Back in May, William S. Farish’s Code of Honor was elevated from third to second when Maximum Security was dropped from first to 17th, and on Sept. 28, another disqualification decided a major Grade 1 stakes and lifted the son of Noble Mission one notch higher on the toteboard.
Down the stretch, the $734,250, Grade 1 Jockey Club Gold Cup produced a scintillating duel between 3-year-old Code of Honor and 4-year-old Vino Rosso, who were side-by-side, inches between them, for the final frantic furlong.
Code of Honor, who rallied from fourth in the field of five under John Velazquez, seemed poised to move past his older foe, but was unable to get by as Vino Rosso and Irad Ortiz Jr. held on by a nose.
Then, in an encore of the Kentucky Derby, numbers started blinking on the toteboard and, just like the first Saturday in May, the winner came down by a unanimous decision of the stewards.
Head-on films showed the pace-setting Vino Rosso coming out and bumping Code of Honor a few times, leading to the disqualification of the Todd Pletcher-trained 4-year-old, and giving Code of Honor his third straight win since the Kentucky Derby for trainer Shug McGaughey, with the last two coming in two of the sport’s most famous stakes: the Runhappy Travers Stakes and now the Jockey Club Gold Cup.
“It’s not the way you want to win, but the other horse came out into us a bit and he battled back and only got beat a nose. When he came back it showed how good of a horse he is,” McGaughey said. “This is a good horse. He’s made so much improvement since the Derby. I couldn’t be any prouder of him than I am.”
That pride was also reflected on the face of Farish, the 80-year-old owner-breeder who recorded his second win the Gold Cup and first since Mineshaft was victorious in 2003.
“This was huge. He’s a wonderful horse who has come on for us and done so well. It was a tough, tough race,” Farish said about the homebred out of the Dixie Union mare Reunited. “I felt 50-50 about the inquiry, but I said we better go down [to the winner’s circle] because they don’t put the inquiry up at Belmont Park just for fun. Maybe other places in the country, but not here. Once we saw the picture and the jockey said he got bumped three times, I felt better.”
In a year in which three different horses won the three Triple Crown races and none has won a race since, and a 31-1 shot, Math Wizard, won last weekend’s Pennsylvania Derby, by virtue of the victory, Code of Honor’s impressive resume for an Eclipse Award now sports the powerful duo of Travers and Jockey Club Gold Cup wins, plus victories in the Grade 2 Xpressbet Fountain of Youth Stakes and Grade 3 Dwyer Stakes as well as the second in the Kentucky Derby in seven starts.
That might prove to be enough to put him in the driver’s seat over Maximum Security, who has victories in the Grade 1 Xpressbet Florida Derby, when Code of Honor was third, and the Grade 1 TVG.com Haskell Invitational Stakes but missed the Pennsylvania Derby due to a colon ailment.
“I would have to think he’s the top 3-year-old,” McGaughey said. “Who’s done more? Maximum Security’s won a couple of Grade 1s but where’s he now? We’ve been going since [Jan. 5] and I think that say a lot. Nobody else has beaten older horses and we’ve beaten all comers.”
McGaughey was less sure about future plans for Code for Honor, who secured a free spot in the Nov. 2 $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic at Santa Anita Park by winning the Gold Cup, a Breeders’ Cup Challenge “Win and You’re In” race.
“We’ll see how he comes out of it and talk with Mr. Farish and we’ll figure it out from there,” McGaughey said.
Farish said a trip to California for the Nov. 2 Breeders’ Cup Classic was “up in the air.”
“We’re up in the air about it,” he said. “We’ll see how does after today and decide what to do. He needs a rest somewhere because we are definitely going to run him next year. But on the other hand, he comes out of his races well and the Breeders’ Cup is certainly a possibility.”