In becoming one of the early favorites for the Sept. 5 Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve, Honor A. P. has prepped in short fields in California this year — circumstances that won’t change when he competes in the $100,000 Shared Belief Stakes Saturday at Del Mar.
Only six 3-year-olds were entered in the 1 1/16-mile dirt race and even fewer are expected to start. Uncle Chuck and Anneau d’Or are expected to scratch in favor of other spots next week, their trainers said, which could leave just three foes to oppose Honor A. P.
At least two of those remaining three, Thousand Words and Cezanne, have shown quality. The former won the Grade 2 Los Alamitos Futurity in December and the Grade 3 Robert B. Lewis Stakes in February, while the latter is perfect in two starts after selling for $3.65 million last year. Both are trained by Hall of Famer Bob Baffert.
Honor A. P. traded decisions with another Baffert trainee, Authentic, in two starts in seven-horse fields earlier this year. First, he finished second to Authentic in the Grade 2 San Felipe Stakes, his first start after nearly a five-month break, and then turned the tables by defeating that rival in the Grade 1 Runhappy Santa Anita Derby, though after Authentic did not secure his preferred early position on the lead.
Since the Santa Anita Derby, C R K Stable’s Honor A. P. has posted six workouts, wrapped up by five furlongs in 1:01 1/5 at Del Mar July 25. In that workout, he spotted 4-year-old Takeo, a maiden $62,500 claiming winner on turf last fall, an early advantage before catching up and gradually moving about a half-length past him at the finish under moderate urging.
The final eighth of the workout in roughly :12 encouraged trainer John Shirreffs.
Mike Smith, aboard for all four of the Honor Code ridgling’s starts, will be aboard for the Shared Belief.
If Uncle Chuck and Anneau d’Or are scratched, the Shared Belief would lack an obvious front-runner, which could benefit Cezanne. He has exhibited tactical speed in each of his two starts, one of which was a sprint, suggesting he might be quick enough to take command if hustled away from the gate by jockey Flavien Prat.
“He’s getting fitter and fitter. The class is there,” Baffert said.
Now his mind needs to catch up. In winning a first-level allowance at Los Alamitos July 2, he seemed content to do only what was necessary once he took command entering the stretch. In front by three lengths with a furlong to go, he won by 1 3/4 lengths — not the kind of blowout performance many anticipated from the 1-10 favorite.
“He will need to step it up here, so that’s good. He’s got the competition to keep him running,” Baffert said.
Susan Magnier, Michael Tabor, Derrick Smith, and co-breeder St. Elias Stable own the 3-year-old son of Curlin.
Without any qualifying points on the Road to the Kentucky Derby, he may need to win the Shared Belief if he is to safely secure entrance into the Derby, a race that customarily oversubscribes beyond its 20-horse maximum field size. The Shared Belief provides points on a 50-20-10-5 basis to its top-four finishers.
Thousand Words, beaten four lengths by Uncle Chuck when second in the Grade 3 Los Alamitos Derby, at least seemed to put forth his best in the latter race after failing to do so when unplaced in the Oaklawn Stakes and San Felipe Stakes earlier in the spring. He could improve in his second start following a three-month layoff.
Breezing in company with Cezanne July 25 at Del Mar, he slightly outworked his stablemate in that team drill, though both received identical 1:13 4/5 times.
“He’s going the right way again. He is willing again; he lost his will for a while there,” Baffert said. “He’s going to run a nice race.”
Abel Cedillo takes the mount on the Pioneerof the Nile 3-year-old, who races for Albaugh Family Stables and Spendthrift Farm.
Longshot Kiss Today Goodbye, last of 10 in his only start against winners in a first-level allowance May 17, rounds out the field.
Barring a change in plans, the trainers of Uncle Chuck and Anneau d’Or said those colts are expected to scratch in favor of the Runhappy Travers Stakes at Saratoga Race Course Aug. 8 and the Runhappy Ellis Park Derby Aug. 9, respectively.
The second race on an 11-race card Saturday, the Shared Belief goes off at approximately 5:30 p.m. ET.