After missing two straight stakes starts in a row, William S. Farish's Champagne (G1) runner-up Code of Honor will seek to get back on track in Saturday's $100,000 Mucho Macho Man Stakes at Gulfstream Park.
The Shug McGaughey-trained colt will headline a field of six entered Wednesday for the one-turn mile stakes that will kick off Gulfstream Park's tradition-rich program for 3-year-olds that leads up to the $1 million Xpressbet.com Florida Derby (G1) March 30.
“He's got to get through this one, but it sure would be nice if we could get to the Florida Derby if he's that kind,” said McGaughey, who saddled Orb for victories in the 2013 Florida Derby and Kentucky Derby (G1).
Code of Honor was rated third in the morning line for the Nov. 2 Breeders' Cup Juvenile (G1) at Churchill Downs behind eventual winner Game Winner and Complexity, only to come down with a fever on the morning of the race.
“We got to Louisville and he started coughing a little. We were hoping against hope. That morning he did have a temperature,” McGaughey said. “Somehow, he got over it. I shipped him home Sunday and I gave him three or four days, and he never missed a beat.”
After being scratched from the Juvenile, Code of Honor was pointed to the Remsen (G2) at Aqueduct Dec. 1, but McGaughey pulled the plug on that plan following a workout under jockey John Velazquez a week earlier.
“The main track was closed. We were training on the training track. I'm not really familiar with the training track that much because I basically train on the main track. He looked like he worked fine, but I could tell, myself, that he didn't work as well as he had before,” McGaughey said. “Johnny came back and told me, 'Listen, he worked great, but he didn't work as good as he did before the Breeders' Cup.' After the fact, he said, 'If I never worked him before I'd tell you it was a really good work, but I had worked him before and he was better before.' To take him over there and run him a mile and an eighth over a deep track would have been crazy.”
The Mucho Macho Man, which will top a program of five stakes on Saturday's card, became the next logical step for the son of Noble Mission.
“He ran a one-turn mile at a mile and a sixteenth in the Champagne. He did fine, so I thought it was all good,” McGaughey said.
Code of Honor debuted with a brilliant front-running triumph in a six-furlong maiden special weight race at Saratoga Aug. 18 before going on to finish a very respectable second in the Oct. 6 Champagne, in which he trailed the 10-horse field after stumbling at the start and launched a gutsy rally to finish behind Complexity.
McGaughey believes the homebred colt, who has breezed three times at Payson Park in preparation for his return to action, has room for improvement.
'Physically, he needs to develop. He does well, but he's a bit slight. I'd like to see him physically get bigger,” McGaughey said. “He has a lot of talent.”
Velazquez has the return mount.
The Mucho Macho Man will afford Centennial Farm's Mihos the opportunity to stretch out from six furlongs to a mile while still negotiating one turn. The son of Cairo Prince showed promised in his Sept. 23 debut at Belmont, finishing third behind Vekoma, who went on to win the Nashua (G3) at Aqueduct. The Jimmy Jerkens-trained colt graduated next time out, geared down at the finish of the six-furlong maiden special weight race after rallying from off the pace.
“It's a jump, but he acts, to me, like he can do it. He's really got a good head on him. Everything you throw at him, he seems to take is. He doesn't bat an eyelash,” Jerkens said. “I'm pretty confident he can take the step. You have to start making demands on them sooner or later if you're going to get on the Derby trail.”
Jerkens expects Mihos to have little trouble stretching out around two turns in the near future.
“He's got a nice big, long, even frame to him,” he said. “He's got a beautiful temperament. That's half the battle.”Jose Ortiz is slated to ride Mihos for the first time Saturday.
Trophy Chaser has been entered by owner/trainer Juan Carlos Avila for a second meeting with Code of Honor. The 2-year-old son of Twirling Candy finished an even fifth in the Champagne, six lengths behind the McGaughey-trained runner-up. His starts before and following the Champagne were considerably more impressive. After losing a win photo in his debut, Trophy Chaser broke his maiden at Gulfstream Park Aug. 25 by 15 ¾ lengths while running six furlongs in 1:09.50, prompting the decision to ship to Belmont for the Champagne.
The Kentucky-bred colt rebounded with a second-place finish at Churchill Downs in the Nov. 2 Street Sense Stakes, which was won by Bob Baffert-trained Improbable, a next-out winner in the Los Alamitos Cash Call Futurity (G1).
Leonel Reyes has the return mount.
Stonehedge LLC's Well Defined, who finished off-the-board in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile after encountering a rough trip, is set for a return to action at Gulfstream Park, where the son of With Distinction ran away with the $400,000 In Reality by 7 ½ lengths Sept. 29.
Carlos Montalvo, who was aboard for the victory in the 1 1/16-mile final of the FTBOA Florida Sire Stakes, returns to the saddle after a one-race absence.
Jacks or Better Farm's Garter and Tie, who finished second in the In Reality, will enter the Mucho Macho Man in winning form. The homebred colt closed from off the pace to capture the one-mile Smooth Air Stakes at Gulfstream Park Dec. 8. Prior to his runner-up finish in the In Reality, the son of Brooks 'n Down defeated Well Defined by a half-length in the seven-furlong Affirmed, the second leg of the Florida Sire Stakes series.
Tyler Gaffalione has the call.
Gladiator King is scheduled to seek back-to-back stakes victories in the Mucho Macho Man while coming off a three-length win in Tampa Bay Downs' six-furlong Inaugural Dec. 15. Owned and trained by Jaime Mejia, the son of Curlin had previously finished a distant sixth in the Remsen, which followed back-to-back wins at Gulfstream Park West.
Jorge Urdaneta will be the fifth rider in Gladiator King's last five starts.
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