It had been 21 years since his third and most recent victory in the Grade 1 Travers, but trainer Claude “Shug” McGaughey proved this Saturday that he still knows how to put a horse in that revered winner's circle at Saratoga. He saddled W.S. Farish's homebred Code of Honor to cross the wire in third and be elevated to second in this year's Kentucky Derby, after making his move up the rail in the stretch. The colt shortened up in to a mile and won the G3 Dwyer before tackling the classic distance once again, and this time Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez saved ground early but sent the Noble Mission colt around the outside in the far turn. Code of Honor found his best stride in the final sixteenth to go on and win by three lengths.
Sent off at odds of 4-1, Code of Honor completed 1 1/4 miles over Saratoga's fast main track in 2:01.05. He finished ahead of 2-1 favorite Tacitus and 3-1 second choice Mucho Gusto, giving Velazquez his third win on the card.
“He's been a bit of a Jekyll and Hyde horse,” said McGaughey. “Today, he put it all together. He trained really well. The Dwyer was a really good race, so we were hoping we were going to see what we saw.”
McGaughey's other three wins in the Travers came with Coronado's Quest (1998), Rhythm (1990), and Easy Goer (1989).
“It doesn't get old, but it can't take that long again,” McGaughey joked.
Code of Honor broke well with the 11 other sophomores in the Travers field, but eased back along the rail to be ninth in the early going. Unhurried around the clubhouse turn and most of the backstretch, Velazquez kept a quiet rhythm with the colt and saved all the ground on the inside.
Up front Mucho Gusto was the first to vie for the lead, but favored Tacitus came up his inside to take over and speed through a first quarter in 23.11 seconds. Joe Talamo and Mucho Gusto re-gained the lead in the backstretch, carving out a half-mile in 47.26 seconds, only to watch Tacitus again move up the rail and take over heading toward the far turn.
At the three-eighths pole Tacitus and Mucho Gusto were on even terms, with Tax looming a length behind them in third. Meanwhile, Velazquez had started to make his move on Code of Honor, angling out and picking off rivals from the rear of the field about three paths off the rail.
On the final part of the far turn, Code of Honor was forced nearly six paths off the inside as he rallied up to challenge the dueling frontrunners. He drew alongside them at the eighth pole, and when a tiring Mucho Gusto and Tacitus exchanged bumps, Code of Honor was able to glide on by.
Code of Honor cruised under the wire a three-length winner, with Tacitus battling on gamely to hold second over Mucho Gusto. Endorsed got up to finish out the superfecta.
“I've been doing this a long time and when they fire a good shot like that and they try, you've got to be pleased,” said Tacitus' trainer Bill Mott. “You know, I want to win, but I don't know how I could have turned it around today in here. I think we made the right choice putting the blinkers on him. My horse was brave. He was good coming through on the inside. No regrets.”
Bred in Kentucky by his owner, Code of Honor is a second generation homebred out of the Grade 3-winning Dixie Union mare Reunited. Consigned to the Keeneland September yearling sale, the colt did not achieve his reserve when bidding stopped at $70,000. Farish kept the colt to race, and he broke his maiden at first asking before running second in the G1 Champagne in his second start. Code of Honor returned this year to finish a disappointing fourth in the Mucho Macho Man Stakes, but he rebounded well to win the G2 Fountain of Youth two months later.
Third in the G1 Florida Derby, Code of Honor finished third and was elevated to second in the Run for the Roses. Overall, the colt's record stands at four wins from eight starts with earnings of over $1.9 million.
“I never had any doubts about distance as a problem, just him putting his mind to running,” said Velazquez. “Today, I made sure, when I got him out to the clear, he responded right away, so I was very happy for him. Obviously, we've been looking for this kind of performance for a long time. He's a late foal, not really knowing what to do [even though he's] run some really big races. He's never really put it together until today.”
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