Stars of Yesterday: Looking Back at Best Louisiana Derby Winners
Making the Grade, which will run through the 2019 Belmont Stakes, focuses on the winners or top performers of the key races, usually from the previous weekend, who could make an impact on the 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 Code of Honor, winner of the $400,000, Grade 2 Xpressbet Fountain of Youth Stakes on March 2 at Gulfstream Park.
Code of Honor serves as a timely reminder that racing fans and analysts often give up far too quickly on racehorses, especially Derby hopefuls going through intense physical and mental maturation. The Code of Honor we watched win the Xpressbet Fountain of Youth on Saturday barely resembled the one who was beaten by 7 ¾ lengths in his season debut. He looked much more like the colt who profiled as a rising star as a 2-year-old. So, let’s take a closer look at Code of Honor as a 2019 Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve contender.
code of honor
Ability: Code of Honor made a terrific first impression on the racetrack, setting the pace in his career debut and winning by 1 ½ lengths on Aug. 18 at Saratoga Race Course in a three-quarter-mile sprint.
Coming from the barn of a notoriously patient trainer like Hall of Famer Shug McGaughey, who often uses a 2-year-old’s first start simply as a learning experience with 10.3 percent winners from first-time starters since 2000, Code of Honor’s win generated buzz. He earned a 92 Equibase Speed Figure, a 93 Brisnet figure, and an 86 Beyer Speed Figure.
Despite the flashy debut, Code of Honor was largely overlooked when sent off at 14-1 odds for the Grade 1 Champagne Stakes at Belmont Park on Oct. 6. He stumbled out of the gate in the one-mile race and dropped back to trail the 10-horse field early, but Code of Honor passed every horse but one, winner Complexity, in the final three-quarters of a mile to finish second. He improved his Equibase Speed Figure 10 points to a 102, his Brisnet figure two points to a 95, his Beyer Speed Figure rose four points to a 90.
One of the leading contenders for the Sentient Jet Breeders’ Cup Juvenile after overcoming significant trouble to run second in the Champagne, Code of Honor missed the race because of a fever and did not race again in 2018.
Code of Honor returned to the races on Jan. 5 for the one-mile Mucho Macho Man Stakes at Gulfstream Park and he again encountered some trouble early, racing last of six early before settling in fourth, within a length of the pace, through a half-mile. But when it came time to accelerate, Code of Honor came up empty and finished fourth by 7 ¾ lengths in a head-scratching performance as the 4-5 favorite.
McGaughey said leading up to the Fountain of Youth that he was increasing the intensity of Code of Honor’s workouts to make sure he was fit and he was pleased with how the colt was training. He also said he was excited to see him stretch out around two turns for the first time.
Code of Honor entered the starting gate for the Fountain of Youth at 9.50-1 odds and largely an afterthought in a race that featured several other highly regarded Kentucky Derby prospects, including lightly raced favorite Hidden Scroll coming off a dominant debut win.
Code of Honor got away to a much better start and settled in fifth early as Hidden Scroll set a blistering pace through a half-mile in :45.69. Code of Honor moved up on the final turn under Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez, reeled in Hidden Scroll to take a clear lead, and then held off a powerful late rally from Bourbon War for a three-quarter-length win.
“Obviously, I thought about [the Mucho Macho Man] a lot,” McGaughey said. “I thought from what I saw he probably needed the race and probably, maybe, needed to change his running style just a little bit. We needed to get into him and train him a little harder and more frequent and see if he would take it.”
Code of Honor earned a new career-best Equibase Speed Figure (111) and Beyer Speed Figure (95) and equaled his career-best Brisnet figure (95). The 118 TimeForm Speed Figure tied for the highest from a 2019 Derby points race winner, although Fountain of Youth fourth-place finisher Hidden Scroll earned a 120.
Code of Honor’s final sixteenth of a mile was slower than you would like to see, but that happens when you have a race with such a fast early tempo. He finished quite well in his two starts in 2018, but still it’s something to monitor in his next start.
