Honor Marie Looks to Put Trainer Beckman, Owners in Kentucky Derby Mix

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Whit Beckman, Honor Marie, Risen Star Stakes, Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes, BloodHorse Library
Trainer Whit Beckman, above at Churchill Downs in 2021, has experienced the Kentucky Derby as an assistant to Todd Pletcher and Chad Brown, but he is testing the Triple Crown trail on his own with Honor Marie in 2024. (BloodHorse/Byron King)

When Honor Marie makes his 3-year-old debut in the Feb. 17 Risen Star Stakes at Fair Grounds Race Course and Slots, it won’t be trainer Whit Beckman’s first involvement with preparing a horse for the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve.

As a former assistant to Chad Brown and Todd Pletcher, Beckman has plenty of experience working with Derby-bound horses. Among them was the Pletcher-trained Super Saver, the winner of the 2010 Kentucky Derby. He also worked for Pletcher in 2013 when the trainer for a second time saddled a record-tying five Derby horses, which included third-place finisher Revolutionary. While with Brown, Beckman was part of the team behind champion Good Magic, the 2018 Kentucky Derby runner-up.

For obvious reasons, things hit differently with Honor Marie, Beckman’s first graded stakes winner since forming his own stable in the United States in the fall of 2021, which followed two seasons as a head trainer in Saudi Arabia.

“I saw such a wide variety of management styles, and saw just what it takes to get a horse ready for those particular days,” Beckman, 42, said of his time spent as an assistant trainer. “It’s one of those things that you don’t consciously register it at the time, but when you start to go back on your experience, questions are answered easier.

“It’s a pleasure [to train Honor Marie],” he added. “I’m grateful. You know a lot of this training ... fundamentally, we all do the same thing, and just hope for a good horse to end up in our barn and put our process to it — visualize and see where things are going to go and, hopefully, execute. If we have to adjust, we adjust. But, yeah, I’m just fortunate to be in the right place at the right time.”

Honor Marie winning Kentucky Jockey Club (Coady Photography)

A son of Honor Code, who previously stood at Lane’s End Farm before being sold last summer to stand in Japan, Honor Marie has been nearly perfect in three career starts. He clinched his Sept. 29 debut by coming off the pace in a sprint to post a gritty head victory at 13-1 at Churchill Downs. Four weeks later, the Kentucky-bred finished a well-beaten second in a seven-furlong allowance-optional claimer to Otto the Conqueror, who then captured the Remington Springboard Mile Stakes in his next start.

Honor Marie took a major leap forward in his most recent race, his first try navigating two turns, by winning the Nov. 25 Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes by two lengths with a powerful off-the-pace move at Churchill. With that effort, he collected 10 points on the Road to the Kentucky Derby.

After that, Beckman brought Honor Marie, who is owned in a partnership of Ribble Farms, Michael Eiserman, Earl Silver, and Kenneth and Daniel Fishbein, to New Orleans to prepare for the Risen Star. He has been in a weekly workout pattern at Fair Grounds since Dec. 31, including a couple of breezes under Rafael Bejarano, who has been aboard for each of Honor Marie’s starts and retains the mount in the $400,000 Risen Star, which drew a field of 12 when entries were taken Feb. 10. 

The 1 1/8-mile distance of the Risen Star, which carries Derby points of 50-20-15-10-5 for its top five finishers, will very likely be in Honor Marie’s wheelhouse following his eye-catching performance in the 1 1/16-mile Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes.

“We knew the two turns was going to be his thing. I think the further the distance, the better he will get, based off pedigree and the way he trains,” Beckman remarked. “His Jockey Club win was impressive, but his gallop out was equally impressive. We’re just hoping that he finds his best stride late in the [Risen Star] and he doesn’t give himself too much to do.”

Alan and Kerry Ribble own the majority of Honor Marie with Eiserman, Silver, and the Fishbeins buying in for a percentage after he won his stakes debut. The Ribbles have been owners for about 10 years, and Honor Marie is their first graded winner. They initially dabbled in the claiming game and then grew their stable under the guidance of trainer David R. Vance, who retired in 2023 after a 58-year career.

A couple of years ago, the Ribbles were introduced to Kyle Zorn, a co-founder of Legion Bloodstock along with his partners, Evan Ciannello, Travis Durr, and Kristian Villante. Durr is the owner and operator of Travis Durr Training Center in South Carolina, where Honor Marie received his early training before joining Beckman’s barn.

Zorn, who now serves as the Ribbles’ bloodstock and racing manager, said they told him they wanted “a Saturday afternoon-type horse.” He suggested they become involved with Legion, which had just started their racing groups where the model is typically to buy four horses and package them together while forming small partnerships under the banner of Legion Racing. Bred by Royce Pulliam, Honor Marie, who is out of the Smart Strike mare Dame Marie, was identified by Legion Bloodstock as a horse to purchase at the 2022 Keeneland September yearling sale, where he was consigned by Taylor Made Sales Agency and bought for $40,000. The Ribbles joined Legion Racing as partners in the racing group that included Honor Marie.

“Honor Code wasn’t as hot of a ticket item at the time, and it’s probably why we got a little more value on [Honor Marie], but we still believed in Honor Code as a sire,” Zorn said. “He had a big walk and his pedigree was there as well. We basically fell in love with his physical, first and foremost.”

After Honor Marie broke his maiden on debut, the Ribbles bought out the rest of their Legion partners, and he ran in their Ribble Farms’ racing silks for his next two starts. Zorn said there were major offers on the table to wholly purchase the colt after the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes win, but they were turned down by the Ribbles because their biggest concern was that a sale could possibly result in the horse being transferred out of Beckman’s care into the barn of another trainer.

“Kerry and Alan are the people you want to root for in this business,” Zorn said. “They put the time in and are really good people. The loyalty they have, you don’t see that as much in this game anymore. That’s one of the reasons you’ve got to root for them.”

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