Last May Orb stormed down the stretch to win the 139th running of the Kentucky Derby. This year trainer Shug McGaughey could be back with another top Derby contender in Honor Code. The handsome son of A. P. Indy is listed as one of the top three betting favorites in the Las Vegas 2014 Kentucky Derby Future Wager pool.
After appearing beaten in the stretch, Honor Code found another gear and roared up the rail to nail Cairo Prince at the wire of the $400,000 Remsen Stakes at Aqueduct Racetrack on Nov. 30. The highly touted handsome bay colt, who spent time at the Fair Hill Training Center last summer, earned his first stakes victory.
The Hall of Fame trainer was impressed with how his big, leggy colt handled his third career start in 100th renewal of the Remsen.
”They went three-quarters in 1:17 (2/5) but he was right there,” McGaughey said. “He made the lead, lost it and then refocused. They went the last part in :11 and change and he beat a very nice horse who had run twice since Honor Code's last race. Honor Code got down on the inside of him and he got by him. He showed a lot of guts coming back. I'm proud of him."
Sent off as the 4-5 favorite, Honor Code raced close to the early pace, a change in tactics from his first two starts when he rallied from far behind. Sensing the pokey pace of :52.74 being set by Master Lightning for the half mile, jockey Javier Castellano advanced Honor Code into second down the backstretch on the outside of the pacesetter. He took the lead near the quarter pole as the front-runner faded. Master Lightning dropped back.
But it was Cairo Prince who came flying in the upper stretch to snatch the lead, reaching the mile mark in 1:41 with a half-length advantage. However, Honor Code battled back along the inside and got his nose in front at the wire. He covered 1 1/8 miles in 1:52.92 and returned $3.60 as the 4-5 favorite.
"I didn't put him up there; he put me there," Castellano said of Honor Code's move to prompt the pace. "The way he ran the first part, he showed me more speed and was more comfortable and relaxed. I felt the pace was slow. The opportunity was there; I took it. I know he's a come-from-behind horse but the pace was slow. I didn't want to fight him.
"I think Cairo Prince tried to make the strong, sweeping move and tried to get the jump. My horse is a big, long-striding horse and he anticipated it a little bit. He found a second gear and he came back. He galloped out very strong. The horse showed me he would like more distance.”
The victory was the second from three starts for Honor Code who would have gone to the Breeders' Cup Juvenile as the favorite had his connections not opted to skip the trip to Southern California so as not put additional stress on the colt. McGaughey’s plan is to give Honor Code two starts before the Kentucky Derby, possibly making his 3-year-old debut in the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream Park on Feb. 22, followed by the Florida Derby on March 15.
Bred in Kentucky by Dell Ridge Farm, Honor Code is equine royalty-- from the final crop of Hall of Famer A.P. Indy, and out of a Storm Cat mare who is a granddaughter of Hall of Famer Serena's Song.
A.P. Indy was scratched on the morning of the 1992 Kentucky Derby because of a quarter-crack, but subsequently established himself as the Horse of the Year with victories in the Belmont Stakes and Breeders' Cup Classic. The son of 1977 Triple Crown legend Seattle Slew compiled a tremendous record at stud, leaving an enduring legacy on the breed. A.P. Indy has yet to sire a Derby winner himself, but his son Malibu Moon is responsible for 2013 Derby hero Orb.
Pensioned in 2011, A. P. Indy has 25 juveniles in his final crop. Honor Code also hails from stakes-winning Serena's Cat-- the champion three-year-old filly of 1995 and earner of more than $3.2 million. Honor Code is a half-brother to Noble Tune, hero of this year's Grade 2 American Turf and runner-up in the 2012 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf.
Lane’s End Farm bought into the colt as a yearling from Dell Ridge Farm.
“Honestly he’s one of the most remarkable looking A.P. Indy’s I’ve ever seen,” noted Lane’s End’s CEO Will Farish. “We were so thrilled to get him and how good he’s been to us. He was the entire package, a remarkable-looking individual. He’s beautifully balanced, very correct and everything that you’d hope for conformation.”
In 2012 McGaughey rolled out a good-looking two year-old who rallied from out of the clouds to finish a good third in his debut. That horse, Orb, would go on to won the 2013 Kentucky Derby.
Honor Code began his career at Saratoga Race Course Aug. 31 with a dazzling 4 ½-length win over a maiden special weight group going seven furlongs on a sloppy track. He rallied from 22 lengths behind that day and displayed a similar late turn of foot in nearly winning the Champagne Stakes in September despite being floated seven or eight paths wide off the turn. He came up a neck short.
How impressive was Honor Code’s late kick in his debut race? To put it into perspective, the racing website Brisnet’s pace figures-- essentially in-race speed figures-- lists his late-pace figure (from the second call of the race to the wire) at a staggering 138. Anything above 100 would be considered very strong. The great Zenyatta’s best late-pace figure was 130.
A gritty winner in the Remsen off a layoff of 51 days, the victory pushed Honor Code’s earnings to $388,000 with a record of 2-1-0 from three starts. He earned ten Kentucky Derby qualifying points for the Remsen victory and with his second-place finish in the Champagne at Belmont in October has 14 overall. He left New York and was shipped to Rood and Riddle Equine Hospital in Lexington, Ky. where he underwent a procedure to remove an undescended testicle.
Honor Code is now at Payson Park Training Center in Indiantown, Fla., preparing for the Triple Crown series of 2014. It’s the same facility where McGaughey trained Orb.
“He's going to be able to run that far [Triple Crown distances], we just have to figure out how he wants to do it,” McGaughey said. “Orb made such progress from the first of January to May 4, we’ll just have to see if this horse is going to do the same. I think that’s what really makes a horse that can win the Derby or a Triple Crown race, they get to progress over the winter.”