Honor Code battled it out with Cairo Prince in the Grade 2 Remsen at Aqueduct on Nov. 30, winning the photo finish by a nose. Earlier that day, Honor Code had closed as the favorite individual horse in the first Kentucky Derby Future Wagers pool of the season.
Making the Grade, which will run through the 2014 Belmont Stakes, focuses on the winners of the big races, usually from the previous weekend, who could impact the next Triple Crown. We’ll be taking a close look at impressive winners and evaluating their chances to win classic races based upon ability, running style, connections (owner, trainer, jockey) and pedigree.
This week we take a closer look at Honor Code, winner of the Grade 2 Remsen Stakes on Nov. 30 at Aqueduct.
Honor Code turned heads in his career debut when he rallied from more than 20 lengths off the pace on a sloppy track at Saratoga Race Course to win going away in a visually stunning performance. The A.P. Indy ridgling earned a breakthrough first stakes win in the $400,000 Remsen Stakes on Nov. 30 that cemented his status as one to watch on the Triple Crown trail in 2014.
Dark Bay or Brown Ridgling
Sire (Father): A.P. Indy
Dam (Mother): Serena’s Cat, by Storm Cat
Breeder: Dell Ridge Farm (Ky.)
Trainer: Claude R. “Shug” McGaughey III
Ability: The aforementioned, rallying-from-off-the-television-screen maiden win generated a ton of buzz around Honor Code, and of course it didn’t hurt from an exposure standpoint that his trainer, Shug McGaughey, had won the Kentucky Derby just a few months earlier with Orb.
Sent off as the 1.85-to-1 favorite in his second start, Honor Code closed again from dead last in a nine-horse field in the Grade 1 Champagne Stakes only to come up a neck short to Havana. He posted a career-best 107 Equibase Speed Figure in the Champagne.
Honor Code subsequently was flattered when Havana led into deep stretch and finished a game second to New Year's Day in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile.
Honor Code was sent off as the 4-to-5 favorite in the Remsen and found himself in unfamiliar position in the middle of the eight-horse field after getting away to a decent start. Tracking close to an unexpectedly easy pace set by Master Lightning (more on that later), Honor Code moved up to second on the backstretch and hit the top of the stretch in front. He appeared to idle a bit with no horses in front to target -which he had in his previous two races - and Cairo Prince rolled right on by to take almost a full one-length advantage. But Honor Code showed incredible fight to battle back - from the inside, which to me made it even more impressive – and catch Cairo Prince at the finish line for an unlikely win.
Many horses, especially 2-year-olds, look to get to the outside for clear running room in the stretch and most are not eager to fight between an opponent and the rail, but Honor Code did just that in the Remsen.
Honor Code probably will be knocked by handicappers, and perhaps fans as well, for his Remsen speed figure. His Equibase figure was 86, the lowest of his three career starts, but that is almost entirely the product of an incredibly slow early pace. Horses can only run so fast and often races with unusually slow early fractions produce speed figures that are not indicative of performance. It’s not like a horse can run the final furlong in six seconds to make up for a slow pace. There are simply physical limitations on how fast a horse can cover a measure of distance.
In this race, Honor Code ran his final three-eighths of a mile in about :35.16, which is very fast for a two-turn race, and the final eighth of a mile was :11.79. The final eighth of a mile tells me that this was not a case of Cairo Prince running out of stamina in the final strides but rather a race in which a quality 2-year-old re-broke in the stretch to catch another quality 2-year-old.
Photo courtesy of NYRA/Coglinese Photos
Running style: In his first two races, Honor Code rallied from last early to finish first and second, respectively, so it was logical to assume we were looking at a “closer.” A closer is a horse that conserves energy early and makes one sustained rally at the end in an effort to win.
So when Honor Code was positioned inside and just off the pace on the first turn in the Remsen it was certainly a surprise. His early position was most likely due to the fact that the pace was dawdling, but two positives from that race are that Honor Code broke much better from the starting gate, although he did stumble slightly, and got great experience racing inside of horses.
