Code of Honor Wins Jockey Club Gold Cup, Imperial Hint Valiant in Vosburgh

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Code of Honor, left, and Vino Rosso, right, battled to the finish in the Jockey Club Gold Cup Sept. 28 at Belmont Park. Code of Honor won the race following the disqualification of Vino Rosso for interference in the stretch. (Eclipse Sportswire)

In a year when the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve was decided via disqualification, the stewards at Belmont Park may have settled the 3-year-old championship.

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.”

Jockey Club Gold Cup winner Code of Honor. (Eclipse Sportswire)

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 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.”

Imperial Hint Re-Rallies to Edge Firenze Fire in Vosburgh

The toteboard told one story about the $282,000, Grade 1 Vosburgh Stakes.

Imperial Hint, inside, prevailed in a thriller. (Eclipse Sportswire)

Then Imperial Hint and Firenze Fire went out and provided a much more dramatic and compelling tale.

What figured to be a mismatch with Raymond Mamone’s Imperial Hint sent off as the overwhelming favorite seemed headed in that direction when the 6-year-old son of Imperialism cruised along on a clear lead over three rivals in the Sept. 28 six-furlong sprint at Belmont Park.

He led by 1 1/2 lengths after a half-mile in :44.65 and seemed to be coasting to victory.

“It was looking easy. I thought we’d win comfortably,” said Imperial Hint’s trainer, Luis Carvajal Jr.

The mood quickly changed, however, when Mr. Amore Stable’s Firenze Fire moved up alongside Imperial Hint leaving the quarter pole, and the Jason Servis-trained runner inched to a short lead in midstretch.

“It was like someone hit me in the face with a bucket of cold water,” Carvajal said.

It was also a wake-up call for Imperial Hint and jockey Javier Castellano.

“I was scared for a second,” said Mamone, 86, who could do without such stressful moments. “I was saying come on, come on again, and he did.”

Under urging from Castellano, Imperial Hint battled back to draw even with Firenze Fire and then won the bob at the finish line to register a victory by a nose for back-to-back Vosburgh wins and a free starting spot in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint through the “Win and You’re In” Challenge Series.

“He’s small, but he has a lot of heart, and this is the kind of race that proves it,” Carvajal said. “When he fought back, that’s what you want to see.”

The victory was the 14th in 23 starts for Imperial Hint, who was purchased privately for $25,000 as a 2-year-old by Mamone after the owner gave away his dam, Royal Hint, to the horse’s breeder, Shade Tree Thoroughbreds. He has earned $2,199,155.

“I never want this to end,” Carvajal said.

Next will be the Breeders’ Cup Sprint Nov. 2 at Santa Anita Park, where Imperial Hint is likely to meet up again with Runhappy Metropolitan Handicap winner Mitole, whom he beat by 7 1/2 lengths in track-record time in his previous start, the Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap at Saratoga Race Course. It will mark Imperial Hint’s third start in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint after finishing second in 2017 at Del Mar and third as the favorite at Churchill Downs last year.

Carvajal said Imperial Hint didn’t care for the surface at Churchill Downs, but he will head into the Breeders’ Cup this time around off a demanding test rather than his unchallenged win in the 2018 Vosburgh, also as a 1-5 favorite.

“I don’t have to do much [with him] after this. This will be enough for the Breeders’ Cup,” Carvajal said. “It’s a long trip, but he was there before and he seems like he likes the atmosphere there. The Sprint, aside from the Classic and Longines Turf, will be one of the greatest races that Saturday.”

The final time for the six furlongs on a fast track was 1:08.35, which was .08 slower than Imperial Hint’s winning time in last year’s Vosburgh.—Bob Ehalt

Midnight Bisou Stays Perfect in 2019 

It was the perfect prep in the midst of a perfect season.

Midnight Bisou improved to 7-for-7 in 2019 with a win in the Beldame. (Eclipse Sportswire)

Bloom Racing Stable, Madaket Stables and Allen Racing’s Midnight Bisou cemented her status as the one to beat in the Longines Breeders’ Cup Distaff and enhanced her position as a main Horse of the Year contender as she rolled to a 3 1/4-length victory in the $291,000, Grade 2 Beldame Stakes.

In terms of statistics, the victory was the seventh in as many 2019 starts for the 4-year-old daughter of Midnight Lute, who was second behind Bricks and Mortar in this week’s National Thoroughbred Racing Association Top 10 poll.

It was also exactly what her owners and trainer Steve Asmussen were looking for in advance of the 4-year-old filly moving on to Santa Anita Park for the World Championships.

“It was perfect,” said owner Jeff Bloom. “We had talked about this right after Saratoga [when she won the Personal Ensign by a nose over Elate Aug. 24]. Certain horses take care of themselves on the racetrack and there’s never been a time when had to make a detour with her. We felt, she loves this track. It’s her third impressive win over this racetrack [in three starts], and the timing was good to shift to here from Saratoga and then fly out to California.”

As for which Breeders’ Cup race, Bloom is sticking with his plan to run in the 1 1/8-mile $2 million Breeders’ Cup Distaff instead of challenging males in the richer and longer 1 1/4-mile $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic.—Bob Ehalt

Structor Strikes in Pilgrim

Jeff Drown and Don Rachel's Structor, an $850,000 purchase this year at auction, delivered again in his second start, taking Belmont Park's $200,000, Grade 3 Pilgrim Stakes for juveniles by a head.

Yet another turf star on the rise trained by Chad Brown, the son of Palace Malice was an impressive winner first time out Aug. 31 at Saratoga Race Course and added the 1 1/16-mile Pilgrim over Andesite in 1:41.46 under Irad Ortiz Jr.—Evan Hammonds

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