The Monday Special – June 8

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Fifteen years after winning the Kentucky Derby, John Shirreffs seriously joined this year’s trail when Honor A. P. won Saturday’s Santa Anita Derby.

Sent off as a clear second choice in the 1 1/8-mile affair against 1-2 choice Authentic, Honor A. P. brought back memories of his champion sire as he galloped along in midpack of the tightly packed field. Running just a few lengths off the pacesetting Shooters Shoot a few paths away from the rail, Honor A. P. shadowed Authentic as he started making his move in the far turn.

Coming into the stretch four wide even with the leaders it was clear Honor A. P. was about to run a big race. Sweeping past the field, the son of Honor Code took the lead in midstretch and only Authentic posed a minor threat in the final furlong. Honor A. P. provided Honor Code with his first Grade 1 winner, winning by an easy 2 3/4 lengths over Authentic with Rushie making a late run to finish third.

Mike Smith said the ongoing pandemic likely helped the colt not just for the rescheduled Kentucky Derby in September but also to develop for the Santa Anita Derby.

“He’s one of the ones you didn’t know about before this pandemic hit,” 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 it (Kentucky Derby) is in September we should be seeing a bigger stronger horse by then. He should get every little bit of the mile and a quarter. I’m excited. I miss the fans, but I just gotta pump myself up!”

It was a second generation Grade 1 win for Shirreffs with the colt out of the trainer’s fellow pupil, dual Grade 1 winner Hollywood Story.

A $850,000 yearling purchase, Honor A. P. has been sent on a quick path to stakes level since breaking his maiden in October. In his next start, he was sent against Authentic in the Grade 2 San Felipe where he finished second before the COVID-19 pandemic halted racing in California.

Shirreffs credited Smith for the success with the colt while also noting that Honor A. P. trained well into the race.

“He ran great, it was a super effort. 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,” Shirreffs said. “We were happy with the way Honor A. P. was training for the race. 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.

It isn’t yet known if Honor A. P. will run again before the Sept. 5 Kentucky Derby but Sunday Shirreffs said the Aug. 1 Shared Belief Stakes at Del Mar may be the next step for the colt.

Stakes of the Week: Last year’s Kentucky Derby was put in the spotlight over the weekend on both coasts when two of its runners won graded stakes at Belmont Park and Improbable won the Grade 1 Hollywood Gold Cup in California.

Instilled Regard, fourth in the 2018 Kentucky Derby, started things off when he won the first of four graded stakes on Belmont’s card in the Grade 2 Fort Marcy on the grass. The 2019 edition shined bright in coming races, starting with the successful 4-year-old debut of dual Grade 1 winner and Derby runner-up Code Of Honor in the Grade 3 Westchester. The son of Noble Mission didn’t show any rust in his return, winning by a half-length from Endorsed as the favorite in 1:42.39 for the 1 1/16 miles.

Trainer Shug McGaughey said after the race he was pleased with the effort, considering Endorsed a tough foe for Code of Honor to take on first out.

“He beat a pretty good horse in Endorsed,” he said. “They were pretty far in front of the rest of them. Coming off that long layoff, I was very pleased. I figured he’d like the track. Sometimes when it’s like that and its open, anything can win, but I think the two best horses ran 1-2.”

McGaughey said the Met Mile on July 4 may be the next start for the colt but also said Sunday he’d look at the stakes schedule at Saratoga Race Course before deciding.

Off for the remainder of 2019 after finishing 12th in the Derby, Vekoma has come back with a vengeance in 2020. Winning the Sir Shackleton Stakes in March, the Candy Ride colt is now undefeated in two starts after winning the Grade 1 Runhappy Carter Handicap to close out the Belmont stakes program.

Relishing the sloppy track, Vekoma raced in the front of the field throughout the race settling for second after American Anthem wrestled the lead away from him after the first furlong. That lead didn’t last long for American Anthem, with Vekoma recapturing it as they raced toward the stretch and in command once they reached it.

Vekoma led by 3 lengths entering the final furlong and drew off from there to win by 7 1/4 lengths under Javier Castellano. The Carter was the first Grade 1 victory for last year’s Grade 2 Toyota Blue Grass Stakes winner.

“It’s just so nice to have a horse this good,” trainer George Weaver said. “He’s always been a special horse. I’m just grateful he’s in my barn to be honest. Off that effort we’ll look at the Met Mile. If we can get him back in four weeks and if he’s doing well, we’ll think about it. He’s such a special horse and he’s one of those horses that will do things that you may not think are ideal for him. He’s just that good.”

A few hours after Vekoma’s Carter, 2019 Kentucky Derby fourth Improbable returned to his winning ways in the Hollywood Gold Cup.

Making his second start of the year, Improbable was coming into the race after finishing second in the Oaklawn Mile nearly two months ago. The 4-year-old City Zip colt had been training strongly, working over 7 furlongs and 1 mile the last three weeks leading into the Gold Cup, and proved it wasn’t a fluke on race day.