The hunch is that we probably won’t see Honor Code that near to the front or in the lead at the top of the stretch very often in his career. He seems to be best when he has another horse to target. He did show in the Remsen, however, that if another opponent tries to steal a race with an easy lead, he is versatile enough to adjust and utilize a different tactic.
Next year, we’ll probably see Honor Code gobbling up ground late and passing rivals in the stretch in his races, but perhaps he has just a bit more tactical speed than we saw in his first two starts.
Connections: Shug McGaughey won his first Kentucky Derby in 2013 with Orb and also won the Belmont Stakes in 1989 with Easy Goer. McGaughey trained Hall of Famers Inside Information, Easy Goer and Personal Ensign as well as champions Heavenly Prize, Queena, Rhythm, Smuggler, Storm Flag Flying and Vanlandingham. He won an Eclipse Award as outstanding trainer in 1988 and was inducted into the Racing Hall of Fame in 2004.
Lane’s End Racing co-owns Honor Code along with breeder Dell Ridge Farm, the latter the Central Kentucky breeding operation built by Frank and Mattie Justice. Frank Justice died on Feb. 25, 2012.
Dell Ridge Farm is a commercial breeding operation that focuses on the Keeneland September yearling sale but retains ownership in select horses such as Honor Code and Noble Tune, both of whom were produced by Dell Ridge’s mare Serena’s Cat, a $1.4 million purchase at the 2003 Keeneland November breeding stock sale.
Lane’s End Racing is the racing branch of leading Thoroughbred farm Lane’s End, which is based in Central Kentucky and also has a division in Texas. Lane’s End, owned and operated by William S. and Sarah Farish and their family, is one of the most important stallion farms and breeding operations in the U.S. and also one of the top operations globally. Lane’s End is home to many of the top stallions in the world and is the home of Honor Code’s sire, A.P. Indy. It also is the home of 2010 Horse of the Year and fan favorite Zenyatta.
Both Lane’s End and Dell Ridge Farm are in search of their first win in the Kentucky Derby as owners. William S. Farish was the co-breeder of 1999 Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Charismatic.
Javier Castellano has ridden Honor Code in each of his last two starts. He is the leading rider in North America by purse earnings in 2013 with more than $25 million and also ranks first by wins with more than 335 through Dec. 2.
Previous Making the Grades
Pedigree: Honor Code is from the final crop of 1992 Horse of the Year A.P. Indy, arguably the best U.S.-based stallion of the last 20 years and one of the top sources of stamina in North America. By 1977 Triple Crown winner Seattle Slew, A.P. Indy has sired more than 150 stakes winners, including 2006 champion and Preakness Stakes winner Bernardini, 2003 Horse of the Year Mineshaft (who also stands at Lane’s End) and 2007 Belmont Stakes-winning filly Rags to Riches.
A.P. Indy has not sired a Kentucky Derby winner.
The female half of Honor Code’s family likewise is quite impressive. His dam (mother), Serena’s Cat is a stakes winner whose two foals to race – Honor Code and Noble Tune – both are graded stakes winners. Serena’s Cat is by breed-shaping sire Storm Cat.
Honor Code’s second dam (maternal grandmother) is multiple stakes winner Serena’s Tune, by Mr. Prospector, one of the most important sires of the 20th century. Serena’s Tune is a half-sister to Group 1 winner Sophisticat and graded stakes winner and sire Grand Reward.
Honor Code’s third dam (maternal great-grandmother) is 1995 champion 3-year-old filly Serena’s Song, who defeated males to win the 1995 Haskell Invitational Stakes. She is the dam of five stakes winners including the aforementioned Sophisticat, Grand Reward and Serena’s Tune.
In short, this is a powerhouse pedigree top and bottom and one that makes Honor Code an obvious candidate for the 2014 Triple Crown races. If you are looking for a 2014 Kentucky Derby horse, the list of candidates should begin with Honor Code.
HONOR CODE (inside) WORKING AT BELMONT PARK BEFORE THE REMSEN
Photo courtesy of NYRA/Coglinese Photos