Six years to the date of his first Kentucky Derby win with Orb in 2013, Shug McGaughey once again brings a quality colt to Louisville coming out of the Fountain of Youth and Florida Derby. Code of Honor has merited his spot in the race after a win in the Fountain of Youth, where he defeated Hidden Scroll (one of the most talented horses in this crop) and an impressive second place finish in last year’s G1 Champagne at Belmont. In each of the four starts since his debut, Code of Honor has become a committed closer who’s now dependent on a fast early pace to produce a late meltdown for him to exploit in the stretch. Such was the running style of Orb.
Code of Honor ran well in his Fountain of Youth win, but as we outlined our trip notes, he benefited greatly from his trip and the pace flow of the race, yet was almost caught at the wire. Everything went Code of Honor’s way in this event, catching Hidden Scroll in just his second career start while up against an arduous pace scenario.
In the Champagne, Code of Honor lost all chance to win at the start after a bad stumble, but ran on nicely to grab second behind a very sharp, loose on the lead winner in Complexity. Hampered by his own early mistake, Code of Honor was left completely vulnerable to the early pace which didn’t break in his favor.
Both of these events prove that, although he’s supposed to be as classy as anyone being trained by the great Shug McGaughey and with a nice pedigree, Code of Honor is not among the best horses of his generation at this juncture. Code of Honor simply is not good enough to significantly impact the Derby if all things equal. To factor on Saturday, he is going to need a setup aided by a fast early pace. When handicapping this group, the early pace seems most likely to be just average to quick. We do not see Code of Honor getting the needed help.
Code of Honor will also have to see out the demanding Derby distance. Our distance concerns are eased a bit by his closing running style, but his pedigree is a tough read and there’s ample chance he could turn out to be best at a mile.
Though we’re not sold on his chances much, Code of Honor is still a fine Kentucky Derby bet. What sounds like an oxymoron is proven so because of the simple fact that Code of Honor is exiting a poor showing in the Florida Derby. Because the early pace was advantageous to the winner at Gulfstream, effectively ending Code of Honor’s chances, he’s exiting a race you can easily toss from his PP’s. 15% to 20% of races are run to unrepresentative results; unlikely flukes produced by a myriad of overriding factors. The Florida Derby was one of these occurances and some of the best bets in the sport are horses exiting these types of races; dangerous at big prices if things even out in their next starts. Because Code of Honor was so severely hampered behind a sluggish pace in the Florida Derby, which turned that G1 affair into a merry-go-round, he’s likely a KY Derby overlay. Still, in believing he’ll need a lot of help without possessing exceptional talent, we can’t endorse Code of Honor for the top spot.
While Code of Honor may not reward McGaughey with more Louisville lure, we ought to see this one improve throughout the year and beyond, unlike Orb who peaked in his run for the roses, and disappointed time and time again until retirement. Let’s hope Code of Honor is actually the antithesis of who most will compare him to headed into this Kentucky Derby.
Here are our trip notes for Code of Honor:
5th career start: March 30th, Gulfstream, G1 Florida Derby, one mile and an a eighth
Code of Honor is #9
No early speed, switched outside into first turn, behind a very slow pace up front that enabled Maximum Security to go wire to wire, up into 3rd tier in among horses into the far turn, kept in while behind horses before losing ground rounding into the stretch, inside, came on very mildly, held off Bourbon War for third at the wire. In this slanted affair, Code of Honor was completely up against the physics of a slow pace that produced a merry-go-round effect. This lead to Bodexpress, a stretch-out sprinting longshot, finishing second behind Maximum Security, who was unbeatable with an easy lead up front. We’re not sure if Code of Honor was going to do any real running here if presented with a varying setup, but this is an effort we must toss.
4th career start: March 2nd, Gulfstream, G2 Fountain of Youth, one mile and a sixteenth
Code of Honor is #1
Bit more early speed away from the inside post cleanily here, inside in midpack behind a quick pace up front, a length off Vekoma to his outside into the far turn, came through in between foes twice while advancing with momentum rounding into the stretch, shifted out to confront Hidden Scroll on the lead, gradually by that one, opened up briefly, held off oncoming Bourbon War. A much improved version of Code of Honor showed up today, but he completely lucked out with a dream trip and setup when getting Hidden Scroll who was making just his second career start and up against a grueling pace scenario. Even with the setup, Code of Honor only narrowly escaped with the win stretching out to a two turn route for the first time.
3rd career start: January 5th, Gulfstream, Mucho Macho Man stakes, one mile
Bumped inside foe out of the gate, no speed early behind a quick pace up front, advanced early on backstretch up into 2nd tier with the eventual winner Mihos on his outside in tow, a close fourth 4 wide on the turn, appeared poised to go on rounding into the stretch but backed up from there, nothing in the stretch. In this effort Code of Honor was absolutely awful, against inferior foes, but we can give him a bit of a pass due to trainer Shug McGaughey taking the blame for the loss. McGaughey did not have Code of Honor prepared for this race and it showed.
2nd career start: October 6th, Belmont, G1 Champagne, one mile
Code of Honor is #8
Broke inside and stumbled considerably, rated back to last behind the eventual winner setting a quick pace while loose on the lead, inside on the turn before switching outside at the 5/16ths pole, overland route into 2nd in midstretch, finished up decently behind the runaway winner. This was a solid performance from Code of Honor after losing all chance at the start behind this fantastic winner. Though he had a solid trip and setup thereafter, this was still an encouraging performance while stepping up in company.
Trip notes of Code of Honor’s debut can be found in the comments.
Image courtesy of NYRA