W.S. Farish's Code of Honor lived up to the expectations he generated during his 2-year-old campaign when the Shug McGaughey-trained colt rallied to win the $400,000 Xpressbet.com Fountain of Youth (G2) at Gulfstream Park in Hallandale Beach, Fla., on March 2.
The 3-year-old son of Noble Mission is set for a return in Saturday's $1 million Xpressbet.com Florida Derby (G1) at Gulfstream, where the Kentucky-bred colt is scheduled to clash with 10 rivals in a quest to further enhance his standing among Thoroughbred racing's leading 2019 Triple Crown prospects in the tradition-rich 1 1/8-mile event for 3-year-olds. Code of Honor, rated second on the morning line at 3-1, drew post position No. 9.
The Florida Derby will be the main event on a knockout 14-race program (First post: 11:30 a.m. ET) featuring seven stakes, four graded. The $250,000 Gulfstream Park Oaks (G2) for 3-year-old fillies, the $300,000 Gulfstream Park Mile (G2) and the $250,000 Pan American are highlights on the Florida Derby undercard, along with the $125,000 Sanibel Island, $125,000 Cutler Bay and the $100,000 Sand Springs.
The Florida Derby will highlight six-race sequence for the 20-cent Rainbow 6 Saturday, when there will be a mandatory payout of the popular multi-race wager. The carryover jackpot heading into Thursday's card stands at a life-changing $2,455,348.
As Code of Honor attempts to take another giant step toward the Triple Crown, he will seek to follow in the hoofprints of Orb, the McGaughey-trained winner of the 2013 Fountain of Youth and Florida Derby who went on to capture the Kentucky Derby (G1).
In the first 67 runnings of the Florida Derby, 44 starters went on to capture 59 Triple Crown events, including 24 Kentucky Derby champions, 19 Preakness winners and 16 Belmont victors.
Code of Honor disappointed in his 2019 debut in the Jan. 5 Mucho Macho Man, in which he finished an even fourth as the 4-5 favorite. However, he redeemed himself in the 1 1/16-mile Fountain of Youth, in which he settled off a strong early pace before rallying through the stretch to capture his two-turn debut.
“I think I have a little bit more confidence [going into the Florida Derby] because I was a little bit shook after the Mucho Macho Man,” McGaughey said. “I kind of changed my strategy and that worked, so I've kept on with it and I think he's progressing the right way.”
McGaughey started asking more of Code of Honor in his morning training after the Mucho Macho Man, and the Kentucky-bred colt responded to offer a decidedly more enthusiastic effort in the Fountain of Youth, in which he raced in mid-pack behind the pressured pace set by Hidden Scroll before kicking in through the stretch. McGaughey would consider a similar scenario in the Florida Derby to be ideal but is confident Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez will be quick to adapt to any pace development.
“It depends on the pace. I don't want him up too close. I don't think that's his way,” McGaughey said. “A lot of that will be up to Johnny as the race unfolds out of the gate. I hope we get a little pace, which I think we probably will. Going a mile and an eighth, he's just going to have to be patient with him as he was the other day.”
Code of Honor demonstrated versatility during his juvenile campaign, in which he won his debut at Saratoga last August after leading throughout the six-furlong maiden special weight race under Velazquez. Seven weeks later, the son of Noble Mission overcame a stumbling start to close from last in the 10-horse field to finish second in the mile Champagne (G1) around one turn at Belmont Park.
Bourbon Lane Stable and Lake Star Stable's Bourbon War has done his best running in the stretch in all of his four career starts, most notably while finishing a closes second to Code of Honor in the Fountain of Youth. The Mark Hennig-trained colt, who won a Jan. 18 optional claiming allowance at 1 1/16 miles at Gulfstream after closing from far back, had to deal with traffic on the turn into the homestretch in the Fountain of Youth before surging late. Hennig was particularly impressed with Bourbon War's effort after the finish line under Irad Ortiz Jr.
“The gallop-out – some people put emphasis on that, and some people don't – I thought his gallop-out was much stronger than the rest of the field,” Hennig said. “It really gave us some confidence. I know Irad has a lot of confidence.”
Hennig has also been pleased with the son of Tapit's preparation for the Florida Derby.
“His daily gallops, he's putting a lot into them, which is great to see. He's matured a lot. He's eating tremendously right now. He's a horse that's needed to fill out and grown up as the spring comes on, and he's doing that,” Hennig said. “Hopefully, that keeps going as we transition to the next town and he does as well as he's done here.”
Ortiz has the return mount aboard Bourbon War, who was rated third in the morning line at 7-2 after drawing post position No. 4.
Juddmonte Farm's Hidden Scroll was installed as the 5-2 morning-line favorite after drawing the No. 1 post position. Hidden Scroll, whose heated pace battle with longshot Gladiator King aided the stretch kicks of Code of Honor and Bourbon War, will make his third career start in the Florida Derby, which Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott hopes will not unfold like his Fountain of Youth trip.
