Authentic’s Flawless Start Rings True to Blum

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Authentic | Benoit

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Authentic has already carved one significant milestone for his sire, his debut success at Del Mar last November having qualified Into Mischief as the first North American stallion to accumulate 200 individual winners in a calendar year. If he can also become a Classic winner, however, he will need a chapter to himself in the Spendthrift phenomenon’s epic tale.

Because the rise of Into Mischief, sealed by a first general sires’ championship in 2019, has primarily been powered by speed. As his books have gained in quality, the last big challenge is to produce a horse that can sustain his trademark dash sufficiently to win a Triple Crown race.

Graduates of his cheaper early books have not lacked encouragement, Audible and Owendale having finished with persuasive gusto to make the podium in the 2018 Derby and 2019 Preakness respectively. But the first colt to make that definitive breakthrough is going to have wild commercial kudos at stud, not least given the way Goldencents–star of his first crop–has so quickly hinted that Into Mischief may also pass on his alchemical properties as a sire of sires.

As Authentic prepares for a probable crack at the GI Santa Anita Derby, perhaps nobody has better insight into his credentials than his breeder, Peter Blum.

True, Blum’s hand has been cultivating this particular family relatively briefly, compared with the dynasty he has built–through as many as seven generations–from his foundation mare Mono, acquired from King Ranch in 1975. (Her dam was a sister to Assault, and her fourth dam a sister to Man o’ War.) But Authentic has certainly profited from the astute navigational instincts Blum has meanwhile developed for the pedigree maze.

“I guess I’ve been doing it a long time,” Blum reflects. “I got interested at a very young age, and bought my first horse while at the University of North Carolina. Didn’t have very good luck with that one, but I persevered. I learned a lot over the years, talking to people I respected and admired–Seth Hancock, for one. I looked for certain things, followed my intuition. But nobody knows enough in this business. You can never stop learning.”

Authentic is the third starter (and third winner, albeit the other two operated in a far lower grade) out of the Mr Greeley mare Flawless, who was acquired in utero along with her unraced dam Oyster Baby (Wild Again) for $160,000 at Keeneland January 2007. Though Oyster Baby would only produce a couple of other foals before a tragically early demise, Flawless showed plenty of ability in a career confined to two starts at Belmont Park, winning a seven furlong maiden by 13 lengths on debut and then a close second in allowance company over a mile.

“I’ve known Bill Mott a long time,” Blum says. “He called me a few days before he was going to put her in, and said that she had talent. But I knew that not many of his win first time out, so wasn’t really expecting too much; I was just hoping for her to run a decent race. When she won, she was on the back page of the New York Post as ‘The next Rachel Alexandra.’ And Bill’s comment in the paper was that she wasn’t cranked, she was only half-ready. Her second start, I think she went off at 1-5. But she came back with a [bowed] tendon, and that was it.”

A couple of years later Blum saw Mott at Keeneland, and they spoke of Flawless. The loss of Oyster Baby, together with her own truncated career, had left the page worryingly thin.

“Bill,” Blum said. “I’m a commercial breeder. I don’t know that I’m going to be able to get a sale out of this mare.”

“You can sell all your other mares,” replied Mott. “But you keep her!”

So Flawless stayed in the program. Actually, she might already have slipped through Blum’s grasp as a yearling, when offered at the September Sale. Fortunately she did not meet her reserve, at $285,000: she was named advisedly, after all, as a big, beautiful specimen.

“And her dam Oyster Baby had been a magnificent mare, too,” Blum recalls. “Unfortunately, she had a walled-off abscess. We were trying to save her for six months. And it turned out she had something that could easily have been treated, but none of the radiographs could show it because the bone was blocking the abscess.”

There was also bad luck with her daughter’s first foal, who showed abundant promise until derailed first by pneumonia, then a capsized van. But Blum persevered. To build a family, after all, demands patience. A cautionary example: the same crop that gave his program Flawless also featured a filly from the Mono family, by Afleet Alex. She was culled, along with her dam.

