Honor A.P. to Take On a Few Baffert Derby Hopefuls in Shared Belief
By Margaret Ransom
The Shared Belief Stakes, named for the late champion and fan favorite, this year takes a whole new spot on the Del Mar stakes calendar, but most importantly for the first – and maybe only – time serves as a critical prep race for the Kentucky Derby (G1) on Sept. 5.
The winner of Saturday’s Shared Belief earns 50 Derby qualifying points, with the next three finishers picking up 20, 10 and 5 points, respectively. The Derby was postponed from May 2 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Also this year, the Shared Belief will be contested at 1 1/16 miles, lengthened from the one-mile distance it carried since 1997 to accommodate the runners with a shot at the 1 ¼-mile Derby.
The Shared Belief was formerly known as the El Cajon Stakes and was one of California’s better summer races for sophomores on the dirt. Last year, Hollywood Gold Cup (G1) winner Improbable was the winner and he followed the late Battle of Midway and Accelerate as prominent recent winners. In 2016 the race was renamed for Shared Belief, who won 10 of 12 career starts and was 2013’s Eclipse Award-winning juvenile. He won five Grade 1 races before colic claimed his life in in 2015.
The race drew a field of six, most with serious Kentucky Derby possibilities. Three come from stable of two-time Triple Crown winner and eight-time El Cajon/Shared Belief-winning trainer Bob Baffert (though one is probable to scratch) and the favored Honor A.P. hails from the barn of 2006 Kentucky Derby winner John Shirreffs.
Shirreffs – as is his way – has so far taken the super patient route with C R K Stables’ Honor A.P. and it’s more than paid off as the flashy son of Honor Code easily won the Santa Anita Derby (G1) in his most recent start. Before that the $850,000 yearling was second to Authentic in the San Felipe Stakes (G2), but in his defense it seemed as if he ran out of ground and was closing on the winner with every stride down the lane. The good news is that he is still lightly raced and full of upside, which is good for a horse heading to the Kentucky Derby and perhaps the delay only helped his chances for making the gate.
He’s been training exceptionally well at Del Mar for nearly a month and if he runs close to his last-race speed figure, which is by far the best for the field, he will earn himself a repeat trip to the winner’s circle. The distance may be too short for him, all things considered, but he’s in good hands with Triple Crown winner and Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith.
At one point last year, Albaugh Family Stables’ and Spendthrift Farm’s Thousand Words was being mentioned in the same breath as Baffert’s other highly regarded juveniles, like Eight Rings and Charlatan, but now with those two on the sidelines Thousand Words is the last one from that precocious group still standing. With the exception of one race, which produced an 11th-place finish out of 13 in the Oaklawn Stakes back in April, the $1 million son of Pioneerof the Nile has turned out a pretty good record, logging a 5-3-1-0 mark, which includes two graded stakes. He has a good tactical turn of foot, though his speed figures indicate he’s not been anywhere close to breaking records, but he is a good horse and deserves his chance here, no doubt.
The good news is that stablemate Uncle Chuck, who finished four lengths in front of him in the Los Alamitos Derby (G2) will likely scratch in favor of shipping to New York for the Travers (G1) on Aug. 8, but Thousand Words still has to run his absolute best to earn the win here.
Coolmore’s Cezanne, a $3.65 million 2-year-old in training 18 months ago, is known almost as much for his purchase price as for his ability. He is undefeated and was impressive in maiden and allowance company and makes the logical step into stakes company, his connections no doubt hoping he earns some points to become eligible for the Kentucky Derby should they care to point him in that direction. The son of Curlin and the Bernardini mare Achieving is certainly bred for this distance and even more importantly, he’s not missed a beat in the mornings for weeks. He’s another with some tactical ability jockey Flavien Prat can use depending on pace, and if he is actually as good as his price tag and improves even a little, he will give the favorite a run for his money.
Everyone had such high hopes for Anneau d’Or after his nice second-place finish to champion Storm The Court in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1), but since only one of the runners from that race has come back to win, and even that one won’t make the Derby, one has to wonder about the quality of that race. It’s hard to imagine he’ll beat the top choices here, even with his best.
Kiss Today Goodbye is a maiden winner who probably should stick to allowance company at this stage of his career.
Post time for the Shared Belief is 2:30 p.m. PT and will go off as the day’s second race.