A rematch that has been on hold for two months in California figures to shake up Kentucky Derby futures this weekend. It also might provide Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert a glimmer of Triple Crown hope after a week he would just as soon forget.
Baffert sends undefeated Authentic in search of his fourth victory against the likes of Honor A. P. on Saturday in the postponed $400,000 Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby.
Authentic’s third win came in March in the Grade 2 San Felipe Stakes, in which Honor A. P. finished 2¼ lengths behind in second. They would have met again in early April, but racing at Santa Anita was put on what would be a seven-week hold by the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health because of the coronavirus — even though no cases have been reported at the track.
Authentic (+ 725 in the Circa Sports futures for the Kentucky Derby, 5-1 at William Hill Nevada) represents at least part of what is left of Baffert’s big three. That is after futures favorite Nadal was forced into injury retirement last week and Charlatan (+ 585, 5-1) was reported to have failed a preliminary drug test May 2 after he won his division of the Arkansas Derby.
No matter whether Charlatan is cleared, he is still expected to be entered in next month’s Belmont Stakes. Either way, he will have no role in this weekend’s encore to the San Felipe.
Honor A. P. (+ 1050, 10-1) carried an alibi into the first duel with Authentic. “He had a foot injury,” jockey Mike Smith said. “We were going into the San Felipe probably 75 to 80%, if that.”
Trainer John Shirreffs all but confirmed that, saying: “We didn’t have a lot of time to prepare. We got him fit enough to run, but not 100%.”
Sired by Honor Code and bought for $850,000 nearly two years ago by Lee and Susan Searing, Honor A. P. overcame a wide trip to finish second to Ginobili in his debut last summer at Del Mar. That 6-furlong race was loaded with 2-year-old talent that also included Bronn, Taishan and Tizamagician, also among the horses still available in Derby futures.
Stretching to a mile in a maiden race last October at Santa Anita, Honor A. P. and his off-the-pace style looked more suited to the longer distance. He won emphatically, leaving Tizamagician 5¼ lengths up the track in second.
It was not Shirreffs’ plan to keep Honor A. P. so lightly raced. But the uncertainty brought on by the pandemic forced his hand. After the postponement of the Santa Anita Derby, Shirreffs thought about the rescheduled Arkansas Derby last month. But he decided against it after restrictions imposed by Oaklawn Park limited how many people could travel with each horse shipped to Hot Springs.
With only one race in the last 7½ months, Honor A. P. will have to prove to bettors Saturday that he is not rusty and that any fitness question in March has been resolved. Horseplayers will also want to see that the extra 110 yards in the 1⅛-mile Santa Anita Derby will allow him to overcome Authentic.
If that happens, anyone who got Honor A.P. at the 50-1 odds he carried when he opened last fall at William Hill should be optimistic about what might happen Labor Day weekend.
Derby futures: Who’s hot?
King Guillermo (13-1 Circa, 25-1 William Hill). Will trainer J.C. Avila really go through with his stated plan to train this Uncle Mo colt right up to the Kentucky Derby? If so, bettors would be advised to wait and watch the odds go long this summer. Even though he has impressive Beyer Speed Figures of 99 and 95 in his last two starts, there is still a debate over whether his 49-1 win upset victory in the Tampa Bay Derby was a fluke. A second-place finish to Nadal in his division of the Arkansas Derby threw water on that perception. Since he has been ruled out of this month’s Belmont Stakes, King Guillermo could spend a quieter summer than owner Víctor Martinez ever did in 16 years playing major-league baseball.
Sole Volante (16-1, 10-1). Even though he has not raced in three months, he has become a wise-guy horse for the Belmont Stakes. A beaten 2-1 favorite in the Tampa Bay Derby, the colt sired by the Japanese stallion Karakontie closed from 11th to finish second, 4¾ lengths behind King Guillermo. As races get longer, his deep-closing style will be more of an asset. Trained by Patrick Biancone, Sole Volante was 25-1 at Circa and 12-1 at William Hill before Nadal’s retirement.
Dr Post (35-1, 50-1). Sold as a yearling for $400,000 to Florida Panthers owner Vincent Viola, this Quality Road colt is the shortest-priced Derby possibility in Todd Pletcher’s stable. Despite a bumpy trip through traffic six weeks ago, he still won the two-turn, 8½-furlong Unbridled Stakes at Gulfstream Park. That victory got bettors’ attention right away, putting him among the “hot” horses on this list when he was 80-1. With a 2-for-2 record as a 3-year-old, he is expected to make his graded-stakes debut in the Belmont, for which he is 8-1 in global futures.
Derby futures: Who’s not?
Dennis Moment (unlisted). As much anticipation as there is late every summer for the first race on the prep trail, the Iroquois has never produced a Derby winner. If there is a jinx, Dennis’ Moment may be the poster colt. Two last-place finishes followed his win last September at Churchill Downs. Trainer Dale Romans said last month the Tiznow colt that was sold as a yearling for $400,000 would be shut down and aimed for a 4-year-old season. William Hill had him at 20-1 last week before he was finally removed from its futures.
Portos (200-1 Circa). A fifth-place finish Thursday in a Churchill Downs allowance led Circa to lengthen his odds from 140-1. The Tapit colt out of a Tiznow mare was dropped altogether by William Hill. Still only a maiden winner after seven races, he has gone the wrong way since he finished third in the Grade 3 Withers four months ago at Aqueduct. He finished last in the Louisiana Derby before coming back last weekend for Pletcher, who has not said what Portos’ next race will be.
Digital (300-1 Circa). Once as short as 100-1, this colt drifted from 250-1 at Circa and was one of 14 horses dropped in the last week by William Hill. That was despite a narrow second-place finish at 9-1 odds in a Memorial Day sprint allowance at Churchill Downs. Trained by Bret Calhoun, this Into Mischief colt is still just a maiden winner and is 0-for-4 this year, including his demotion from an apparent win in a January allowance and fifth- and sixth-place finishes in his only two stakes.