John Shirreffs Discusses Honor A. P.’s Development and a Unique Derby Trail in 2020

The Life
Honor A. P. winning the Runhappy Santa Anita Derby June 6 at Santa Anita Park. (BENOIT photo)

Tom Pedulla is interviewing prominent owners, trainers, and jockeys for America’s Best Racing as they travel the Road to the $3 million Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve. The Derby has been rescheduled for Saturday, Sept. 5, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

weekend TV schedule

Friday, July 31: 1-6:30 p.m. ET on FS2; post time varies on TVG

Saturday, Aug. 1: 1-3 p.m. ET on FS1; 3-4 p.m. ET on FS2; 4-6 p.m. ET on FS1; 6-7:30 p.m. ET on FS2; 7-10 p.m. on NBCSN; post time varies on TVG

Sunday, Aug. 2: 1-4 p.m. ET on FS1; 4-6:30 p.m. ET on FS2; post time varies on TVG

Trainer John Shirreffs, who brought home the roses in 2005 with 50-1 longshot Giacomo, is featured this week. He will be giving highly regarded Honor A. P. his final Derby prep this Saturday in the $100,000 Shared Belief Stakes at Del Mar.

Although the Honor Code ridgling is lightly raced with only four career starts, he ranks third on the Churchill Downs leaderboard with 120 qualifying points and is widely viewed as a prime Derby contender. He finished second to Authentic in the March 7 San Felipe Stakes before turning the tables with an eye-pleasing 2 ¾-length victory against that talented rival in the June 6 Runhappy Santa Anita Derby in his second start this season.

Honor A. P. and regular rider Mike Smith loom as heavy favorites against a short field in the 1 1/16-mile Shared Belief. His primary foe looks to be Cezanne, who is aiming for his third victory in as many starts for Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert. Cezanne faces a must-win situation if he is to advance to Churchill Downs.

The Shared Belief offers the top four finishers qualifying points on a 50-20-10-5 basis.

Honor A. P. has worked six times since the Santa Anita Derby. He covered five furlongs in 1:01 1/5 seconds on June 25 at Del Mar in his final tune-up.

PEDULLA: How is Honor A. P. doing?

SHIRREFFS: I can tell you he’s doing very well. He’s a beautiful 3-year-old. He’s a big, rangy colt. He gets over the ground very nicely. He’s been training well.

PEDULLA: You did not ask much of him as a 2-year-old. Did you feel he was not quite ready for more?

SHIRREFFS: He got to the barn a little bit late in the season. He made steady progress, but he had a badly bruised foot. He got a lot of time off there.

John Shirreffs (Eclipse Sportswire)

PEDULLA: What did it mean to win the Santa Anita Derby with him?

SHIRREFFS: Well, winning the Santa Anita Derby is always a thrill. When you have a nice 3-year-old, it is one of the things you aspire to. It’s just great when you’re able to win it.

PEDULLA: Was it a sign of his progress that he reversed the order of finish on Authentic?

SHIRREFFS: We had a little delay before the San Felipe. We had a little pause there.

PEDULLA: Was he not quite cranked up for the San Felipe?

SHIRREFFS: I don’t want to say “not quite cranked up” because we thought he was doing well enough and was fit enough to run. But he’s a horse that benefitted from that race.

PEDULLA: What is your thought in running in the Shared Belief? Had you given any consideration to training up to the Derby?

SHIRREFFS: No. I think with an inexperienced 3-year-old, racing is best. They get experience in the race, getting bumped around, dealing with dirt in their faces, horses rattling the starting gate. I think all of that stuff is a benefit.

PEDULLA: Are there any comparisons to be made to Giacomo?

SHIRREFFS: Giacomo was a closer. Honor A. P. can be very strategic. He can be up close or off the pace. I think that one of the things about Giacomo and Honor A. P. is they both have big strides and they are both mentally very strong.

PEDULLA: Is that mental strength one of the critical elements you must have to win the Derby?

SHIRREFFS: I believe so. In the past years, they have to take a lot of pressure in the sense that it is a big crowd, everybody is watching them when they go over and train. There is a sense of urgency around the whole situation. You don’t want the horse to feel that sense of urgency. They have to be very composed.

PEDULLA: What do you draw from your Derby experience?

SHIRREFFS: You have to prepare your horse for almost anything. They have to be able to load well in the starting gate. There are just little, tiny things you have to stay on top of.

PEDULLA: Does having a Derby win deepen your hunger for another?

SHIRREFFS: I don’t know if it deepens it. It is something everybody aspires to do. When you have a young, precocious 3-year-old, that’s one of the dreams.

PEDULLA: Any idea when you will ship to Churchill Downs?

SHIRREFFS: I don’t know what rules and protocols they will have for the Derby. Until I understand that, I don’t know.

PEDULLA: Would it feel different to win the Derby on the first Saturday in September?

SHIRREFFS: I think that puts a little different twist on the whole Derby this year. Certainly, it’s the Derby and that makes it special. I think it’s even more special when it’s done in May.

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