement, especially with the Travers in the middle of it.
But Authentic’s early speed and a classic Bob Baffert-training job put Authentic in the Derby winner’s circle. Tiz the Law’s Derby race would have been good enough most years, but not against a talented colt readied by a master trainer, Authentic getting the dream trip alone in front.
Tiz the Law dropped out of the Triple Crown after the Derby, trainer Barclay Tagg opting for more time to get the colt that had won the Holy Bull, Florida Derby, Belmont and Travers ready for a run at Horse of the Year in the Breeders’ Cup Classic.
So it was on Authentic and the filly Swiss Skydiver to give us the race of the year in the Preakness, the filly winning a stretch-long duel by a neck.
As the moveable feast that is top-class horse racing arrived at Keeneland for the Breeders’ Cup, everything was on the line in the $6 million Classic – Horse of the Year, 3-year-old champion, all of it.
A wonderful 10-horse field, including the 2019 Derby winner for 20 minutes Maximum Security, the hottest older horse in the country Improbable (the 2019 Derby and Preakness favorite), Tiz the Law and Authentic, lined up for the final showdown.
It was once again Authentic’s early speed that carried the day. Immediately in front, Authentic looked like a winner the whole way, running away from stablemate Improbable’s
challenge in the stretch, giving Baffert a 1-2 finish in America’s richest horse race and the great jockey John Velazquez his first Classic.
So Authentic, winner of the Sham and San Felipe, second in the Santa Anita Derby, winner of the Haskell and Kentucky Derby, second in the Preakness and dominant winner of the Classic will be 2020 3-year-old champion and Horse of the Year.
The colt has been retired to stud, along with many of the other big names which made this unprecedented year so special.
Tiz the Law is the only horse to win the Champagne, Florida Derby, Belmont Stakes and Travers. But the wonderful colt, who was clearly uncomfortable running inside horses in the Classic and finished out of the money for the first time in his career, will end 2020 without any championships which almost seems unfair.
The good news is that Tiz the Law will race on in 2021, his first goal the Pegasus at Gulfstream Park in January. The New York bred will have a new jockey, the man who was on Authentic, the colt that cost Tiz the Law the 3-year-old title. Johnny V. will ride Tiz the Law and, perhaps 2021 will be the year the colt gets a championship.