Given the name Afleet Maggi by her purchasers, she has since become the dam of Grade I winner Dream Tree (Uncle Mo).

Flawless, at any rate, has now vindicated Blum’s faith. After consultation with advisor Doug Cauthen, in 2016 Blum sent the mare to the up-and-coming Into Mischief, then still available at $45,000.

Though a May 5 foal, and buried in the September Sale as Hip 2616, Authentic secured a good dividend when unearthed by SF Bloodstock/Starlight West for $350,000.

He was prepared and consigned by Bridie Harrison, whose association with Blum goes back to her days at Dromoland.

“Bridie had demonstrated she was an excellent horsewoman, that she deserved the chance, and I was very confident going to her,” Blum recalls. “Truthfully, it wasn’t even a decision. It just played out naturally. She was a good friend, she’d always given me good advice, I had confidence in the way she raised the horses and I could feel the love that she felt for them.”

The team had a great sale that year, crowned by a $1.4 million Uncle Mo colt from the Mono line (a promising fourth on debut, as Believe Now, for Michael McCarthy at Santa Anita in March). But Blum’s esteem for Authentic was black and white for all to see in the catalog–already named, as he was, in tribute to the caliber of Flawless.

“We believed in the horse, we honestly did,” Blum recalls. “He was one of our best yearlings. But you can’t really tell people to come and look at your horses. Bridie just shows them, and answers the questions. But he presented himself well. I mean, he still hasn’t filled out commensurate with his height. He’s going to be a big horse. He’s already tall, and he’s going to keep filling out. But he was nice enough for the right people to see him.”

It is not just in terms of his ongoing physical development, however, that the Derby’s postponement could work in Authentic’s favor. In itself, after all, the fact that he had not reached his third birthday on the first Saturday in May would not have disqualified Authentic from emulating the first three past the post last year (all had enjoyed the sunshine and pasture that greets a May foal). But he did look extremely raw when making his second start in the GIII Sham S., almost colliding with the rail as he cocked his head in the stretch, even as he opened up by 7 3/4 lengths. So while he subsequently saw off Honor A.P. (Honor Code) with a committed display in the GII San Felipe S., the extended road to Churchill can surely only have helped Baffert hone Authentic’s professionalism.

On the other hand, as Blum points out, there may be Derby contenders in September–Honor A.P. very possibly a case in point–that were nowhere near precocious enough, in athletic terms, to romp in the Sham on Jan. 4.

“And a lot of those that were behind, back then, might catch up or even be ahead of him,” Blum remarks. “So while he has also extra time to grow, I’m just pointing out that there are both positives and negatives.”

The mental immaturity he displayed in the Sham, however, apparently betrays no innate unruliness. “I don’t know any more than what Baffert has said,” Blum says. “And he’s joked about it, saying that he doesn’t think it anything to worry about. You know, I think it was more impressive that the horse did pull those antics [in the Sham] and yet still won as far as he did. He certainly didn’t do anything [wrong] last time.

“I think Baffert’s done the right thing. He backed off and worked him very, very slow. And then the other day he worked three-quarters in [1]:12 flat. I think he just wanted him to chill out. Not that he was a problem, but he had the time to work with him and just wanted him to relax.”

Needless to say, Flawless has returned to Into Mischief this spring. (She missed to Mastery on a late cover last year, but that has at least enabled her to reset.) Whether that results in a sibling to a Kentucky Derby winner, however, hinges on the degree of “stretch” that Authentic can eke out of his pedigree.

By this stage, we are well accustomed to Into Mischief’s ability to kindle class from the coldest embers. And, as we’ve seen, there is more to Authentic’s immediate kin than immediately meets the eye: Flawless was obviously very gifted; her dam had tragically brief opportunity; while the next two dams were both graded stakes winners.

