It was two years ago when trainer Shug McGaughey followed Florida's Road to the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve to a second-place finish with Code of Honor in the Run for the Roses.
The Hall of Fame trainer found himself back on that illustrious path Jan. 30 with a new Triple Crown candidate. Courtlandt Farms' Greatest Honour powered to a 5 3/4-length victory over longshot Tarantino in the $200,000 Grade 3 Holy Bull Stakes for 3-year-olds at Gulfstream Park.
"I told my wife (Alison), the pressure begins now," McGaughey said.
It surely does.
The victory under jockey Jose Ortiz came on the heels of an impressive Dec. 26 1 1/2-length maiden victory at Gulfstream Park when he overcame considerable trouble in the 1 1/16-mile test. It also confirmed the quality of a pair of thirds in his first two starts at 2, when he finished directly behind recent Smarty Jones Stakes winner Caddo River at seven furlongs.
While it took four starts for Greatest Honour to record a maiden win, the victories in his last two starts around two turns have elevated him toward the top of the 3-year-old division.
"All of his races were good and I think the two seven-eighth races helped him because everything came together at two turns," McGaughey said about a homebred son of Tapit who fell a head shy in his third race when he tried two turns for the first time and has won two of five starts overall. "Jose said he was very mature in everything he did today. I was really, really proud of him."
The way Greatest Honour moved up from seventh in the field of nine and rallied four-wide on the turn to blow past his rivals in the stretch of Saturday's 1 1/16-mile stakes certainly bodes quite well for his chances in longer and more important races down the road that will be worth more than the 10 Kentucky Derby qualifying points he picked up in the Holy Bull.
"I think the farther the better for him. His breeding says he wants to go long. His dam (the Street Cry mare Tiffany's Honour) is a half sister to (Belmont Stakes, G1, winners) Rags to Riches and Jazil and that says distance," McGaughey said about a mare who was sold twice after a winless racing career for more $2 million each time. "Getting him to go longer is part of the process."
That regal pedigree no doubt brings a smile to the faces of Courtlandt Farms' owners Donald and Donna Adam after watching the second of Tiffany's Honour's three foals become a graded stakes winner.
The most recent foal from Tiffany's Honour is an unraced Medaglia d'Oro 2-year-old filly.
"It's special," McGaughey said about Saturday's victory. "This horse has always been on Mr. Adam's calendar. Whenever he comes to the barn, that's where he goes, to look at him with that pedigree he has. I'm happy he was able to see a performance like this today."
Ortiz gave Greatest Honour ($7.60), the 5-2 second choice, a patient ride, keeping him reserved at the back of the pack while Willy Boi and 26-1 shot Tarantino battled for the lead through a half-mile in :46.97.
CHC Inc. and WinStar Farm's Prime Factor, the 6-5 favorite, stalked in third, but on the final turn, the son of Quality Road trained by Todd Pletcher failed to fire like he did in an 8 3/4-length six-furlong maiden win. Instead it was Ortiz and Greatest Honour who blew past everyone in the stretch to open a length lead at the eighth pole and cover the 1 1/16 miles in 1:43.19.
Tarantino, a Pioneerof the Nile colt owned by the consortium of SF Racing, Starlight Racing, Madaket Stables, Stonestreet Stables, Golconda Stables, Siena Farm, and Robert Masterson, had little trouble taking second and banking four Kentucky Derby points. Trained by Rodolphe Brisset, he finished 3 3/4 lengths ahead of Prime Factor, who picked up two points.
The final point went to fourth-place finisher Magic Stables' Papetu, a Dialed In colt trained by Antonio Sano.
McGaughey said the Feb. 27 Grade 3 Fountain of Youth Stakes, a race Code of Honor won in 2019, could be next for Greatest Honour, but added he could also wait for the March 27 Grade 1 Florida Derby.
"Our idea would be the Fountain of Youth, but if we have to wait a bit, I don't think he will be a hard horse to get ready for the Florida Derby," McGaughey said. "A mile-and-an-eighth will be better for him than the mile-and-a-sixteenth."