Honor A. P. is one of the favorites for the 2020 Kentucky Derby (G1), but that doesn’t mean that the son of Honor Code is a good play this weekend.
Honor A. P. heads the field for the $100,000 Shared Belief Stakes at Del Mar, a 1 1/16-mile race that has Road to the Derby points attached for the first time thanks to the rescheduling of the big race to September 5. The John Shirreffs-trainee is coming off an impressive win in the Santa Anita Derby (G1), and could face as few as just three rivals. But he is still a play against.
Going into the Santa Anita Derby, Honor A. P. needed the winning points to guarantee him a spot in the Kentucky Derby starting gate. Now that he is in, he can merely gallop through an easy prep to tighten the screws for Kentucky, still five weeks away. Trainer Shirreffs is notorious for babying a horse through early races while having them ready to go on the important day – such as when Honor A. P. ran second in his seasonal bow, the San Felipe Stakes (G2), before crushing Authentic by 2 ¾ lengths next out. Authentic went on to win the Haskell (G1), and Honor A. P. has been waiting for this spot.
The 1 1/16-mile distance isn’t ideal either for the big-striding horse, who will have Mike Smith aboard again. When last seen at Del Mar, it was Honor A. P.’s debut a year ago and he acted up before the race, jumping into the air and trying to run off before Smith guided him to a second-place effort behind future stakes placed Ginobili. He then broke his maiden at Santa Anita by more than five lengths.
While Honor A. P. could very well be the best horse in the race by far, he doesn’t need to win, while Cezanne needs to win. The Bob Baffert runner is unbeaten in two starts, but has yet to try stakes company. He is a $3.65 million purchase by Curlin and is likely the controlling speed in the race. Jockey Flavien Prat should dictate the front end with the thought of saving enough to hold off Honor A. P. in the lane. With two swift workouts for this and the pressure on, this is the horse to beat and the horse to play in this spot.
The question mark in the race is Thousand Words. Baffert’s second runner – with third runner Uncle Chuck likely to scratch and head to the Travers at Saratoga next weekend – was a Grade 2 winner as a juvenile and won his first start of the year in good form, but has gone backwards since then, running fourth in the San Felipe, 11th in the sloppy Oaklawn Stakes, and second in the Los Alamitos Derby (G3). The $1 million son of Pioneerof the Nile was one of Baffert’s top Derby hopefuls at the end of last year, and is now hardly in anyone’s top 10. The cut back to 1 1/16 miles should help him here, since he’s had two wins in three starts over the trip.
With Anneau d’Or likely to scratch to run in the Ellis Park Derby next weekend as well, that leaves longshot Kiss Today Goodbye to round out the field. He has never run past a mile, but won over that distance February 22. He has only run once since then, finishing poorly with a slow start in his first try against both winners and older horses.