Hall of Famer Shug McGaughey could barely take a half-dozen steps outside his barn at Saratoga Race Course Sunday morning without being stopped by someone wanting to congratulate him on Code of Honor's victory in the Grade 1, $1.25 million Runhappy Travers, the trainer's fourth in the “Mid-Summer Derby.”
“When I finally got a chance to look at my phone, I had 143 texts,” said McGaughey, who also won the race with Easy Goer (1989), Rhythm (1990) and Coronado's Quest (1998). “It was pretty exciting. When you get a little bit older, you know you're not going to have as many opportunities as you did 21 years ago – 30 years ago was my first one – so I was really, really pleased. And I want to do it again.”
Code of Honor, owned by William S. Farish, returned from the Travers in good form, said the trainer, who noted that he did not have a precise route mapped out for the remainder of the year.
“Nothing is solid with what I'm going to do with him,” said McGaughey. “The [Grade 1] Jockey Club Gold Cup back at Belmont [September 28] would sort of be the best scenario. If I wanted to wait a bit longer you've got the Discovery at Aqueduct in November, or the Cigar Mile. And obviously we know where the Breeders' Cup is, so we'll have to keep that in mind also.
“He seemed to come back good, but they're usually good the next day,” he added. “It starts getting to them two or three days down the road. We'll keep a good eye on him.”
The Travers was the first Grade 1 win for Code of Honor, who was second in the 2018 Champagne, third in the Florida Derby and placed second in the Kentucky Derby. Both McGaughey and Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez agreed that his last-to-first victory in the Grade 3 Dwyer on July 6 at Belmont and Saturday's win were his two best outings.
“We've always felt that way, that he didn't quite put everything together in some of his races,” McGaughey said of Code of Honor, who is 4-2-1 from eight career starts. “That's why his last two races were so satisfying. I thought in the Dwyer, he put it together, and yesterday, too.”
His improved mentality in those two races, his stature, and his late foal date [at May 23, he was the youngest horse in the Travers field] all lead McGaughey to think he hasn't seen the best of Code of Honor yet.
“I think we're going to see more as a 4-year-old, or at least I hope so,” he said. “He's been running pretty good. I think that Johnny's learned to ride him the last two times, and that's made a difference, too. Nobody's better than him. He's a special guy.”
Easily overlooked in the aftermath of the Travers was another winning performance from the McGaughey barn on Travers Day with 3-year-old Phipps homebred Performer, who now is 2-for-2 this year after an eye-catching allowance victory in Race 4.
The Speightstown colt, who broke his maiden on June 29 at Belmont going six furlongs, came from ninth of 12 Saturday to win the 6 ½-furlong race on the main track by a length.
“I like the way he did it,” said McGaughey. “I thought yesterday was even more impressive, because he ran down a horse [Payne] that was still running. He had never been back like that; when he broke his maiden he was right there. I'm looking forward to getting him stretched out. Where that will be, I don't know. I asked [assistant] Robbie [Medina] and Reeve [McGaughey] 'What are we going to do with him now?' But I'll figure something out.”
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