From the moment Honor A. P. flew past horses to go from 10th and last to get up for second in a maiden sprint last summer at Del Mar, he has been on my short list of preferred horses for the Kentucky Derby.
Nearly a year later, he is the one horse I believe most likely to win the 2020 Run for the Roses. The only problem is that the handsome son of Honor Code has run only three times since that eye-catching debut performance.
Back at Del Mar for the summer, Honor A. P. will get one more race in before he makes the trip to Louisville for this year’s Derby. Saturday’s 1 1/16-mile Shared Belief Stakes is not your traditional prep for the roses, but I guess precious few things are normal this year.
The John Shirreffs-trained runner will likely be a heavy favorite in what looks to be a very small field for the Shared Belief. In fact, if the connections of both Uncle Chuck and Anneau d’Or follow through on their plans and send their charges out of town for the Travers and Ellis Park Derby, respectively, Honor A. P.’s final prep for the Kentucky Derby will only have a field of four.
His main competition will be a pair of runners from the barn of Bob Baffert. Thousand Words is a multiple graded stakes winner but has already had plenty of chances this year and has a similar running style to the favorite.
Cezanne, a $3.65 million purchase as a 2-year-old in training, could be the bigger threat as lone speed. He’s 2-for-2 lifetime but has never seen anything the likes of Honor A. P. Then again, few horses carry themselves quite like the grandson of the great A.P. Indy.
This is one magnificent steed. From his flashy big white blaze down to his sizable four white stockings, Honor A. P. is all racehorse. His dark bay coat strains to cover up a muscular body ready to bust out, while that flowing mane of his transports me back in time to when his great grandaddy Seattle Slew ruled the racing world.
Even more impressive than his good looks is the way he moves. Staying low to the ground, he has an effortless stride that gobbles up ground. The way he has crossed the wire in each of his four starts gives every indication that he will excel at distances of 10 furlongs or more. It’s a shame that there is no 12-furlong Belmont in 2020.
As far as Saturday and the Shared Belief, Honor A. P. likely will need to play catch-up in the short field to reel in the expensive Baffert runner, who figures to be loose on the lead. Looking one race ahead, he also has some catching up to do on a few horses who promise to be his biggest competition on the first Saturday of September.
Of course, there is Tiz the Law. The undisputed leader of the division was a Grade 1 winner as a juvenile and has been even better at 3, mowing down his competition in each of the Holy Bull (G3), Florida Derby (G1), and Belmont Stakes (G1). The sensational New York-bred will further his seasoning for the Kentucky Derby when he looks to add the 10-furlong Travers (G1) on Aug. 8 to his growing list of accomplishments.
Then there is Art Collector. He’s more of a Johnny come lately to the Derby party, but like Tiz the Law, the Blue Grass (G2) winner will arrive to the Kentucky Derby starting gate with a deeper foundation than that of Honor A. P. The son of Bernardini will make his ninth lifetime start in the Ellis Park Derby on Aug. 9.
Honor A. P., meanwhile, has only four lifetime starts heading into the Shared Belief. After his promising debut at Del Mar, he came back eight weeks later to dominate a maiden field at Santa Anita going a flat mile, and that was it for his juvenile season.
Shirreffs is a patient trainer, and he knew his developing star would be better with maturity. He did look for a stakes debut early in the year for Honor A. P., but a small physical setback delayed his 3-year-old debut. When he finally did make it back to the races, he finished second behind the controlling speed of the recent Haskell winner, Authentic, in the San Felipe (G2) on March 7.
It was a good performance off a 5-month layoff, but due to the many ramifications of the COVID-19 pandemic, Honor A. P. would not make it back to the races for another 3 1/2 months. The occasion was the Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby, and it served as a coming-out party of sorts, as this time he rolled right by Authentic on his way to an impressive victory.
The question then became how to best get this horse to the Kentucky Derby. Based in Southern California, the answer became the path of least resistance. Shirreffs and owner Lee Searing of C R K Stable opted to keep their budding star at home, so eight weeks after his first important win, he will run in the 1 1/16-mile Shared Belief Stakes at Del Mar.
On Saturday, he will be tasked with not only running down the developing speed of Cezanne, but more importantly getting enough out of the race to be fully ready for the big test waiting for him five weeks later at Churchill Downs.
It all seems less than ideal, but in the hands of Shirreffs, a man who has won the Derby before with Giacomo and skillfully landscaped the career of the great Zenyatta, Honor A. P. should be ready to shine on Sept. 5.