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Honor A.P. wins Santa Anita Derby, puts himself in Kentucky Derby picture

Honor A.P., with jockey Mike Smith aboard, glides past Authentic en route to winning the Santa Anita Derby by 2¾ lengths.
Honor A.P., at right with jockey Mike Smith aboard, glides past Authentic and Drayden Van Dyke en route to winning the Santa Anita Derby by 2¾ lengths.
(Benoit Photo via Associated Press)

The already topsy-turvy Kentucky Derby picture got a little more interesting Saturday when Honor A.P. thrust himself squarely in the middle of things with a dominant win in the Santa Anita Derby.

The 3-year-old ridgling swept wide in the stretch and cruised to an easy 2¾-length victory over heavily favored Authentic to win the purse-diminished race. The race is normally worth $1 million, but because of the track being closed over the COVID-19 pandemic, it was dropped to $400,000.

“He’s one of the ones you didn’t know about before this pandemic hit,” winning jockey Mike Smith said. “You didn’t know some horses were going to be peaking a whole lot better in May, which he probably wouldn’t have been. Now that [the Kentucky Derby] is [Sept. 5], we should be seeing a bigger, stronger horse by then. He should get every little bit of the mile and a quarter.”

The 1 1/8-mile Santa Anita Derby was originally scheduled for April 4, but when the L.A. County Heath Department shut down the track, it was moved to Saturday — three months before the Kentucky Derby instead of the usual one month.

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“We were happy with the way Honor A.P. was training for the race,” said John Shirreffs, the winning trainer. “We knew that he has tactical speed and Mike [Smith] 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.”

Honor A.P., the second favorite, paid $6.40, $2.60 and $2.20. Authentic was second, followed by Rushie, Anneau d’Or, Shooters Shoot, Friar’s Road and Azul Coast.

With the resumption of racing at Santa Anita, more than 20 jockeys have to live in trailers on site for the weekends. The setup has created a transformative experience.

It was Honor A.P.’s second victory in four races. He was second in his last race, the San Felipe, behind Authentic.

“The game plan was to jump well and to let him run into that first turn, and hopefully I could get him behind Authentic,” Smith said. “If not right behind him, then just to his outside a little bit and use my horse’s big, long stride to his advantage and maybe get a little brave a little early, which I did. I kind of went a little bit too early, but he was ready [Saturday].

“He missed [Authentic] time and time before and ran a big race when he ran a very good second [in the San Felipe.] It seems the further you go with him the better. He’s just got that big, long, beautiful, powerful stride.”

Honor A.P. and jockey Mike Smith win the Grade I $400,000 Santa Anita Derby on June 6, 2020.
Honor A.P. and jockey Mike Smith win the Santa Anita Derby on Saturday. “He’s one of the ones you didn’t know about before this pandemic hit,” Smith said.
(Benoit Photo via Associated Press)

Authentic’s loss was the latest in a difficult two weeks for Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert. On Saturday, Baffert also learned that Charlatan, winner of one of the two divisions of the Arkansas Derby, was ruled out of the Kentucky Derby when a filling was discovered in a front ankle. The news was first reported by the Paulick Report. The injury is not career ending, and the colt might be pointed to the Preakness Stakes on Oct. 3.

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Charlatan was the subject of an alleged positive test for an overage of lidocaine, a legal analgesic. A second test has been sent to a different laboratory for verification. If the results are negative, there will be no case. If the positive is confirmed, an investigation will be conducted with any likely punishment to affect only the trainer, not the horse.

Baffert also lost Nadal, who was the top-ranked 3-year-old in the Kentucky Derby poll and winner of the other division of the Arkansas Derby, when he suffered a fracture in his left front leg after a workout May 28. It was repaired the same day, and the horse was retired and will be sent to stud.

One of Baffert’s greatest horses, Arrogate, was euthanized Tuesday after an undiagnosed neurological injury. He was only 7.

As for Honor A.P., it’s too early to determine what his next race will be, although there is a Kentucky Derby prep race Aug. 1 at Del Mar, the Shared Belief Stakes.

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“It’s up to him whether we run him again before the big dance,” Shirreffs said. “We have to see how the horse comes out and how he feels, but you’d always prefer to run. Running is probably the best option rather than training up to it, but we’ll wait and see how it all happens.”

Saturday’s victory was worth 100 qualifying points for Honor A.P., which will be enough to allow him to make the 20-horse starting field of the Kentucky Derby.

The day was not a total loss for Baffert as Improbable, who was fourth in last year’s Kentucky Derby, easily won the Grade 1 $300,000 Hollywood Gold Cup. And Cezanne, a $3.65-million purchase, won his first race by 2¼ lengths. Baffert nominated Cezanne for the Kentucky Derby last week.


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