Oyster Baby’s half-sister, moreover, produced a nugget to anchor the whole family in Holiday Runner (Meadowlake). Herself fast and precocious, as a Keeneland maiden winner who won two stakes before placing in the GII Adirondack S., Holiday Runner has proved an exceptional producer. Two of her foals are elite winners: the extraordinary Reynaldothewizard (Speightstown), who won the G1 Golden Shaheen at seven and was still running to a high level five years later; and Seventh Street (Street Cry {Ire}), who won the GI Apple Blossom H. and GI Go For Wand H. before in turn producing GII Demoiselle S. winner Lake Avenue (Tapit) and GI Malibu runner-up Marking (Bernardini). Another of Holiday Runner’s daughters, moreover, is the Grade II-placed dam of American Gal (Concord Point), winner of the GI Test and GI Humana Distaff.

That branch of the family certainly seems to have been revved up by Meadowlake, but the one extending to Authentic is hardly deficient in speed by comparison. Looking at the overall pattern, in fact, the first thing you might exclaim about Authentic’s ancestry is: Ruffian!

Ruffian’s half-brother Icecapade (whose accomplishments include a Monmouth track record in 1:08 flat) features top and bottom: Oyster Baby was by his son Wild Again; and his grandson Tricky Creek is the sire, so seldom credited, of Into Mischief’s storied dam Leslie’s Lady. And there’s a nice extra twist: Authentic’s damsire Mr Greeley is out of a mare by Ruffian’s sire Reviewer.

“The jury is out,” admits Blum, regarding Authentic’s stamina potential. “Nobody knows. It would be foolish to say he’s definitely going to get a mile and a quarter. But I think if he gets the mile and eighth [in the Santa Anita Derby] and does it the way he won his previous three races, I’d say he would have a heck of a chance.

“In his last race, he looked like he could run all day. He was just galloping. Every now and then, you see a special horse that doesn’t even have pedigree but that will go out there and do things. I’m not saying he’s the special horse. But if you go back, it’s a very gutsy family. Who knows? Put it this way, I like his chances.”

For now Authentic has yet to be asked for tactical versatility. As and when he squares up to barnmate Charlatan (Speightstown), who has likewise controlled all three starts at his leisure, somebody is going to have to show a new dimension. But there is certainly nothing manic about the speed that has borne Authentic so effortlessly to the front.

All that, of course, can safely be left to a trainer with a third unbeaten meteor in Nadal (Blame). Baffert aptly compares Authentic’s light stride to that of a gazelle, which duly limits the demands the horse makes of himself. Interestingly, moreover, he went back to his American Pharoah playbook when fitting ear-plugs for the San Felipe.

For now, as with any Classic aspirant, the onus of proof naturally remains on Authentic. He has to confirm that his Sham quirks were just a matter of inexperience, and to show increased professionalism as the summer goes on. And, above all, he has to make “by Into Mischief out of a Mr Greeley mare” read more like a Derby pedigree on the racetrack than it does on paper.

But then a Mr Greeley mare produced Closing Argument, by a fast horse in Successful Appeal, to lead into the stretch and beat all bar Giacomo (Holy Bull) in the 2005 Kentucky Derby. Even in ordinary Thoroughbreds, pedigrees can be hard to predict; and there are few more extraordinary than Into Mischief.

Whatever happens from here, Blum knows–seasoned horseman as he is–to enjoy the ride. Certainly the first-hand reports back to Atlanta from his son Josh, who is working for Richard Mandella, have given an extra dimension to Blum’s engagement as “breeder.”

“Josh has been there for all three of Authentic’s races,” Blum says. “And that’s been really special. That’s what brings a tear to my eye. A few months back, when Bob Baffert and Richard were sharing a barn, Josh would see the horse just about every day. One time they’d given him a bath and were just getting ready to walk him. And Josh said, ‘Mr. Baffert, do you mind if I took a picture of the horse?’ And Baffert said, ‘No, I’ll take the picture, you get in and hold the horse.’ And he said to be sure to send a copy to your dad.”

But if they can just get another photo taken at the end of the summer, with the addition of a blanket of roses, then they should also send a copy to Authentic’s dad. Because as mementos go, there could only be one word for such an image. Flawless.

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