So marveled the New York Post after Peter E. Blum’s homebred filly Flawless looked just that in her scintillating career debut at Belmont Park on May 23, 2010. Unfortunately, she sustained an injury next time out and never raced again, but her story of untapped potential is being fulfilled through her son, Kentucky Derby (G1) contender Authentic.
Blum named Flawless when she was a yearling, a clever synthesis drawn from her dam, Oyster Baby, and her beauty comparable to a pearl. He had purchased the unraced Oyster Baby, when carrying Flawless, for $160,000 at the 2007 Keeneland January Sale.
The initial attraction was pedigree: Oyster Baby was a half-sister to another Blum acquisition, the well-related Dixie Holiday. (Eventually, Dixie Holiday would turn out to be the ancestress of such Group/Grade 1 winners as Dubai sprint legend Reynaldothewizard and Godolphin’s Seventh Street).
But Oyster Baby also passed the eye test when assessed by his longtime associates, Dromoland Farm’s Gerry Dilger and Bridie Harrison. Dilger had a role in two Kentucky Derby winners in recent years. Involved in the purchase and reselling of 2016 champion Nyquist as a youngster, Dilger also bred 2017 Derby hero Always Dreaming in partnership. Dilger sadly passed away in March, but his early connection with Oyster Baby and Flawless helps to further his legacy.
Blum, who co-bred 2009 Hopeful (G1) hero Dublin with Dilger, has been responsible for high-profile performers over decades as a commercial breeder. Five-time Grade 1 winner Devil His Due was a particularly prolific campaigner, bankrolling more than $3.9 million. Remarkably, Blum has bred notable stakes winners from one family during a 40-year span – including Academy Award, Well Chosen, Irish highweight Tomahawk, and more recently, 2018 Clark H. (G1) victor Leofric, whose fifth dam is the matron who started it all, Mono.
Oyster Baby was a promising addition to Blum’s broodmare band. The daughter of inaugural Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) victor Wild Again made an immediate contribution with Flawless, her first foal, by Mr. Greeley. Offered as a yearling at the 2008 Keeneland September Sale, Flawless did not reach her reserve price when bidding maxed out at $285,000. Blum thereby retained her to race.
The word was out was on Flawless by the time she made her premiere as a 3-year-old. As Albie Johnson observed in his “Belmont Notebook” on Brisnet.com, the “homebred filly from the small but quality Peter Blum operation…had been rumored to be a runner ever since shipping here from Payson Park where she was prepared by trainer Bill Mott this past winter.”
Dispatched as the 1.10-1 favorite in a 7-furlong maiden that spring day at Belmont, Flawless made the pre-race buzz look like an understatement. Hall of Fame jockey Kent Desormeaux had an armchair ride as she flashed speed, toyed with her rivals by letting them approach, then kicked away in hand. Flawless drew off by 13 1/4 lengths, impressing racecaller Tom Durkin who was positively bubbly:
Mott’s reaction was even more telling. The level-headed horseman made a bold statement, smiling, according to NYRA publicity:
“She wasn’t cranked. She was only half ready. She’s worked very well and has a lot of ability.”
Some might have been tempted to pitch Flawless straight into stakes company. In keeping with Mott’s conservative method, however, the plan was for her to progress through the allowance ranks and gain beneficial experience first.
The 2-5 favorite when next appearing in a one-mile allowance at Belmont, Flawless swept from just off the pace to strike the front, only to labor late and get collared by a half-length. She had pulled 11 3/4 lengths clear of the third-placer, but Blum realized that all was not well.
“My son and I were there, and we had a pretty good idea watching the race that something happened to the filly,” Blum recalled. “She bowed (a tendon) in the race.”
Flawless had shown such talent in her first start that she was given every possible opportunity to make it back to the races.
“We tried giving her at least a year off,” Blum said. “We put her back in training, but knew the chances of success were slim. The tendon flared up as soon as she breezed.”
