Code of Honor's victory in the Grade 1 Jockey Club Gold Cup on Sept. 28 made him the favorite to be honored with the champion 3-year-old male Eclipse Award in January, and the win also improved his credentials as a live contender for the Breeders’ Cup Classic.
While Lane’s End Farm’s Will Farish said heading to the Classic after a long season isn’t a guarantee for the 3-year-old colt, it is a possibility that we’ll see him at Santa Anita on Nov. 2, so let’s get to know Code of Honor.
Though Code of Honor was born in late May of 2016, he proved precocious from the start. The colt made his debut last August in Saratoga with John Velazquez aboard in a six-furlong maiden race, and he handled the shorter distance well, posting a 1 ½-length victory.
Trainer Shug McGaughey is known for taking it slow with his horses, but he obviously thought he had something special on his hands with Code of Honor. McGaughey entered the chestnut in last year’s Grade 1 Champagne Stakes as a Breeders’ Cup Juvenile prep, and while Code of Honor finished second behind Complexity, it was enough to elevate him as one of the favorites for the Juvenile. Unfortunately, a Breeders' Cup try wasn’t meant to be, as the colt spiked a fever the day of the race.
Not surprisingly, Code of Honor was given a break after that setback, but he was one of the earliest top-shelf contenders to start back on the Kentucky Derby trail this year when he ran in the listed Mucho Macho Man Stakes on Jan. 5. Code of Honor showed that he needed that race when he finished off the board for the first time in his career, finishing fourth, 7 ¾ lengths behind winner Mihos.
The colt was away from the races for two months after that effort, but McGaughey had him ready to run when he returned in the Grade 2 Xpressbet Fountain Of Youth Stakes in March.
Code of Honor posted a three-quarter-length victory, and subsequently went into the Grade 1 XPressbet Florida Derby as one of the race favorites. In an unfortunate race for the colt where his usual closing running style was affected by a slow pace, he still managed to finish third behind Maximum Security and Bodexpress, beaten by 6 ¾ lengths. That effort was enough, however, to secure Code of Honor a spot in the Grade 1 Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve.
If his connections thought Code of Honor’s Florida Derby was an unlucky race, they were in for an even bigger shock in the Kentucky Derby.
In the Derby, Code of Honor was forwardly placed through the first mile and was coming up the rail as Maximum Security veered out in the far turn, and then was bumped when Maximum Security came back in. The chestnut crossed the finish line in third, but the incident through the turn caused first-place finisher Maximum Security to be disqualified to 17th and Code of Honor moved up to second.
Code of Honor skipped the rest of the Triple Crown series and earned a small break before kicking off his summer campaign with a 3 ¼ length victory in the Grade 3 Dwyer Stakes July 6. That turned out to be the perfect prep race for the Grade 1 Runhappy Travers Stakes on Aug. 24, where he stretched back out to the Kentucky Derby distance of 1 ¼ miles after running a mile in the Dwyer.
In the Travers, Code of Honor was happy to race near the back of the field in his normal position as Mucho Gusto set the pace. Velazquez bided his time on his mount, asking Code of Honor to kick into gear on the far turn, something the colt did willingly. Code of Honor was close behind the leaders as they turned into the stretch, and with a furlong to go, he drew even with them and then took over the lead to pull away and win by three lengths.
After his Travers win, Code of Honor was firmly established as a top contender for divisional honors, but now it was on to perhaps his toughest test yet – running against his elders.
Code of Honor faced a small but select field of five horses in the Jockey Club Gold Cup that included two other Grade 1 winners and one multiple Grade 1-placed horse. As the top four contenders straightened for home, it was a knock-out battle between Vino Rosso and Code of Honor, and one of the best stretch duels of the year commenced. Vino Rosso drifted out in the stretch and bumped Code of Honor a few times as the pair came to the finish line in tandem. Vino Rosso held on to finish first by a nose, but his drifting out caused Velazquez to file a jockey's objection.
Code of Honor already deserved respect for sticking with 4-year-old Vino Rosso through the entire stretch run, but his résumé got an even bigger boost when the stewards decided to reverse the result and elevate the 3-year-old to first, ruling that multiple bumps during a key portion of the race hindered his chances to win.
That victory gave him his fifth win in nine career starts and impoved his earnings to nearly $2.3 million, with his race record also bolstered by three other Grade 1-placings.
If there is a 3-year-old colt bred to go the 1 ¼-mile distance of the Breeders’ Cup Classic, his name is Code of Honor.
Code of Honor is from the first crop by Noble Mission, who won up to 1 ½ miles on turf during his career and was crowned a champion in Europe. Noble Mission is a full-brother (same dam [mother], same sire [father]) to the legendary 10-time Group 1 winner Frankel, who also has proved a top sire. Noble Mission has generations of stamina-producing stallions behind him as a son of Galileo and a grandson of Sadler’s Wells (who is a son of Kentucky Derby winner Northern Dancer).
The slightly confusing thing about Noble Mission is that his best horse to date runs on dirt, but Sadler’s Wells is also the grandsire of Medaglia d’Oro (of Rachel Alexandra and Songbird fame) so this line obviously can produce dirt horses. Noble Mission has had an excellent Breeders’ Cup "Win and You’re In" season at Belmont Park with his son Spanish Mission also winning a berth in the Longines Breeders’ Cup Turf thanks to his victory in the Jockey Club Derby.
Code of Honor’s affinity for dirt is more likely to come from his dam, Reunited, who has produced seven winners from seven foals to race. A winner of a Grade 3 on dirt, she is also the dam of Grade 2 Best Pal Stakes runner-up Big League. Reunited's sire is Dixie Union, who is also known for producing stamina as the sire of 2012 Belmont Stakes winner Union Rags. There are stakes winners under each of Code of Honor’s first five dams with much of their success coming on dirt.
All in all, a quick glance at his pedigree quickly explains how Code of Honor has become so good, though he is admittedly the best runner in his family.
The Classic scene got thrown on its head just a few hours after the Jockey Club Gold Cup when McKinzie was beaten in the Grade 1 Awesome Again Stakes at Santa Anita by a longshot who isn’t nominated to the Breeders’ Cup. While there have been arguments recently that the 3-year-olds this year are weaker than the older horses, with such a wide-open race shaping up on Nov. 2, Code of Honor looks like he would more than hold his own if his connections decide to enter him.
As a late May foal, Code of Honor is very likely just to get better and better as the year goes on, so we could see him take another step forward in the Breeders’ Cup. If however, if he does skip the race, the best still looks like it is yet to come for this talented colt, as his connections have said he will stay in training in 2020.