John Shirreffs Talks Honor A. P., Zenyatta On TDN Writers' Room


John Shirreffs | Benoit


It's not every year that John Shirreffs, a patient trainer with a small stable of mostly older horses, has a GI Kentucky Derby contender. In fact, the last time most remember him being in the spotlight was with a certain mare named Zenyatta (Street Cry {Ire}), four-time champion and arguably the most popular horse of the 21st century. But with newly-minted Grade I winner Honor A. P. (Honor Code) looking like a leading challenger for the Run for the Roses, Shirreffs joined the TDN Writers' Room presented by Keeneland Wednesday as the Green Group Guest of the Week to talk about his colt's development and yes, reminisce some about Zenyatta.

Expectations were high at an early stage for Honor A. P., an $850,000 Fasig-Tipton Saratoga buy in 2018. They only ratcheted up after he flew home from last to be second debuting at six furlongs Aug. 17 at Del Mar and powered away to a 5 1/4-length maiden win when stretching out to a mile Oct. 13 at Santa Anita.

(Click here to listen to the audio-only version of this podcast)

“I think we started seeing something in Honor A. P. when he started to gallop and started to lengthen his stride,” Shirreffs said when asked at what point he took notice of elite potential in his pupil. “If you ever see him, he just floats over the ground. For a big horse, he doesn't hit the ground at all. It was pretty exciting that way.”

As exciting as the Santa Anita Derby winner undoubtedly is, it didn't take long for the conversation to shift to Zenyatta, who still has fans across the racing world nearly a decade after she last ran. Shirreffs was asked what he thought made and continues to make the mare so popular.

“I think it was everything about her,” he said. “Her desire to win. She really wanted to win. Then her personality was so unique. She just liked people. When you put the saddle on her and took her to the racetrack, she was one thing. Then when she was out there with a halter on a lead shank, and people were taking pictures of and visiting her, she was another thing. If you went into the forest and you saw a giant sequoia, that would be Zenyatta. I always tell people, 'If hugging a tree grounds you, makes you feel better, then you have to come and stand next to Zenyatta and lay your hands on her,' because she just made you feel better.”

Elsewhere in the show, the writers reacted in real time to the news of Maxfield (Street Sense)'s injury and recapped a massive weekend of racing action. Then, in the West Point Thoroughbreds news segment, they broke down the frustrating impasse at Arlington Park and discussed their early impressions of OBS Spring. Click here to listen to the podcast or click here to watch it on Vimeo.

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