Honor Code will take an unconventional detour on the road to the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) on Saturday. Although staying at his Belmont Park base, the regally-bred four-year-old will prep in the $400,000 Kelso H. (G2) over a mile rather than the more historically significant $1 million Jockey Club Gold Cup (G1) at 1 1/4 miles, the same distance as the Classic.
Trainer Shug McGaughey, who has publicly stated it might be easier to get Honor Code to go 1 1/4 miles later in the month at Keeneland by only running a mile in his final prep, has won the Gold Cup three times. Vanlandingham (1985) and Easy Goer (1989) won the Gold Cup over 1 1/2 miles and Miner’s Mark (1993) won it over 10 furlongs, but all three failed to carry that positive momentum forward to the Classic.
Easy Goer wound up losing to arch-rival Sunday Silence for a third time in four meetings in the Classic, and walked off the track without a divisional championship or Horse of the Year honors. Vanlandingham and Miner’s Mark both went unplaced in the Classic, although Vanlandingham was still named champion older male.
Honor Code remains the favorite for the older male title, now restricted to main track performers, and has been highly effective in one turn races throughout his career. That was displayed never more clearly than in the Metropolitan H. (G1) on June 6, the same day American Pharoah completed his Triple Crown sweep in the Belmont S. (G1). Conceding his rivals as much as 14 lengths and still down eight lengths with a quarter-mile to go, Honor Code turned in a tremendous stretch kick to win going away by 3 3/4 lengths.
Honor Code turned an even more improbable display last out in the Whitney (G1), making up 19 lengths and 12 in the final three furlongs to win the Whitney (G1) by a neck over Liam’s Map, subsequent winner of the Woodward (G1).
The pace of the Kelso will be provided by Appealing Tale, who gutted out a half-length win in the Pat O’Brien (G2) at Del Mar over seven furlongs. He figures to get pressured by Scarly Charly.
Perhaps the most serious threats to upset Honor Code are Red Vine, runner-up in the Salvator Mile (G3) and third in the Pacific Classic (G1) in his last two, and the classic-placed Mylute, an impressive allowance scorer in May over this track and trip. Godolphin Mile (G2) winner Tamarkuz was non-factor in the Met Mile and Forego (G1), while Matterhorn is hard to pick from a class perspective.
Honor Code’s forfeiture of the Gold Cup leaves Tonalist as the favorite to be the race’s latest repeat winner. Once viewed as unbeatable over the Belmont strip, the 2014 Belmont and Gold Cup hero dropped both the Met Mile and Suburban H. (G2) during the summer, thus taking shine off his championship aspirations. He finished behind Honor Code again in the Whitney in his latest outing.
Trainer Todd Pletcher provides the speed of the race in the name of Constitution, who should move forward off a pace-setting fifth in the Bernard Baruch H. (G2) on the grass following a seven-month layoff. The Tapit colt had been sidelined since a narrow victory in the Donn H. (G1) at Gulfstream. Also likely to be up close is the Pletcher-trained Coach Inge, hero of the 1 1/2-mile Brooklyn (G2) and a Suburban and Woodward place-getter.
Effinex, who registered the minor upset of Tonalist in the Suburban, Grade 1 veteran Wicked Strong and outsider Looks to Spare completed the field of six.
(Honor Code photo: Susie Raisher/Adam Coglianese Photography)