A former star on the Road to the Kentucky Derby reestablished his credentials with an upset victory in Saturday’s Shared Belief S. at Del Mar, prevailing at the expensive of a heavy favorite who arguably lost little in defeat.
Thousand Words was among the early Derby favorites after winning his first three starts for Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert. A son of Pioneerof the Nile out of the graded stakes-winning sprinter Pomeroys Pistol, Thousand Words demonstrated unwavering tenacity to post narrow triumphs in the Los Alamitos Futurity (G2) and Robert B. Lewis (G3), but subsequently lost a trio of stakes races and tumbled from his position as a widely-hyped Derby contender.
In the meantime, Honor A. P. burst onto the scene with a resounding victory in the Santa Anita Derby (G1), which stamped the John Shirreffs-trained ridgling as an overwhelming 1-5 victory to claim victory in the Shared Belief.
But with his spot in the Kentucky Derby (G1) starting gate assured, Honor A. P. turned in a light series of workouts in preparation for the Shared Belief, hinting the race was more of a steppingstone toward the Derby than an end goal in and of itself. In contrast, Thousand Words trained up a storm following a runner-up effort in the July 4 Los Alamitos Derby (G3) and appeared poised for a rebound in his second start back from a three-month layoff.
Thus the stage was set for an upset, and Thousand Words was further aided by a perfect ride from jockey Abel Cedillo. When the gates opened, Thousand Words broke running and Cedillo allowed his mount to stroll along in front through comfortable fractions of :23.89, :47.93, and 1:12.33. Meanwhile, Honor A. P. was bumped at the break by Thousand Words’ stablemate Cezanne, after which jockey Mike Smith asked the favorite to accelerate around the first turn to gain a striking position outside of Thousand Words.
Down the backstretch, considerable jockeying for position took place as Honor A. P. relaxed from his early exertions and Cezanne rallied between runners to grab second place in a compact field. But Thousand Words paid no heed to the ever-shifting chess game unfolding behind him, instead cruising through one furlong after another without facing any special pressure from his pursuers.
“He (trainer Bob Baffert) just told me to warm him up real well, then get him out of there. Then see what happens,” explained Cedillo. “He broke well and I saw I could take the lead, so I did. He was going along there steady, steady, steady.”
The pressure came at the top of the stretch, but Thousand Words was up to the challenge. Confronted by Cezanne, with Honor A. P. battling in third place, Thousand Words refused to yield and turned back his stablemate’s bid, forging to a clear advantage late in the lane.
Honor A. P., to his credit, produced a last-minute surge to finish just three-quarters of a length behind Thousand Words at the wire. With a clean break or a ground-saving trip, the favorite might have delivered on the expectations of bettors. But Thousand Words was too determined on the day, fighting to the finish line in a respectable 1:43.85.
Longshot Kiss Today Goodbye rallied to finish third, half a length behind Honor A. P. and a neck clear of the faltering Cezanne. Just 1 1/2 lengths separated the entire field at the finish line.
Owned by the partnership of Albaugh Family Stables and Spendthrift Farm, Thousand Words was bred in Florida by Hardacre Farm. Despite the small field, the bay colt was overlooked at 9-1 in the betting and returned $20.40 to win.
“I could tell when we got down here [to Del Mar] that he was a different horse from Los Alamitos and the real Thousand Words showed up today,” remarked Baffert. “His whole mind changed. His color has changed. He had soured out on me, but we got him going the right way. I think he earned his way to the Derby.”
Prevailing in the Shared Belief secured Thousand Words 50 qualification points on the Road to the Kentucky Derby, boosting his total to 83 points and placing him seventh on the leaderboard. With just three Road to the Kentucky Derby prep races remaining, Thousand Words has locked up a spot in the Churchill Downs starting gate.
Honor A. P. remains third on the leaderboard with 140 points, but more importantly than points, the son of Honor Code gained fitness and experience in the Shared Belief. While his runner-up effort was disappointing to bettors who backed him at short odds, Honor A. P. ran gallantly in his first start off a two-month break and figures to benefit from the effort on the first Saturday in September.
“He ran well, but we’re disappointed he didn’t win,” said Smith. “I haven’t been able to get on him in the mornings and I think that’s made a difference. He’s just been going along there not doing much in the mornings. I need to be on him and get more out of him. But that’s the way it is now; that’s just the way it is. This distance is too short for him, too. Just not his day.”
The first Saturday in September is another day, and you can bet both Thousand Words and Honor A. P. will be there, ready for a rematch in the Run for the Roses.