Less than a week after the tour de force triumph by Kentucky Derby and Triple Crown winner American Pharoah, the 3-year-old boy king of American racing was served notice.
The message: you are a burgeoning superstar, but running the table in what is hoped to be three remaining races is no certainty.
The message was delivered by the 4-year-old Honor Code, an early favorite to win the 2014 Kentucky Derby before injury sent him to the farm.Â The son of A.P. Indy out of the family of the dazzling Serenaâ€™s Song followed a spectacular victory in Belmont Parkâ€™s famed Metropolitan Mile with a win last Saturday in the Grade I Whitney at Saratoga.
Last of nine early in the 1 1/8-mile race for older horses, Honor Code unleashed a scorching stretch run to nip pace-setting Liamâ€™s Map by a neck in the rapid time of 1:47.82.Â In doing so, Honor Code placed himself solidly atop the list of older horses who will attempt to show American Pharoah that he should respect his elders when he steps out of his age group to face older rivals in the $5 million Breedersâ€™ Cup Classic (Grade I) on Saturday, October 31 at Keeneland.
There was never serious doubt that Honor Code would be a star.Â But the affirmation of that status has come a bit later than expected.
Trained by Lexington native Claude â€œShugâ€ McGaughey, the Hall of Famer who saddled Orb to win the 2013 Kentucky Derby, Honor Codeâ€™s Whitney win was his sixth triumph in nine starts.Â The colt is four-for-five this year, with his only setback being a dull fifth-place run at Churchill Downs in the Grade II Alysheba on Kentucky Oaks Day.Â It was the only time in his life that Honor Code had finished worse than second.
The victory pushed his career earning past $1.5 million, and it offered promise that the best outings of his career could lie in the months ahead.Â The Whitney was also part of the Breedersâ€™ Cup â€œWin and Youâ€™re In Challenge Seriesâ€ and the triumph guaranteed Honor Code a slot in the starting gate for the 1 Â¼-mile Classic.
“He’s been an amazing horse from the start,” McGaughey said. “People always held him in high regard, but wondered if he could run around two turns. He’s got some quirks in him; could he overcome them? I guess he answered all that.â€
Honor Code provided McGaughey with his third victory in the Whitney.Â He had won previously with unbeaten filly Personal Ensign, who whipped males in 1988 on her way to a career-ending triumph in the Breedersâ€™ Cup Distaff at Churchill Downs.Â He also won the following year with Kentucky Derby runner-up and Belmont Stakes winner Easy Goer.
The colt, owned by Kentucky breeding legend William S. Farish and Dell Ridge Farm, downed eight rivals in the Whitney that included six other Grade I stakes winners.Â With his back-to-back wins in the Met Mile and the Whitney, he is a strong candidate to give McGaughey his first triumph in the Classic, Americaâ€™s richest race, in its first stop in the trainerâ€™s hometown.
“He’s an amazing horse,” said McGaughey.Â â€œHe’s really grown into himself. We’re very excited and very happy about today. To be able to win a race like the Whitney is a big feather in our cap.”
Add Liamâ€™s Map and 2014 Belmont Stakes winner Tonalist to the mix, and toss in the returning Palace Malice, winner of the 2013 Belmont Stakes and 2014 Metropolitan Mile, and there is a strong contingent of older foes shaping up to face American Pharoah in his expected run in the Classic.
Speaking of Americaâ€™s horse, trainer Bob Baffert was at Saratoga this week for the Fasig-Tipton yearling sale and told turf writer Lenny Shulman on Bloodhorse.com that owner/breeder Ahmed Zayat wants American Pharoah to run in Saratogaâ€™s Travers, long known as the â€œMidsummer Derby,â€ and heâ€™ll work to make that happen.
“I’m doing recon work checking out what barn he’d be in,â€ Baffert said.Â â€œWhen he comes to town it will be like bringing The Beatles. He has such a huge fan base.” VT