Mott is confident that the son of Hard Spun, who was the 6-5 favorite in the Fountain of Youth on the strength of his dazzling 14-length debut victory at Gulfstream five weeks earlier, is more versatile than his two previous efforts may suggest. The Juddmonte homebred has been placed behind horses in his two workouts at Payson Park since the Fountain of Youth and breezed to Mott's satisfaction.
“I think this horse is fine behind horses; he's fine on the lead if the pace is such that he needs to be on the lead. That's the rider's decision. They have to make that choice when they leave the starting gate,” said Mott, who has named Javier Castellano to ride Hidden Scroll for the first time Saturday.
Gary and Mary West's Maximum Security could be expected to be a pace factor in the son of New Year's Day's stakes debut in the Florida Derby. The Jason Servis-trained colt has launched his career during the Championship Meet with three eye-catching victories, including a front-running 14 ¼-length triumph last time out in an optional claiming starter allowance Feb. 20, when he ran seven furlongs in 1:21.72.
“I'd like to see two horses head-and-head for the lead and him tucked in laying third about four lengths off of them. I'll leave it to [jockey] Luis Saez. He's a great rider,” Servis said. ”He's a young horse that is probably going to lay it all out just because he's young enough where he hasn't really learned just to go through the motions. I'll leave it to Luis and see what happens.”
Maximum Security has been a pleasant surprise for Servis, ending up in the Florida Derby after debuting in a $16,000 claiming race that he won by 9 ¾ lengths Dec. 20. The homebred colt came right back to capture an optional claiming allowance by 6 ½ lengths Jan. 24 before his stunning victory Feb. 20.
“I thought he had some ability but I didn't think he was this kind of horse, to be honest. I thought for [$16,000] he was well-spotted and he'd get the job done,” said Servis, whose trainee was rated fourth at 9-2 in the morning line after drawing po0st positon No. 7. “I'm a big boy. He was in for a claiming price and we got lucky and he didn't get claimed. Then I picked a couple of soft spots out for him where he was the heavy favorite and he easily won those. He's three-for-three at Gulfstream, so we'll see.”
Harvey Wallbanger passed the Fountain of Youth after posting a 29-1 upset victory in the $350,000 Fasig-Tipton Holy Bull (G2) at Gulfstream Feb. 2 for Harold Lerner, LLC, AWC Stables, Nehoc Stables, Scott Akman and Paul Braverman. The Ken McPeek-trained colt finished second in his first three starts before breaking through with a maiden-breaking score at Churchill Downs in his juvenile campaign finale and capturing the Holy Bull.
The son of Congrats closed from ninth in the Holy Bull to win by a length under Brian Hernandez Jr., who has the riding assignment Saturday.
“The Holy Bull was a lot of fun,” Hernandez said. “We were a ways back – that's his running style. The race set up for him. We had a lot of speed in front of us. I was liking my spot. I was able to sneak up the fence and turning for home when we were in contention, I thought he'd go on and finish it off, and he did. He ran on and ran a really big race.
“He came out of some good maiden races in Kentucky in the fall,” Hernandez added. “When he was there for me in the Holy Bull the whole way, that's what gives you confidence.”
Trainer Todd Pletcher, who has saddled a record five Florida Derby winners, has opted to give Current, a graded-stakes winner on turf, another chance on dirt Saturday. Owned by Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners, Robert LaPenta and Dixiana Farms, LLC, the son of Curlin, who finished third in the Feb. 3 Dania Beach at Gulfstream on turf last time out, finished seventh in the Nov. 24 Kentucky Jockey Club (G2) over a sloppy Churchill Downs track in his only main track race.
Manuel Franco has the call on Current, who won the Bourbon (G1) at Keeneland last fall.
Calumet Farm's Everfast, who closed strongly to finish second behind Harvey Wallbanger at 128-1 in the Holy Bull, has been entered in the Florida Derby by trainer Dale Romans with the hope that the son of Take Charge Indy can rebound from a distant eighth-place finish in the Fountain of Youth.
Chris Landeros has the return mount.
Jacks or Better Farm's Garter and Tie, who was a force in the FTBOA Florida Sire Stakes last summer, will try to improve on a sixth-place finish behind Harvey Wallbanger in the Holy Bull. The Florida-bred son of Brooks 'n Down had previously won the Smooth Air and finished third in the Mucho Macho Man Stakes going a one-turn mine. The homebred colt won the $250,000 FTBOA Florida Sire Stakes Affirmed going seven furlongs last summer.
Jeffrey Sanchez has the assignment aboard Garter and Tie.
Top Racing LLC and Global Thoroughbreds LLC and GDS Racing Stable's Bodexpress will seek to break his maiden in the Florida Derby after finishing fourth in Hidden Scroll's spectacular maiden score two starts back and a close second following a rough start last time out. Trainer Gustavo Delgado named Nik Juarez for the mount.
Los Samanes LLC's Union's Destiny, who finished sixth from his outside post in the Fountain of Youth after checking in third behind Garter and Tie in the Smooth Air, will return in the Florida Derby. Trainer Juan Carlos Avila awarded the mount to Leonel Reyes.
Thoroughbred Champions Training Center LLC's Hard Belle, a one-time winner in 13 career starts for trainer Jaime Mejia, will be ridden by Jose Batista.
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