Ready to roll off the layoff in Saturday’s $252,000 Philip H. Iselin S. (G3), Code of Honor set himself up for a potentially big fall campaign with a 2 1/2-length victory at Monmouth Park.
The multiple Grade 1 hero was by far the class of the field, in a comeback spot well chosen by Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey. Code of Honor accordingly went off as the even-money favorite in the 1 1/16-mile affair, and ran up to billing.
Jockey Paco Lopez had the W.S. Farish homebred perfectly placed in fourth, a couple of lengths behind a pace contested through fractions of :24.42 and :47.59. The 3-1 West Will Power set the opening split, then deferred to I’m a G Six and Brice.
Code of Honor commenced his move just after the half-mile mark. Brice had taken over briefly between calls, only to find himself beset by the smoothly advancing favorite and a re-engaging West Will Power. Code of Honor put his head in front reaching the six-furlong split in 1:10.77 and drew away. Lopez kept him on task to finish in 1:42.38. One hint of his seven-month absence came after crossing the wire, when he shut it down on the gallop-out.
“I thought he ran good,” McGaughey told Monmouth publicity. “I was pleased, very pleased. Paco Lopez let him break and run away from there. He knows that racetrack, and he had him laying up a little closer than he usually is, and made his move kind of early on to try to go on and get the thing over with. He rode a really nice race on him.”
Lopez credited Code of Honor for being in the game at every stage:
“He broke really sharp. I didn’t have to use him to get early position. “He was very comfortable. Sometimes with horses off a layoff they want to go, so I actually had to take a little hold of him early. I let him settle into a good spot, then I was able to slip outside in the middle of the backstretch.
“Once he was clear and on the outside I felt good. He’s a very nice horse. He was strong. You could not tell he was off as long as he was. He was very comfortable the whole time. I was waiting a little bit in the stretch for Phat Man to make a run at us, but my horse was just too good.”
Phat Man did make a run in the stretch, but had to settle for third behind West Will Power. The lightly-raced West Will Power gamely held second by a neck. There was a 6 1/4-length back to reformed claimer Brice, followed by Croatian, I’m a G Six, and Magic Michael.
Code of Honor has now amassed $2,881,320 from a 17-7-4-2 line. Among the leaders of his generation since his juvenile season, the chestnut was a terrific second in the 2018 Champagne (G1) despite a bad stumble at the start. Code of Honor earned his first stakes win in the 2019 Fountain of Youth (G2) and placed in the Florida Derby (G1) and Kentucky Derby (G1), where he was elevated to second. Peaking in the second half of his sophomore campaign, he captured the Dwyer (G3) en route to signature wins in the Travers (G1) and Jockey Club Gold Cup (G1) (via disqualification).
Although kicking off 2020 with a score in the Westchester (G3), Code of Honor settled for minor awards in the Metropolitan H. (G1), Kelso H. (G2), and Clark (G1). A subpar fifth in the Jan. 23 Pegasus World Cup (G1) sent him to the sidelines with bone remodeling. The time off helped as the five-year-old is now fully mature, and poised to gild his resume.
McGaughey alluded to a target at Belmont Park, presumably the Oct. 2 Woodward (G1), but noted that depends upon how Code of Honor exits the Iselin:
“This is the first time he has run in a long time. With my training, I don’t try to overdo it. I think he could have been drifting out a little at the end. Maybe he was getting a little tired, I don’t know. But we got it in him and we got a win and hopefully we can go on to some other things down the road.
“We’ll see how he comes out of it, but I think it sets us up pretty good. I’d like to think about a race at Belmont the first part of October. This will take a little bit out of him, shipping (from Saratoga) and running and now you’ve got to ship back. It’s not 50 degrees. It’s hot. I’ll be glad to get him back up to Saratoga and watch him for a few days. We’ll take it easy with him and go from there.”
By Frankel’s full brother Noble Mission, Code of Honor is out of the Grade 3-winning Dixie Union mare Reunited, who is also responsible for Grade 2-placed Big League. This is the family of current Los Alamitos Derby (G3) near-misser Defunded.