September 19, 2020

Kentucky Derby Report: Surprising setback for leading West Coast contender

Thousand Words
Thousand Words with Abel Cedillo riding wins the Shared Belief Stakes (HorsePhotos)

Thousand Words assured his Kentucky Derby participation with a wire-to-wire upset, but Honor A. P.’s stunning loss as the 1-5 favorite was the main storyline from Saturday’s Shared Belief S. at Del Mar. Honor A. P. established himself as a top Kentucky Derby contender when posting a convincing win in his previous outing, the June 6 Santa Anita Derby (G1), and fans will be left to debate whether Saturday’s setback adversely affects his chances at Churchill Downs on Sept. 5.

The 1 1/16-mile Shared Belief distance wasn’t an ideal fit and long-striding Honor A. P. did not train hard in preparation for his final prep, recording a series of slow, long-distance workouts beforehand. John Shirreffs didn’t put much emphasis in Giacomo’s last start for the 2005 Derby, with the colt finishing off the board in the Santa Anita Derby at 7-2 odds, and Giacomo provided the trainer with his lone Kentucky Derby win when prevailing four weeks later as a 50-1 outsider.

From 1992-2010, 13 Kentucky Derby winners (68%) dropped their final prep including Monarchos, who finished second to loose-on-the-lead Congaree in the 2001 Wood Memorial (G1) before benefiting from a different set-up on Derby Day.

However, recent history tells a different story. The last nine horses to finish first in the Kentucky Derby captured their final prep, with 3-year-old perfection becoming a standard for brilliant prep winners like California Chrome, American Pharoah, Nyquist, Always Dreaming, and Justify, and bettors with short memories may be unwilling to forgive Honor A. P.

I may have other concerns surrounding Honor A. P., but finishing second by three-quarters of a length in the Shared Belief isn’t one of them.

Regardless of how he performed Saturday, Honor A. P. was entering the Kentucky Derby off a lightly-raced campaign. The Shared Belief marked only the third start since his maiden win in mid-October and the well-bred son of Honor Code never missed any significant training time, recording nearly 35 published workouts over the last 9 1/2 months. Shirreffs was deliberately patient as Southern California counterparts like Authentic (five starts), Rushie (five), and Thousand Words (six) amassed more experience over the same time period.

Honor A. P. must avoid leaving himself too much to do in the stretch at Churchill Downs. He’s not a plodder, displaying tactical speed in previous starts, but Honor A. P. found his best stride late in the Santa Anita Derby and appeared to be just getting underway at the finish line in the Shared Belief. I would have liked to have seen him a corner a little better than he did last Saturday considering how important the far turn will be in the Kentucky Derby.

Those concerns may prove inconsequential. The dark bay sophomore wasn’t going to run back to the career-best 108 Brisnet Speed rating from the Santa Anita Derby, but he still managed a respectable 103 figure. Shirreffs will tighten the screws over the five-week interim, and Honor A. P. remains eligible to take a significant step forward next time.

Thousand Words won’t receive the same setup after being lone speed in the Shared Belief, but it was encouraging performance nonetheless from the once-fancied colt. Winner of the Los Alamitos Futurity (G2) and Robert B. Lewis (G3) over the winter, the son of Pioneeerof the Nile took a step back with dismal efforts in the San Felipe (G2) and Oaklawn S., but he ran better when second in the July 4 Los Alamitos Derby (G3) and continued to progress for five-time Derby winner Bob Baffert last Saturday. Thousand Words has some intrigue for vertical exotics at long odds in my estimation.

Up next

A pair of important qualifiers in the Road to the Kentucky Derby series remain. Saturday’s Travers (G1) features eight contestants, including Kentucky Derby favorite Tiz the Law, and Sunday’s Ellis Park Derby will have surging Blue Grass (G1) winner Art Collector. I’ll review both races next week.

Kentucky Derby Top 10

1 TIZ THE LAW: Belmont Stakes hero brings three-race win streak to Travers
2 HONOR A. P.: Shared Belief setback should help his price on Derby Day
3 ART COLLECTOR: Ellis Park Derby up next for Blue Grass victor
4 UNCLE CHUCK: Unbeaten colt looks like the one to catch in Travers
5 DR POST: Late runner did not receive the right set-up in Haskell third
6 COUNTRY GRAMMER: Peter Pan winner enters Travers on the upswing for Brown
7 AUTHENTIC: Will bring serious speed to Derby field
8 SHARED SENSE: Indiana Derby winner needs good showing in Ellis Park Derby
9 NY TRAFFIC: Netted 107 Brisnet Speed rating finishing second in Haskell
10 THOUSAND WORDS: Shared Belief upsetter