July 14, 2024

Honor Marie closes with a rush for Kentucky Jockey Club

Honor Marie wins the 2023 Kentucky Jockey Club (G2) (Coady Photography)

Honor Marie relished the stretch out to two turns in Saturday’s $400,000 Kentucky Jockey Club (G2) at Churchill Downs, rallying to win the Road to the Kentucky Derby qualifier going away by two lengths. Overlooked at 8.81-1 with Rafael Bejarano, the two-year-old colt established himself as a promising prospect at longer distances in his stakes debut for Alan Ribble’s Ribbles Farm and trainer Whit Beckman.

The highlight of the Stars of Tomorrow II program devoted exclusively to two-year-olds, the 97th running of the Kentucky Jockey Club offered points toward a Kentucky Derby berth on a 10-5-3-2-1 scale to the top five finishers.

Honor Marie rated last of eight through opening fractions in :23.70 and :48.45, and he began to advance while angling to the outside on the far turn, closing with a rush while straightening for home. He blew into the lead with a furlong remaining, finishing full of run while completing 1 1/16 miles in 1:44.31.

By Breeders’ Dirt Mile (G1) winner Honor Code, Honor Marie figures to receive a heavy dose of stamina from his female family. His hails from the Smart Strike mare Dame Marie, a Grade 2 runner-up who never raced in a sprint, and she’s a half-sister to Rule of Law, winner of the 1 3/4-mile St Leger (G1) and runner-up in the 1 1/2-mile English Derby (G1) in 2004.

Honor Marie got up to win his first career start over six furlongs at Churchill in late September and the Kentucky-bred was exiting a fast-closing second in an entry-level allowance at seven furlongs on Oct. 29.

“I was thinking the two turns would help out,” Bejarano said. “After I saw there was a lot of speed in the race which would fit him. He came with a big run. In his last start he ran OK but that was seven furlongs. I was more confident with him going two turns today.”

Bred by Royce Pullman, Honor Marie was purchased for $42,000 as a yearling at last year’s Keeneland September sale.

“He’s a very nice horse and we were confident with his pedigree, and the way he trained, he’d enjoy longer distances,” Beckman said. “It’s very exciting to have a horse like this and win our first graded stakes with him. We’ll probably take him down to Fair Grounds after this. They have a good program for three-year-olds.”

Real Men Violin, an off-the-pace maiden win over the track in late October, finished well up the inside for second at 5-1, a length better than 4-1 Stretch Ride, who tracked the pace in second before coming up empty late. It was another 5 3/4 lengths back to Risk It in fourth, and 8-5 favorite Awesome Road, Dancing Groom, One Red Cent, and pacesetter Nomos completed the order of finish.

Two races earlier on the program, Just Steel convincingly earned his first stakes win in the $222,505 Ed Brown S. at 6 1/2 furlongs, surging from just off the pace to upset foes at 12.54.-1. The D. Wayne Lukas-trained colt was exiting a third, nearly five lengths back of runner-up Honor Marie in the aforementioned allowance, and Joel Rosario was up for owner BC Stables on the Justify colt.

Just Steel, who scored by 2 1/2 lengths, stopped the teletimer in 1:16.91. Agoo, Normandy Hero, and Molly’s Town came next under the wire. Booth, the odds-on favorite following a fast maiden winner, raced up close from the start before faltering, beaten nearly five lengths in fifth. Gabarra, Bowstreet, and Divieto followed.

A nose maiden winner at Saratoga the third time out, Just Steel was unplaced in his first two stakes attempts. The bay colt improved his record to 7-2-1-1 with Saturday’s career-best effort.

“I think this horse is just coming along and getting better,” Lukas said. “I thought Joel gave him a perfect ride. What I was most encouraged about was how he lengthened his stride down the lane…I think eventually we will go back to two turns. He’s by Justify and should be in his wheelhouse. I think he could be a Kentucky Derby-type horse.”