With the unfortunate news that Top Billing has been injured and is off the 2014 Kentucky Derby trail, Shug McGaughey’s two-headed monster, has now been reduced to one. The reigning Kentucky Derby winning trainer still may hold an ace in the hole in Honor Code, the top candidate for the Derby in the estimation of many experts at the changing of the year, but we still have not seen him enter a starting gate in 2014.
All that will change on Wednesday afternoon, when Honor Code takes to the Gulfstream Park track to run in the day’s 8th race, a 1 1/16 mile allowance event. This race choice seems to be a late decision, as it was expected that Honor Code would make his seasonal debut in Saturday’s Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park. It is not the first time that the veteran conditioner has called an audible with the handsome son of A.P. Indy.
Remember last year, McGaughey said no thank you to a trip out to la-la land for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, to instead end the season with a run in the nine furlong Remsen Stakes at Aqueduct. It was an unorthodox move for a horse that undoubtedly would have been the race favorite, but one that I respected, given McGaughey believing he was doing what was best for a horse he believed was prime Kentucky Derby-Preakness-Belmont Stakes material. He won the Remsen with a late surge over Cairo Prince, so things were looking good for Honor Code.
The best laid plans often find a bump in the road, and so it was for the early Kentucky Derby favorite. A minor injury kept him off the worktab, and delayed the beginning of his highly anticipated three-year-old season. McGaughey had to change plans and wait for his horse to tell him that he was ready to run. Recent workouts have been good, so his trainer has given the all systems go signal once again. We thought that signal was for the Rebel, but now we know differently.
The move to run in this allowance race instead of the Rebel leads me to believe that McGaughey wants Honor Code to come back 2 ½ weeks later for the Florida Derby. It is a race he utilized last year with great success, as Orb won Gulfstream’s biggest race, before winning the big one at Churchill Downs. So it should come as no surprise that Shug has a good feeling inside for this particular path to Louisville, and with Top Billing unable to run, it’s all Honor Code now. First things first, though, and before we can get excited about seeing the Remsen winner in the Florida Derby, there is the small matter of Wednesday’s allowance race.
Among Honor Code's rivals in the allowance test is an undefeated colt breaking from the rail. He’s only had one lifetime start, but Social Inclusion, a son of Pioneerof The Nile, blitzed a maiden field by 7 ½ lengths in his career debut, while running just a tick over 1:09 for the six furlongs. It’s now a big step up to the likes of Honor Code, but Social Inclusion possesses the kind of speed that is generally lethal at Gulfstream. Honor Code may now stand alone for Shug McGaughey’s quest for back-to-back Kentucky Derby wins, but I expect he will have his hands full come Wednesday.