Sitting just behind Chilean import Brown Storm, Improbable went for the lead near the end of the backstretch. He was alone in the stretch with Higher Power only able to cut his lead from 4 lengths to 3 1/4 at the line with everyone but that rival at least 7 3/4 back.

Returned to its Hollywood Gold Cup name for the first time since it was last run at Hollywood Park in 2013, the race had a big fan in Drayden Van Dyke, who was in awe of winning it for the first time in his career.

“It’s awesome,” he said. “Walking back it’s just kind of getting it into my head, ‘I just won the Hollywood Gold Cup.’ There’s so much history in that race. To be a part of it, I’m blessed.”

Owned by WinStar Farm, China Horse Club and SF Racing, Improbable added the Gold Cup to his win in the 2018Los Alamitos Cash Call Futurity and boosted his earnings to $1,129,520.

Sire Of The Week: Often advertised as North America’s premier international sire, Kitten’s Joy lived up to the title Saturday when his son Kameko won the Group 1 Qipco Two Thousand Guineas, upsetting Europe’s champion 2-year-old colt Pinatubo in the process.

Bred by Calumet Farm and sold for $90,000 as a yearling at the 2018 Keeneland September sale, Kameko is the second home run for Kitten’s Joy purchased by David Redvers. That bloodstock agent also purchased the late European champion Roaring Lion at the sale two years earlier for $160,000.

Roaring Lion went on to finish fifth in the Guineas before going on an impressive four-race win streak in many of the premier Group 1s in England and Ireland.

Already a Group 1 winner in the Group 1 Vertem Futurity Trophy Stakes last year, Kameko’s likely next target is the Group 1 Epsom Derby July 4.

As if a classic winner wasn’t enough, Kitten’s Joy also got a mark toward becoming a sire-of-sires when his Group 1 Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint-winning son Bobby’s Kitten sired his first winner.

One of only a handful of runners sent out for the first season sire so far this year, Sands Of Time looked the ultimate professional on debut when the filly went straight to the lead in the 5-furlong race at Lingfield. That lead translated to 5-length win and likely a ticket to a Royal Ascot race in two weeks to continue a top month for her grandsire both in North America and abroad.

Handicapper’s Report: John Shapazian led the way for The Saratoga Special’s handicappers Saturday, picking 11 winners on the Belmont, Santa Anita and Churchill cards.

John picked four winners at Belmont – Dark Money, Instilled Regard, Code Of Honor and Newspaperofrecord in a row races 5-8; and four at Churchill – Sunny Isle Beach (second), Island Song (fourth), Tipsy Gal (seventh) and Volatile (eighth). He continues to lead the spring season standings with a record of 67-for-204 (32.8 percent).

Tom Law remains in second after picking 10 winners Saturday, including five at Santa Anita. Tom’s winners on the Santa Anita Derby Day card included Honor A. P. in the headliner, Swiss Skydiver in the Santa Anita Oaks, Super Patriot (first), She’s So Special (fourth), Cezanne (sixth) and Hariboux (ninth). He improved to 64-for-204 on the season (31.4 percent).

Charles Bedard also picked 10 winners and five at Santa Anita. He picked Super Patriot (first), Kneedeepinsnow (third), She’s So Special (fourth), Swiss Skydiver and Hariboux at Santa Anita. He sits third in the season standings with a record of 59-for-204 (28.9 percent).

Rob Whitlock inched up a percentage point on his seasonal record after also coming up with 10 winners – four at Belmont and three each at Santa Anita and Churchill. Rob’s Belmont winners included an all-stakes pick 3 of Code Of Honor in the Westchester, Newspaperofrecord in the Intercontinental and Vekoma in the Grade 1 Runhappy Carter Handicap. He also picked Bourbon Currency in the second. Rob’s seasonal record stands at 50-for-204 (24.5 percent).

Bits and Pieces: Aidan O’Brien collected his fourth win in the Group 1 Qipco One Thousand Guineas in five years when Love romped home Sunday at Newmarket by 4 1/4 lengths. … The decision to skip the One Thousand Guineas due to logistic issues worked out well for Swiss Skydiver as the filly rolled in the Grade 2 Santa Anita Oaks by 4 lengths. … 2018 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf winner Newspaperofrecord won the Grade 3 Intercontinental Stakes Saturday, her first race since early July. … McKinzie added to his already impressive resume Sunday when taking out the Grade 2 Triple Bend for his seventh career graded stakes victory and finishing in the top two for the 13th time at the graded stakes level. … Charlatan has been taken off the Triple Crown trail after an ankle injury will see him missing at least 45 days of training with Bob Baffert saying it is likely he won’t make it back for any of the races … Sunday proved extremely bittersweet for Christophe Clement’s barn with the stable losing 10 horses in a van accident in the early hours of the day before Therapist won the First Defence that afternoon at Belmont. … Last year’s $3.65 million Fasig-Tipton Gulfstream Sale topper Cezenne got his career started on a winning note Saturday with a 2 1/2-length victory at Santa Anita. … The connections of unbeaten Grade 1 winner Maxfield said they’d bypass the Belmont Stakes June 20 in favor of the Grade 2 Toyota Blue Grass July 11 at Keeneland.