Running style: After leading from start to finish in his debut, Code of Honor closed from well off the pace in his next two starts but that was almost entirely due to circumstances, specifically trouble at the start. In the Fountain of Youth, Code of Honor was able to use some early speed to gain a nice stalking position in the 11-horse field and it stands to reason, based upon McGaughey’s earlier quote and the Fountain of Youth result, that these tactics will be employed again.
Connections: Code of Honor is a homebred of William S. Farish, who in 2009 was honored with the Eclipse Award of Merit for a lifetime of outstanding achievement in racing. Farish founded Lane’s End in Versailles, Ky., in 1979, and for well over a quarter-century the farm has served as one of the world’s leading Thoroughbred breeding operations.
Farish bred and raced in partnership 1992 Horse of the Year A.P. Indy, who would go on to become a breed-shaping sire at Lane’s End.
According to the Lane’s End website, Farish has raced more than 165 stakes winners and bred more than 300 stakes winners, including 2003 Horse of the Year Mineshaft, the aforementioned A.P. Indy, 1999 Horse of the Year Charismatic, and champion Lemon Drop Kid.
Farish served as United States Ambassador to the Court of St. James’s for President George W. Bush from 2001-2004 and has hosted Queen Elizabeth II on her visits to Kentucky.
Shug McGaughey was inducted into the Racing Hall of Fame in 2004. The Lexington, Ky., native has won 2,050 races through March 4, including 342 graded stakes wins and a remarkable 127 Grade 1s. McGaughey trained champions Easy Goer, Personal Ensign, Inside Information, Rhythm, Heavenly Prize, Queena, Vanlandingham, Storm Flag Flying, and Smuggler as well as Hall of Famer Lure. He won his first Kentucky Derby in 2013 with Orb, who was his seventh starter in the race. He also finished second in the Derby in 1989 with Easy Goer, who went on to win the Belmont Stakes.
Jockey John Velazquez has ridden Code of Honor in three of his four career starts. Velazquez, a 2012 Hall of Fame inductee, ranks 17th all time among North American jockeys by wins with 6,036 through March 4 and first by purse earnings with $399.2 million. Velazquez won the Kentucky Derby in 2011 on Animal Kingdom and again in 2017 aboard Always Dreaming. A winner of 647 career graded stakes races, including 188 Grade/Group 1 wins, Velazquez also has won the Belmont Stakes twice: Rags to Riches (2007); Union Rags (2012). He and McGaughey have teamed up through the years to win 36 graded stakes and 12 Grade 1s.
Pedigree: Code of Honor is from the first crop of Noble Mission, a son of leading European sire Galileo and a Group 1 winner on grass in England, Ireland, and France. Noble Mission was a Group 1 winner at 1 ½ miles. He is a full brother (same dam [mother], same sire [father]) to 2011 European Horse of the Year Frankel.
Code of Honor was produced by the Dixie Union mare Reunited, a Grade 3-winning sprinter who won five of 10 career starts. She also produced Grade 2-placed winner Big League.
Code of Honor’s grandam (maternal grandmother), Tivli, by Mt. Livermore, was a multiple-stakes-winning sprinter who produced three stakes winners.
While Noble Mission has not yet had time to prove his worth as a sire, he was a proven Group 1 winner at 1 ¼ to 1 ½ miles in Europe and boasts a regal pedigree. Frankel had, arguably, the most explosive turn of foot we’ve seen in horse racing since the turn of the century.
Code of Honor gets a nice helping of speed and class from the bottom half of his pedigree, but you could argue this half is light on stamina.
Code of Honor very likely still needs to improve to win the Kentucky Derby – although this has not been an especially fast group of 3-year-olds – but he’s in the hands of Hall of Fame connections and clearly looks like he’s headed in the right direction. In the near future, Code of Honor profiles as a serious player on the Derby trail, and long-term he might be even better on the grass, which is a scary thought.