Assuming the Bob Baffert-trained Uncle Chuck is not running in the $100,000 Shared Belief Stakes on Saturday at Del Mar, then Honor A. P. is the easy choice. Even if he turns in an effort that is less than his best, the field looks weak enough that he can take this at 90 percent.
For those not following the Derby trail, here is a recap of Honor A. P.'s four-race career.
By most accounts, Honor A. P. is one of the leading contenders for the Kentucky Derby on Sept. 5. Under trainer John Shirreffs' care, the son of Honor Code has compiled a consistent 4: 2-2-0 record. In terms of Derby qualifying points, he's third on the list with 120.
Honor A. P.'s first two starts came last year, with one of them on this course. In his career debut, he ran second in a local six-furlong maiden special weight last August. Then, Honor A. P. broke his maiden by 5 1/4 lengths at Santa Anita after stretching out to one mile.
For those two efforts, Honor A. P. earned a 101 and 107 on TimeformUS.
Honor A. P. went on the shelf for the rest of 2019 and eventually made his next start in the San Felipe Stakes (G2) in March. Unfortunately for him, fellow Derby candidate Authentic set the pace uncontested and kept going in the stretch for a clear 2 1/4-length victory. Authentic had the benefit of a race in January, giving him more fitness than Honor A. P.
To Honor A. P.'s credit, he made a nice move on the turn to get within striking range, but his run began to stall in the stretch as Authentic had plenty of energy reserved late off the uncontested lead.
Nevertheless, Honor A. P. earned a 115 on TimeformUS in the San Felipe, which means he moved forward off his 2-year-old form.
In June, Honor A. P. started in the nine-furlong Santa Anita Derby (G1), again against Authentic. Once again, Honor A. P. moved on the turn. This time, he sustained the move and kept rolling in the stretch run past Authentic for a 2 3/4-length victory over his rival.
In fairness, Authentic broke poorly and went wide on the first turn, which are two factors that affected his late punch.
Honor A. P. ran a winning race, though. It is hard to imagine Authentic beating him that day, even if he had started the race better.
For the victory, Honor A. P. earned a career-high 122 TimeformUS Speed Figure. In four starts, Honor A. P. moved forward each time.
If Uncle Chuck does not run, who could challenge Honor A. P.?
Thousand Words brings a three-race losing streak into the Shared Belief after winning the Robert B. Lewis Stakes (G3) and Los Alamitos Futurity (G2) by narrow margins. One of those losses was a fourth-place finish in the San Felipe, 11 1/4 lengths behind Authentic. Afterward, he ran a dismal 11th in the Oaklawn Stakes, 29 3/4 lengths off Mr. Big News.
In his most recent start, Thousand Words did improve by finishing second by four lengths to Uncle Chuck in the Los Alamitos Derby (G3) with a 119 TimeformUS Speed Figure. That effort is better, but it remains a concern that he lost ground in the stretch run at nine furlongs.
Anneau d'Or is winless in all five dirt starts. He ran second in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile last fall and second to Thousand Words in the Los Alamitos Futurity. His form went south afterward, with a ninth in the second division Risen Star Stakes (G2), fifth in the second division Arkansas Derby (G1) and a fourth in the Santa Anita Derby (G1).
In Anneau d'Or's lone turf start, he broke his maiden by eight lengths. But on dirt he shows no punch in the stretch despite putting himself in a good position in most of his races. Put him back on turf.
Kiss Today Goodbye is hard to trust off a 33 1/4-length loss in an allowance optional claimer at Santa Anita. Bettors can cross him off.
Cezanne generated hype after two wins in two starts for Baffert. But, Cezanne defeated Mongolian Legend by only 1 3/4 lengths in an allowance optional claimer. Previously, Mongolian Legend broke his maiden in a $50k claimer. Following his second to Cezanne, he went on to finish eighth in a starter allowance at Del Mar on July 10.
Some handicappers argue that Cezanne was not tuned up in the optional claiming win. But that is hard to believe, as most horses move forward in their second career start.
Uncle Chuck is the only horse capable of beating Honor A. P.
He broke his maiden by seven lengths at Santa Anita and took the Los Alamitos Derby by four lengths over Thousand Words under mild urging. For those two wins, Uncle Chuck earned a 115 and 124 on TimeformUS, giving him a higher figure than Honor A. P.
Given Uncle Chuck owns the higher speed figure and plenty of upside as a Baffert-trained, 2-for-2 colt, taking him as the second choice is not a bad deal with those factors in mind.
Furthermore, Uncle Chuck needs the Kentucky Derby points, while Honor A. P. clinched his spot. Uncle Chuck is more likely to give his best.
As of this writing, it is more likely that Uncle Chuck travels to New York for the Travers Stakes (G1) next week than stay home. But that is not 100 percent definite right now.
For those playing the exotics, Thousand Words is the most likely runner-up. Ignore Anneau d'Or, as he is likely to stall in the stretch again.
If Uncle Chuck ships to Saratoga, then concede the win to Honor A. P.
With his spot in the Derby locked up, Honor A. P. might not give his best run, but he probably does not need a super effort to win this race. If the race is played at all, he is a worthy single.