Reversal Of Fortune For Top Two Finishers In Shared Belief

Approaching the track to greet his returning Shared Belief Stakes winner Thousand Words, Bob Baffert couldn’t help but smile and say, “We don’t need Uncle Chuck.”

Then, with his next breath: “That was weird. That was a weird run race.”

Statements that fairly well summed up the Shared Belief at Del Mar, a Kentucky Derby prep race for the first, and let us pray last, time ever. The COVID-19-necessitated move of the Run for the Roses to September 5 put the Shared Belief in line as a prelim for West Coast-based Derby hopes and made it a spot for Baffert to choose from his array of 3-year-old standouts and John Shirreffs to run Santa Anita Derby winner Honor A.P.

Baffert entered three – undefeated (2-for-2) Uncle Chuck and Cezanne plus Thousand Words, whose Derby stock had dipped with three straight defeats. He worked Uncle Chuck on Saturday morning in preparation for the $1 million Travers Stakes next Saturday at Saratoga and scratched him from the Shared Belief.

The race then unfolded strangely with 1-5 favorite Honor A.P. getting bumped at the start by Cezanne, moving up to press the pace set by Thousand Words on the backstretch before dropping a length behind, going three paths wide turning into the stretch and surging too late to catch the wire-to-wire leader and losing by three-quarters of a length.

“You wouldn’t think a Baffert horse is gonna pay $20 (actually $20.40) in a four-horse field,” Baffert said with a wry grin. His assessment: something about Del Mar had brought out the best in Thousand Words.

“I thought he had a chance to win today,” Baffert said. “I could tell he was a different horse down here. His whole mind changed. His color changed. He had soured out on me, but we got him going the right way. I think he earned his way to the Derby.”

The 50 Kentucky Derby qualifying points from the Shared Belief increased Thousand Words’ total to 83 and vaulted him to No. 7 on the list. The opportunity is there should the owners – Albaugh Family Stables of Dennis Albaugh and Jason Loustch, and B. Wayne Hughes’ Spendthirft Farm – choose. It appears to be a logical path toward recouping more of the $1-million spent on the colt at the Keeneland September sale in 2018.

Thousand Words was accorded a Beyer Speed Figure of 104, which was 13 points higher than the son of Pioneerof the Nile’s previous best in the Los Alamitos Futurity last December. Honor A.P. received a Beyer of 102, identical to his number in the Santa Anita Derby victory.

Honor A.P.’s 140 Derby points is third behind Belmont Stakes winner Tiz the Law (272) and Baffert’s recent Haskell Invitational champ Authentic (200).

“If you liked Honor A.P. as your Derby horse before, it (Shared Belief) didn’t change anything,” Daily Racing Form correspondent Brad Free said Sunday morning.

Mike Smith, aboard for all five of Honor A.P.’s starts, was quick to point out one change in the routine leading up to the race. Due to COVID-19 protocols, jockeys are prohibited from access to the stable area in the mornings and cannot ride workouts. Trainer John Shirreffs tried unsuccessfully to get an exemption so Smith could be aboard for the colt’s final work a week before the race.

“I haven’t been able to get on him in the mornings and I think that’s made a difference,” Smith said. “He’s just been going along there not doing much in the mornings.  I need to be on him.  But that’s the way it is now; just the way it is.”

Shirreffs’ comment, provided by text: “Horses know the difference between an exercise rider and a jockey so they respond differently in their work. Jockeys also have the acute awareness of the horses’ effort. Trainers prepare horses by increasing workloads. The riders have to communicate to the horses in subtle situations of asking for a little more or saying that’s enough for today.

“Why take the best we have and not allow them to help horses?”

Thousand Words and Honor A.P. both came out of the race well, their trainers said. Cezanne was “a little tired” after losing stamina in the 1 1/16-mile race.


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