Making the Grade, which will run through the 2021 Triple Crown races, 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.
Steady, incremental improvement is a key for a 3-year-old on the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve trail, but sometimes within that improvement comes an eye-catching performance that indicates the ceiling might be higher than you previously believed. Such was the case with Greatest Honour when he unleashed a 5 ¾-length romp in the Grade 3 Holy Bull Stakes.
Ability: A Courtlandt Farms homebred for Donald and Donna Adam, Greatest Honour has shown consistency throughout his five starts for Shug McGaughey, a Hall of Fame trainer who typically is patient and conservative with his horses.
He finished third in a pair of seven-eighths of a mile sprints in September and October 2020, before stretching out to 1 1/16 miles Nov. 8 at Aqueduct and finishing second by a head in a game stretch battle with Known Agenda. In his final start as a 2-year-old, Greatest Honour won a Dec. 26 maiden race at Gulfstream Park by 1 ½ lengths going 1 1/16 miles. He finished very well in that race with a final five-sixteenths of a mile in 30.3 seconds according to Trakus data, earning a career-best Equibase Speed Figure, Beyer Speed Figure, and BrisNet speed rating.
The Holy Bull was a similar effort from off the pace at the same 1 1/16-mile distance as his maiden win. The Tapit colt used a powerful bid on the final turn to rally into contention, opened a clear lead in early stretch, and powered away to win by 5 ¾ lengths.
On the turn, if it looked like the rest of the field was running in quicksand, it’s because from the three-quarter-mile marker to the sixteenth pole, Greatest Honour’s quarter-mile split time of 24.90 seconds was more than a second faster than each of his eight opponents. He showed again he is a strong finisher with a final five-sixteenths in 31.51 seconds. While slower than his previous race, racetracks play different from day to day and the pace was significantly quicker in the Holy Bull, so the final time was more than three-fifths of a second faster.
Greatest Honour earned an 89 Beyer Speed Figure and a 103 BrisNet speed rating, and both speed-figure makers show an improved figure in every race. He dropped from a 104 Equibase Speed Figure for his maiden win to a 101 for the Holy Bull, essentially pairing the numbers. Overall, Greatest Honour looks like a good bet to continue to improve with ample rest.
On paper, he has some catching up to do to match speed figures with elite 3-year-olds in this crop, but Greatest Honour overcame adversity to prevail in his maiden win and was very wide on the turn in the Holy Bull yet still looked like he jumped into the race at the quarter-pole.
“He was kind of a big clown and did what he wanted to do all summer. We got him ready to run at Saratoga. Sprinting wasn’t going to be his bag, but I think those two sprint races sort of helped him to learn and learn how to finish,” McGaughey said. “We took him over to Aqueduct and he had a big race there and just got beat. He came here and his two races here have been very good. The distances helped, too – two turns. I think the farther we go, the better.”
Based upon pedigree (see below) and what we’ve seen in his last two starts, distance does not look like it will be an issue for Greatest Honour as the races get longer on the Derby trail.
Running style: Greatest Honour does his best work with one sustained rally from off the pace. Horses with tactical speed have been far more effective than closers in recent years in the Kentucky Derby. Country House won the 2019 edition from off the pace via disqualification, but pacesetter Maximum Security crossed the finish line first in the controversial run for the roses.
The last true closer to win the Derby was Orb in 2013, a name you will hear often when it comes to discussing Greatest Honour. Orb also was a steady-developing colt from the barn of McGaughey.
While speed has been powerful in recent history, you don’t have to go too far back to see that an extended burst through the final turn into the stretch has previously led to success in the 1 ¼-mile Derby. Traffic and a slow pace can negatively impact horses who come from off the pace, but from 2009 to 2013 the Derby winners all were six lengths or more off the pace after a half-mile.
Connections: Courtlandt Farms is the racing and breeding operation of Donald and Donna Adam. Donald Adam is chairman and chief executive officer of American Momentum Bank. He started out in the cable television industry before serving as CEO of First America Bank. The Adams also are involved in real estate and construction.
One of Courtlandt’s most notable runners is Grade 1 winner Film Maker, runner-up in the 2004 and 2006 Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf and third in that race in 2005. The Adams also raced graded stakes winners such as Strike Charmer, Strike Power, Adriano, Indescribable, My Miss Lily, and Sweet Talker.
Shug McGaughey was inducted into the Racing Hall of Fame in 2004 and has trained champions Easy Goer, Heavenly Prize, Honor Code, Inside Information, Personal Ensign, Queena, Rhythm, Smuggler, Storm Flag Flying, and Vanlandingham. A winner of nine Breeders’ Cup races, McGaughey won the Kentucky Derby in 2013 with Orb and the Belmont Stakes in 1989 with Easy Goer. McGaughey-trained Code of Honor was elevated to second in the 2019 Kentucky Derby and went on to win the Travers Stakes.
Jockey Jose Ortiz has been aboard Greatest Honour for three of his five starts. Ortiz won the 2017 Belmont Stakes aboard Tapwrit and won the Eclipse Award as outstanding jockey that year. Ortiz finished second in the 2018 Kentucky Derby with Good Magic.
Pedigree: You will rarely find a pedigree as well-suited to winning at 1 ¼ miles or longer on dirt than Greatest Honour. Quite simply, this is a colt bred to run all day.
Greatest Honour is by Tapit, the leading sire of 2014, 2015, and 2016. Tapit’s top runners include champions Untapable, Stardom Bound, Hansen, and Unique Bella. He also is represented in this group of 2021 Derby hopefuls by last year’s champion 2-year-old male, Essential Quality.
When it comes to stamina, few sires in the U.S. can match Tapit, whose progeny won three Belmont Stakes in four years from 2014 to 2017 – Tonalist (2014), Creator (2016), and Tapwrit (2017) – along with two seconds and two thirds in the 1 ½-mile classic since 2014.
There is quite a bit of class on the bottom half of this pedigree as well, but there is really no need to dig too deep as Greatest Honour’s dam, Tiffany’s Honour, is out of 2007 Broodmare of the Year Better Than Honour. That makes Tiffany’s Honour a half-sister (same dam, different sire) to 2006 Belmont Stakes winner Jazil, 2007 champion 3-year-old filly and Belmont Stakes winner Rags to Riches, 2009 Breeders’ Cup Marathon winner Man of Iron, and graded stakes winner Casino Drive. Greatest Honour’s third dam (maternal great-grandmother) is 1982 Kentucky Oaks winner Blush With Pride, by Blushing Groom.
There is much to like from a pedigree perspective and in the hands of a Hall of Fame trainer who excels at targeting a long-range goal, this steadily improving 3-year-old colt looks every bit the legitimate Kentucky Derby contender. He could be even tougher in the Belmont Stakes.