W. S. Farish homebred Code of Honor more than made up for a disappointing 2019 debut with a win in this Saturday's Grade 2 Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream Park. Sent to post at odds of 9-1, the 3-year-old son of Noble Mission was well off the hot pace set by 6-5 favorite Hidden Scroll, but rallied around the far turn and took advantage of the short stretch to hold off the late run of (4-1) Bourbon War by three-parts of a length. Ridden by John Velazquez for trainer Shug McGaughey, Code of Honor covered 1 1/16 miles over the fast main track in 1:43.85.
“Unbelievable. It's simply unbelievable,” said Farish. “We've known he has the talent, but we've had these little hiccups ever since he was second in Saratoga. Today he showed what he had all along and what we've saw all along. It's why he's had to work him so much coming up to this.”
The win earns Code of Honor 50 points on the Road to the Kentucky Derby, bringing his total to 54 points and placing him second behind War of Will (60) on the early Derby leaderboard.
“There was so much speed in the race I was expecting a quick pace in front of us,” said Velazquez. “We broke well, got position into the first turn and we held that position there. Once I was on the backstretch I was very comfortable with the way he was doing things. By the time three-eighths pole I was a little uncomfortable – one horse was kind of backing up and the other one was kind of holding me there. I had to make kind of a premature move around the quarter pole and I got there a little too soon to tell you the truth, but once he got in front he opened up a little bit.”
Following the colt's fourth-place finish as the heavy favorite in the Jan. 5 Mucho Macho Man Stakes, McGaughey shouldered the blame for his effort and decided to “tighten the screws” by working Code of Honor a little bit harder in the mornings.
“Well, I just thought that I made a couple of mistakes,” McGaughey explained. “I thought that I did stuff with him that maybe didn't need to be done. I thought I had him ready for the real stuff. That didn't work out and maybe he just wasn't ready.
“After the Mucho Macho Man, I said listen, 'we're going train him. If he takes it he takes it,' and he took it. He was doing good with what we were putting into him so we kept doing it and we felt like he was going to come down here and run well. We saved some ground going around the first turn and he was just patient. We got the set up.”
“This is what we expected of him,” echoed Velazquez. “Obviously, he came from a long layoff and he probably wasn't quite ready. We put a lot of work in him and he's taken it well and he showed us today what kind of horse he is.”
Code of Honor broke with the field but settled back to let the speed horses duke it out on the front end, finding a position along the rail about seven lengths off the front-running Hidden Scroll. The favorite, meanwhile, was laying it all on the line while battling back longshot Gladiator King through early fractions of :22.80 and :45.69. Global Campaign kept close contact with that pair, but there was a five-length gap back to Code of Honor and Vekoma ahead of the rest of the field.
Rounding into the far turn, Hidden Scroll put away the other early speed horses and had a two-length advantage. Gladiator King was stopping quickly at the rail, so Velazquez had to move a little bit early on Code of Honor to avoid running over the top of that rival. Vekoma was also moving but was forced to go wide around Global Campaign when Velazquez was able to duck back to the inside.
Angling back out for the stretch run, Code of Honor surged by Hidden Scroll to take command with a sixteenth of a mile to run. He looked a little bit lost when alone on the front end, but the late effort from Bourbon War seemed to re-engage the winner and he held on to cross the line three-quarters of a length in front. Bourbon War had to settle for second, while Vekoma checked in third just ahead of Hidden Scroll. Global Campaign rounded out the top five.
“At the end of the day, he wound up going pretty quick,” trainer Bill Mott said of beaten favorite Hidden Scroll. “I was kind of hoping we might be able to lay in behind the 3 horse and as it was we were up heads apart the first part. I was kind of hoping to be tucked in behind him but it didn't work out that way.
“He ran good. It makes you wonder, well, should we have chosen an easier spot but I guess we felt we wanted to find some things about him today, and we found out we weren't ready for this.”
Bred in Kentucky by his owner, Code of Honor is out of the graded stakes-winning Dixie Union mare Reunited, also a Farish homebred. His granddam is the multiple stakes-winner Tivli, by Mt. Livermore, herself out of a placed daughter of Bold Forbes. Noble Mission, meanwhile, is a three-time Group 1-winning full brother to champion Frankel, by Galileo.
Code of Honor was entered in the Keeneland September sale, but Farish bought him back when the bidding stopped at $70,000. Since then, the colt broke his maiden on debut, then ran second in the G1 Champagne in his second career start. The Mucho Macho Man was his only start finishing off the board, and the Fountain of Youth improves his overall earnings to just shy of $400,000.
“There's obviously three different spots,” McGaughey said of the colt's next start. “The Florida Derby would be my preference. We've got to ship him an hour and a half down the road. But there is the Wood and Bluegrass. It's not all the Kentucky Derby. If he takes us there it'll be fine but we still got to do it again.
“I would prefer to stay here, but I'm going to see. A couple of them are a little farther down the line, so we'll see how he comes out of it. We'll figure it out.”
“We'll have to see how he comes out of this,” added Farish. “With the works he's had we'll probably back off a little bit after this. We may not do that. We'll see. There's no way to tell you what it means. It's a terrific thing. We've been in this business a long time. There's a lot of good and a lot of bad, but this was a great day.”
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