05/03/2013 12:56PM

La Troienne: Authenticity outduels On Fire Baby

Tom Keyser
Authenticity and John Velazquez (right) narrowly defeat On Fire Baby, ridden by Joe Johnson, in the Grade 2 La Troienne.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Authenticity outdueled On Fire Baby through a stirring stretch drive at Churchill Downs to win Friday’s $300,000 La Troienne Stakes by a head in a result that to trainer Todd Pletcher had far more reaching ramifications than simply winning a Grade 2 race.

“This is a big win for us for a number of reasons,” Pletcher said while walking to the winner’s circle. “This filly has been breezing with Verrazano, to me that’s key; Johnny [Velazquez] comes back and looks like he’s in form, that’s key; and winning a big race in its own right.”

In Verrazano, Pletcher was referring to the undefeated colt who was to start in Saturday’s $2 million Kentucky Derby. Authenticity has been a workmate of Verrazano for the last two weeks.

For Velazquez, it was just his second mount back since missing 3 1/2 weeks dues to a cracked rib and chipped right wrist suffered in a spill at Aqueduct on April 7.

For Authenticity, a 6-year-old daughter of Quiet America owned by Padua Stables, it was her first graded stakes win after finishing second to stablemate Ciao Bella in the Grade 2 Rampart at Gulfstream on March 30.

Breaking from post 2, Authenticity got a good start and secured a forward position along the inside. Believe You Can, the even-money favorite and last year’s Kentucky Oaks winner, broke slowly, allowing Authenticity to set pedestrian fractions of 24.80 seconds for the quarter and 48.45 for the half while being pressed by On Fire Baby.

Those two kept at each other through six furlongs in 1:12.39 while Class Included had Believe You Can boxed in along the rail.

Turning for home after six furlongs in 1:12.39, Authenticity and On Fire Baby continued to go head and head, but at the wire Authenticity prevailed. It was 4 3/4 lengths back to Believe You Can.

The final time of 1:42.09 for 1 1/16 miles set a stakes record, eclipsing the mark of 1:42.43 set by Shadow Cast in 2005.

Velazquez rode his first mount back on Thursday at Belmont Park, finishing last aboard a maiden trained by Pletcher. He is purposely taking limited mounts until he gets his fitness back, but he certainly appeared to pass a test in the La Troienne.

“People always question am I ready?” Velazquez said. “There’s nothing there. I got to worry about my fitness more than anything else. After that I’m in pretty good shape.”

Though On Fire Baby was spotting five pounds to Authenticity, trainer Gary Hartlage simply said, “It was a real good horse race, we got beat.”

Rosie Napravnik, the rider of Believe You Can, said her filly stumbled at the start and was further compromised by the slow pace.

“She ended up settling okay and she ran alright,” Napravnik said. “The place was slow and she does her best work on the front end.”