Honor A. P. rallied boldly off the far turn to capture Saturday’s $400,000 Santa Anita Derby (G1), confirming himself as a serious Kentucky Derby contender. Runner-up when making his stakes debut in the March 7 San Felipe (G2), the 3-year-old son of Honor Code turned the tables on the previously unbeaten Authentic, drawing away late to a 2 3/4-length decision.
Regular rider Mike Smith was up for John Shirreffs, and they teamed to win the 2005 Kentucky Derby with 50-1 longshot Giacomo. Honor A. P. rates as a leading contender for the rescheduled classic at Churchill Downs, with the Kentucky Derby now set for Sept. 5, and the dark bay ridgling is owned by C R K Stable.
“He ran great, it was a super effort,” Shirreffs said. “I’m just happy for everybody involved, and I can’t thank Mike Smith enough for all that he has done. Whenever I need Mike, he’s always there for me. I really appreciate that.”
Honor A. P. scored as the 2-1 second choice among seven sophomores. He settled just off the pace, within a few lengths of Shooters Shoot, who showed the way through opening splits in :23.07 and :46.88. Four horses were up close from the start, and Honor A. P. raced just behind the early leaders before launching his bid nearing the completion of the far turn.
“We were happy with the way Honor A.P. was training for the race,” Shirreffs added. “We knew that he has tactical speed and Mike can put him pretty much where he wants. On the backside, we hoped he would get comfortable to have a nice little kick in the end, and it all worked out well.”
Angled wide into the stretch, Honor A. P. quickened with a strong turn of foot to gain the advantage in upper stretch. He led by nearly two lengths with a sixteenth of a mile remaining, and Smith wrapped up on his mount in the latter stages as Honor A. P. drifted in late while increasing his advantage under the wire.
Honor A. P. completed 1 1/8-mile distance in 1:48.97, finishing like a horse who would appreciate more ground.
“It seems the further you go with him the better, he’s just got that big long, beautiful, powerful stride,” Smith said. “John Shirreffs, all the crew and the owners I just want to thank everyone for letting me be a part of it. I don’t do a lot he’s doing all the running, all the work.
Authentic, the 1-2 favorite following San Felipe and Sham (G3) wins this year, experienced a rough trip as the 1-2 favorite. He broke outward from post 7 and traveled four-wide into the first turn, and the wide journey continued through the far turn. The Bob Baffert-trained colt was still in serious contention turning for home, but he could not match strides with Honor A. P., who closed powerfully on the far outside to easily prove best.
Rushie, the 12-1 third choice, wound up 1 1/4 lengths behind Authentic in third. Anneau d’Or was a never serious factor checking in fourth, with Shooters Shoot, Friar’s Road, and Azul Coast rounding out the order of finish.
The Santa Anita Derby served as a major qualifier in the Road to the Kentucky Derby series, awarding points on a 100-40-20-10 basis to the top four finishers.
Bred in Kentucky by George Krikorian, Honor A. P. was purchased for $850,000 at the 2018 Fasig-Tipton Saratoga yearling sale. He’s out the multiple Grade 1-winning Wild Rush mare Hollywood Story, who is also the dam of stakes winner Miss Hollywood and Grade 2 runner-up Hollywood Star.
“He gives every indication that he can go a mile and a quarter, just the way he galloped out today,” Smith said. “I mean I had to pull him up. He just keeps going with that big stride, it’s almost as if horses have to take two (strides) to his one, it seems like. He just really reaches.
“John has done a great job with just putting in some really good long works into him and really galloping him out. So he had a lot of air in him today.”
Honor A. P. finished second when making his career debut in a 6-furlong maiden special weight at Del Mar, and broke his maiden by 5 1/4 lengths when stretching out to two turns at Santa Anita in mid-October. After returning from a five-month layoff in the San Felipe, Honor A. P continued to move forward in the Santa Anita Derby.