Photo: NYRA / Adam Coglianese
As 170 or so of the best horses in America, and even the world, converge on Santa Anita this week for a 14-race bonanza known as the Breeders’ Cup, there will be one horse conspicuously absent from the all the fun; his name is Honor Code.
Looked upon by seemingly a large majority of the people in the know as the most promising Kentucky Derby prospect of this crop, it would seem only natural that he would be making his third lifetime start in Saturday’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. Instead, the impressive son of A.P. Indy will be sitting this one out, with next month’s Remsen Stakes at Aqueduct the advertised replacement.
The question begs, should a healthy Honor Code be running in the most important juvenile race we have?
In the case of Princess of Sylmar, owner Ed Stanco has been lauded for his willingness to bring his star filly west to test the best in the biggest race in the world for dirt females. “Test the best” might be redundant in the case of the fantastic sophomore filly, as in truth, she has already beaten Royal Delta and Beholder on the square in important races this year. What makes this decision all the more favorable with race fans, is that Stanco had long since expressed a mapped-out plan for Princess of Sylmar that included rest and relaxation this time of year.
Adding to the allure of the decision, is the not so small matter of an Eclipse Award. It was likely locked up if she didn’t run, but now could be in jeopardy if another three-year-old beats her in the Distaff. So when the personable owner did an about-face, and said, “she’s going,” it was rightly looked as an excellent gesture of sportsmanship. Stanco did it for the right reasons, noting that she has bounced out of all her big wins swimmingly, and most importantly, at least in the eyes of race fans, saying, “The fans deserve to have her in the race." Bravo, Mr. Stanco.
Meanwhile, the connections of Honor Code are garnering nary of peep of negative rhetoric about him not being a part of the 2013 World Championships. This would seem to be in direct opposition with how most people look at the Breeders’ Cup. The best horses in training should be here, so why not Honor Code?
Owned by Lane’s End Racing and Dell Ridge Farm, Honor Code is a two-year-old with great potential for the future, and I believe that makes all the difference.
Let’s face it, two-year-old racing in the United States is not what it once was. Back in the not so distant past, juvenile racing was looked upon more favorably by fans of racing. The best horses ran often at two, and came back to prove their class during the following spring’s Triple Crown. Not so anymore. Today, it is looked upon almost as a separate entity from what we will see next year. It is no longer assumed that the top two-year-olds will be the ones to beat in the Derby, Preakness, and Belmont; far from it.
The Breeders’ Cup Juvenile may decide an Eclipse Award, but it means almost nothing as far as getting a colt to the Kentucky Derby. Not only does the 1-out of-29 record of BC Juvenile winners coming back to win the Derby point this out, but in recent years, most Breeders’ Cup winners have not even made it into the Kentucky Derby starting gate.
So, when trainer Shug McGaughey says that a trip to California for Honor Code is not in the best interest of the colt that they have such high hopes for in the future, it resonates with race fans.
In essence, the connections of Honor Code are saying, “forget about the Eclipse Award for two-year-old champion, we have bigger plans for this one” … namely, the Kentucky Derby. And as we all know, the Kentucky Derby is the one race that everyone wants to win.
I look forward to seeing how the strategy pans out over the coming months, and specifically on the first Saturday in May. I have no problem with not seeing him at Santa Anita, and in fact, I believe his connections are taking the smarter path to the First Saturday in May. In the meantime, hopefully taking a look at why everyone is excited about his future will tide you over until the Remsen.