The injury to Flawless was a double blow, since Blum had suffered the tragic loss of Oyster Baby in 2009. The mare, just seven years old, succumbed to a walled-off abscess that defied discovery for months – despite a hospital stay and consultation with numerous veterinarians.
Thus when Flawless retired to the broodmare life, she lacked the attractive “black-type” from stakes accomplishments close up on her page. With her dam dying young and her own career cut short, would her offspring be able to gain any traction at the sales? That has to be an element in decision-making for anyone who breeds to sell.
Blum had a chance encounter with Mott at Keeneland September a couple of years afterward, and brought up his concern about her commercial prospects:
“I told him it would be hard selling foals out of the mare because Oyster Baby’s death meant there would be two blank dams on the catalog page.”
Once again, the usually reserved Mott offered an unstinting endorsement of Flawless, reiterating just how highly he prized her:
“Sell all of your other mares, but keep her.”
The Hall of Famer’s advice has paid dividends with the rise to stardom of Authentic.
Upon the recommendation of noted bloodstock consultant Doug Cauthen (brother of 1978 Triple Crown-winning jockey Steve Cauthen and husband of Katie who pinhooked King Guillermo), Flawless was bred to Into Mischief. Her bay colt was foaled on May 5, 2017 – the eve of the Derby won by the Dilger-bred Always Dreaming.
Given his later birthday, Authentic understandably took a bit longer to come into his own. Yet there was no doubt that he was a fine specimen.
Bridie Harrison has raised and cared for Blum’s horses for more than 35 years, from Dromoland and now in recent years at her own farm, Hurricane Place, near Cynthiana, Kentucky.
“He was always likable as a foal and a yearling,” Harrison said. “He was just kind of tough – in a good way. Immature because he was a very young foal, but we always liked him as one of our better foals and yearlings.
“He improved when we started to do yearling prep. He came on in leaps and bounds in his yearling prep.”
Like Flawless, Authentic was named as a yearling, and he proved worthy of it. Although cataloged later in the 2018 Keeneland September Sale – as Hip No. 2616 in Book 3, during the eighth session – he did not escape notice.
SF Bloodstock and Starlight West, two of the interests involved in that year’s Triple Crown champion Justify, combined to buy Authentic for $350,000. Like Justify, he was ultimately bound for Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert’s barn.
Tom Ryan of SF Bloodstock credited bloodstock adviser Donato Lanni’s role in a recent interview for Keeneland (includes video of Authentic in the ring):
For his early lessons, Authentic was sent to the Ocala academy of Eddie Woods, who’s taught the likes of 2008 Derby and Preakness (G1) champion Big Brown and turf star Lady Eli, among others.
“He was always a really nice, quiet colt who showed a lot of talent from the first time that we worked him,” Woods recalled.
“He was a little immature physically – plenty of height but maybe a little bit narrower. But from a training point of view, he was always ahead” of his physical development.
As a young colt with ability if not quite the finished article, Authentic hinted of significant potential once he did fill into his frame. His racing career so far has followed that trajectory: brilliance, but with room to improve as he puts it all together.
Authentic’s ownership has evolved along with him. Spendthrift Farm, the home of his leading sire Into Mischief, has acquired a majority interest, so he too will stand at stud there in time. Also joining the partnership is the Spendthrift-affiliated MyRaceHorse Stable, which gives fans the opportunity to buy micro-shares, while Madaket Stables and Starlight stay on board.
His free-running style remains the same. When prevailing in his final stepping stone to the Derby, the July 18 Haskell (G1), Authentic was capping a banner day for Blum. Another Blum-bred, Crystal Ball, came within a head of taking the Coaching Club American Oaks (G1) at Saratoga the same afternoon.
Authentic’s high speed revives thoughts about just what Flawless might have achieved on the track. The 13-year-old mare is herself inspiring dreams of what may be yet to come. She’s back in foal to Into Mischief, carrying a full brother to the Derby hopeful.