There is a reason why Honor Code was made a clear favorite among individual horses in the first Kentucky Derby future pool. In a strangely run race, the handsome son of A.P. Indy persevered after being overtaken in the stretch, and fought back powerfully on the rail to nail Cairo Prince by a nose on the wire in the Grade 2 Remsen Stakes. The brave performance, fitting of an early favorite for next spring’s Run for the Roses, represented his first stakes win after coming desperately close to catching Havana in the Grade 1 Champagne.
It wasn’t long after the start that you could tell this was not going to be your normal race. 33-1 shot Master Lightning went right to the lead, and then the walking began. Jockey Javier Castellano, aboard the favored Honor Code, quickly felt the slowness of the early pace, and sent his charge to a stalking position, in sharp contrast to his first two starts. As the leader completed early fractions of :25.84 and :52:74, Honor Code moved right outside of the longshot on the lead.
As the Remsen group of eight hit the far turn, Honor Code made his move and went after Master Lightning. He stuck his nose in front, but just behind him was the heavy second choice, Cairo Prince. Coming out of the turn, the two favorites came together and it looked like it might be the second choice’s day. After a brief battle for the lead, Cairo Prince edged clear to lead by a half-length inside the eighth pole. As soon as it looked like Cairo Prince was going to do it, though, Honor Code began to show his class and dug down deep for the wire. After a mile and an eighth in 1:52.92, over the fast main track at Aqueduct, it was Honor Code who had fiercely fought back to get his nose in front.
Winning trainer, Shug McGaughey, who won his first Kentucky Derby this year with Orb, was happy with his young horse’s determination.
"We just said we were going to let him run his race. When [front-runner Master Lightning] went that slow, we went on and engaged him,” said McGaughey. “He got down on the inside of that horse [Cairo Prince in the stretch] and he got by him. He showed a lot of guts. I'm proud of him. I think the horse in second is a nice horse, and it was a peculiar race.”
In defeat, both Cairo Prince, who was coming off a big win in the Nashua, and third place finisher, Wicked Strong, who closed well on the outside to be beaten only a half-length, ran valiantly. You don’t often see an early pace as slow as the one seen in today’s Remsen. All three of the main players, all of whom were making only their third lifetime appearance, were taken out of their normal running styles, but in the end, I don’t believe the dawdling early fractions affected what the final order of finish was going to be.
I'm probably not going out on a major limb by predicting that this will prove to be the most influential Remsen in years by the time next spring rolls around. Honor Code appears every bit the part of a future classic horse, and at nine furlongs today, he looked like he was just beginning to get rolling. It will be fun to see how this horse, who seemingly has all the tools, will progress over the winter.
We'll give him a little time and take him to Payson [in Florida],” said McGaughey. “He's going to run that far [Triple Crown distances], we just have to figure out how he wants to do it."
Whatever way he wants to do it, Honor Code is not only deserving of his place atop the early Kentucky Derby lists, but looks like one juvenile who will not wilt at three, but rather only get better with maturity, and as the distances increase. In my opinion, Honor Code is on the fast track to the first Saturday in May.