Author: Nicholas Godfrey

DON’T YOU just hate it when racehorse owners use the ‘nothing left to prove’ justification for the premature retirement of a high profile racehorse? And yes, in this case I am talking about Authentic, retired to stud days after his brilliant victory in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. The 3yo, certain to be crowned US Horse of the Year for 2020, will stand at B Wayne Hughes’ Spendthrift Farm, in whose colours he wired the field at Keeneland, at a fee of $75,000. In announcing the news, Spendthrift general manager Ned Toffey rightly described Authentic as a ‘once in a lifetime kind of horse’. He added: “Ultimately, we just felt there wasn’t a lot more to accomplish for a Kentucky Derby and Breeders’ Cup Classic winner, so we have made the decision to retire Authentic to stand alongside his Champion Sire Into Mischief.”

Apologies, Ned, but that’s just garbage. While the decision could have been expected as his principal owners are a breeding operation, Authentic could have stayed in training for just three months in 2021 and taken in the Pegasus, Saudi Cup and Dubai World Cup. Win a couple of those, and he would go down as a US racing great. Instead, he will just be remembered as very good indeed BUT not an American Pharoah, not an Arrogate, not a Zenyatta, as commercial considerations win out over legacy. If the Thoroughbred Racing Commentary Global Rankings, a totally objective, maths-based exercise, are any sort of guide, Authentic is currently only #9 in the world. That means there was still room for significant improvement. It is, of course, up to the owners what they choose to do with their horse. But to say there was nothing left to accomplish is plainly self serving nonsense. Still, at least Spendthrift sugared the pill with the surprise news that the admirable Monomoy Girl is to stay in training as a 6yo with Brad Cox. They paid $9.5m for her at Fasig-Tipton’s ‘Night of the Stars’ auction the evening after the Breeders’ Cup. While we’re on the subject of disappointing post Breeders’ Cup developments, what about the news that Manny Franco has been jocked off Tiz The Law in favour of John Velazquez?

Franco’s fellow Puerto Rican will take the reins when the hugely popular colt begins his 4yo season in the Pegasus World Cup at Gulfstream Park on 23 January. The Dubai World Cup is probable after that. The writing was on the wall for Franco as soon as trainer Barclay Tagg, a curmudgeonly type if ever there was one, publicly criticised the jockey’s efforts in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, where Tiz The Law could finish only sixth behind Authentic after being penned on the inner. Franco, of course, had partnered the son of Constitution in all of his eight races since his 2yo debut under Junior Alvarado, winning four Grade Ones, including both the Belmont and Travers Stakes, before being beaten into second as hot favourite for the Kentucky Derby in September. News of the jockey change was revealed in a statement by Tiz The Law’s owners Sackatoga Stable. “I’m grateful for all that has been accomplished thus far with Tiz,” said managing partner Jack Knowlton. “How can you not be? But we have another year of racing ahead of us and want to do what’s best for him and our partners. Tiz’s story still has another chapter.”

Velazquez will be based in South Florida over the winter. “We’re very pleased to have an opportunity to have Johnny ride him,” said Knowlton. “He beat us twice this year with Authentic. Now that Authentic isn’t around any longer, getting Johnny is a good opportunity.” Commenting on Franco’s efforts at Keeneland, he added: “Barclay made his feelings known. We were all disappointed.” Maybe so, and US owners are seldom squeamish when it comes to changing the man on top. Johnny V is plainly a much more experienced rider than Franco, as his Hall of Fame credentials suggest. He knows Gulfstream like the back of his hand, and obviously has more international experience than 25yo Franco, who has come to prominence on the New York circuit only in the last couple of years. Yet can anybody really suggest Tiz The Law’s defeats have been down to jockeyship? He would not have finished any better than second in the Kentucky Derby, whoever did the steering; it is doubtful he would have made the places at Keeneland even with a different trip.

While it probably wasn’t a marquee ride, the draw made life difficult, whoever was on top. There were extenuating circumstances, and sacking Franco looks a bit like clutching at straws. (Incidentally, in an interesting aside, Franco’s agent is the legendary Angel Cordero, who split with Velazquez in February after managing his rides for 31 years.) Either way, the decision hardly fits with the ‘feelgood factor’ that has accompanied Tiz The Law’s rise to prominence for the blue collar team behind Funny Cide. Underdog or not, you feel less inclined to root for them in the future. Lest it be forgotten, a cautionary tale from the other side of the pond. In a similar move, albeit one that did not have the justification of an alleged bad ride, rising star Tom Marquand lost the Derby ride on favourite English King to Frankie Dettori, the latter’s undoubted big race experience being cited as a factor. Marquand, of course, had ridden English King to an emphatic victory in the Lingfield Derby Trial, since when the colt hasn’t won another race. With Dettori in the saddle, he was only fifth in the Derby, where the excellent Marquand took second place on rank outsider Khalifa Sat.

Just sayin’.