Midway on the final turn of the $300,000, Grade 2 Fasig-Tipton Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream Park, trainer Shug McGaughey's nerves were as jumpy as the legion of fans who had bet Greatest Honour down to even-money favoritism Feb. 27.
The son of Tapit was eighth in the 1 1/16-mile race for 3-year-olds with a short stretch run with three furlongs left and had just seen Papetu, an 18-1 shot, whiz past him in pursuit of the leaders.
Dreams of Greatest Honour being a prime contender in the Grade 1 Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve appeared to be slipping away with each and every stride.
"I won't ever give up, but I thought we were in trouble," McGaughey said.
Then, in the short time it took jockey Jose Ortiz to tip Donald and Donna Adam's homebred outside and into the clear, the future was extremely rosy once again for the Courtlandt Farms runner.
Displaying a powerful stretch kick, Greatest Honour flew past the front-running Drain the Clock late and surged to a 1 1/2-length victory, seemingly crying out for the Kentucky Derby's mile-and-a-quarter distance.
"That was really something today. He gathered up those horses pretty quickly once he got outside," McGaughey said about his colt, who won the Grade 3 Holy Bull Stakes by 5 3/4 lengths in his previous start. "The impressive part was that everything didn't go our way and he was still able to catch a pretty darn good horse [in Drain the Clock]. A speed horse on this racetrack is not always easy to catch, so I'm really pleased with the performance. I'm really pleased with where we stand and I'm glad we don't have to run him 1 1/16 miles anymore."
The stretch kick that propelled Greatest Honour across the finish line in 1:44.02 earned the homebred 50 qualifying points toward a start in the Kentucky Derby and when added to the 10 points he received for his Holy Bull victory, his total of 60 points puts him atop the leaderboard and assures him of a spot in the starting gate on the first Saturday in May, provided he stays on the right course for the next nine weeks.
Up next promises to be the $750,000, Grade 1 Curlin Florida Derby Presented by Hill 'n' Dale Farm at Xalapa March 27 at a 1 1/8-mile distance that McGaughey believes will better suit Greatest Honor.
The Florida Derby will bring Greatest Honour back to the track where he has risen to stardom among the 3-year-old division with a trio of wins, two of them in graded stakes.
He arrived in Florida winless in three starts at the three New York Racing Association tracks with a second and two thirds, then posted a gritty maiden win at Gulfstream Park in fast time before romping in the Jan. 30 Holy Bull before blowing his nine rivals away in the stretch of the Fountain of Youth.
"When he broke his maiden he got hit really hard and today Jose told me on the turn he got hit and it knocked his rear end out from under him so Jose had to gather him up and get going again," McGaughey said. "They weren't going that fast up front, but once Jose got outside it was over."
The second foal of the Street Cry mare Tiffany's Honour, Greatest Honour is the first winner from his dam, who also has a 2-year-old Medaglia d'Oro filly.
Form held up in the Fountain of Youth as 2.80-1 second-choice Drain the Clock used his sprinter's speed to set the pace from the rail and cruised along with a clear lead under jockey Edgard Zayas through quarter-mile fractions of :23.60, :47.18, and :1:11.51. Owned by Slam Dunk Racing, Madaket Stables, Wonder Stables, and Michael Nentwig and trained by Saffie Joseph Jr., the son of Maclean's Music fended off bids from Magic Stable's Papetu, who was last in the field of 10 in the early stages, and Tarantino. He enjoyed a 2 1/2-length lead at the eighth pole but had no answer when the Greatest Honour ($4) rushed past him.
For McGaughey, it was his second Fountain of Youth win in the past three runnings. He won the 2019 edition with Will Farish's Code of Honor, who was elevated to second in that year's Kentucky Derby and later won the Grade 1 Runhappy Travers Stakes and the Grade 1 Jockey Club Gold Cup.
"They are hard to compare," McGaughey said about his two recent winners. "They are two different horses. Where Code of Honor was a little more of a grinder, when this one hits full stride, he keeps going. He's a big, strong horse. Code of Honor at this time when he won the Fountain of Youth, he was still young and immature. This horse has already accomplished a lot."
McGaughey also won the 2013 Fountain of Youth with Orb, who went to take the Florida Derby and the Kentucky Derby.
Drain the Clock, coming off an easy win in the seven-furlong Grade 3 Claiborne Farm Swale Stakes, was second by two lengths over third-place Papetu.
"He ran huge. I thought he was the winner. I didn't see the favorite coming," Joseph said. "I can't be disappointed. It was his first time around two turns and he got beat by a quality horse."
The victory netted Drain the Clock 20 qualifying points, while Papetu, a son of Dialed In trained by Antonio Sano, picked up 10 and has 11.
Tarantino received five points for finishing fourth and has 9 points.
Grade 1 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf Presented by Coolmore America winner Fire At Will was second early but faded to eighth in his 3-year-old debut and first graded stakes race on dirt.