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Zipse At The Track

2014 Kentucky Derby: Honor Code rightly gets a Breeders' Cup pass

Honor Code Champagne 615 X 400
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.




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Older Comments about 2014 Kentucky Derby: Honor Code rightly gets a Breeders' Cup pass...

I don't believe racing as a 2 year old hurts a horse's chances in the big races as a 3 year old. If you look at the champion 2 year olds in the pre lasix past, most had great 3 year old seasons, including all the Triple Crown winners from the 1970's. I believe the main difference is the Breeders Cup. It takes a different kind of horse to win the Juvenile, many winners are early developing speed horses. When the races get longer the next year, these horses have trouble competing with the top colts.
Big fan of this decision simply because the connections are wise enough to do what they feel is best. And that's all i need to know. The BC is a great event but not pressing the issue with a Juvenile can be a very good decision down the road
Two of the last 12 winners of the Juvenile have walked away without the 2 year old title. However, out of the remaining 10 that have won both the Juvenile and the 2 year old title, only one has gone on to win the Kentucky Derby. That colt was Street Sense. Out of the remaining 9 winners, none of them have gone on to win HOY or even the 3 year old Champion award, including Street Sense. So while the Juvenile is always and exciting race, I don't think it's the end all. JMO of course.
Maybe Shug is that smart and he is a very quick Study. Maybe after last years learning process,Shug wants a 3yo for the entire year.Yes he did fulfill his byhood dreams of winning the Derby.But at what cost.To get him there,Orb was over raced thru the Derby and after it.Here he is in the Breeders Cup weekend approaching.He is pointing to a mile race with the Derby winner. Shug has seen that this horses head has not caught up to his talents yet. He needs to train and school him.In his 2 starts,he has shown to break poorly from the gate.Maybe Shug does not want to expose him to the zoo it will be there with the big crowds.By pointing to the Remsen,he is showing his hand early.He cares very little about the 2yr old title.The only thing on his mind is,How do i prepare him best for the upcoming 3yo season.Personally,Shug got it right.
I very much respect Shug as a horseman and his patience with his horses is one of his biggest assets. But I have to say that, unless the horse has shown signs of being knocked out from the Champagne (which is possible), I really don't understand this decision. If I know anything about racing it's that these animals can be injured at any time, without warning, and making long range plans can be dangerous business. Bypassing a chance to be two year old champion with a horse that is doing well and should appreciate the extra turn and added distance in favor of a race six months away seems ridiculous, especially considering that there is no reason to think the BC Juvenile should be any harder on the horse than the 1 1/8 mile Remsen. There's not even anything to gain by running in the Remsen - he wins a low-purse G2 and gets exactly as many Derby points as winning the BC Juvenile. IF he wins. Letting your horse tell you when to run and when to rest is great, but if the horse is doing well, I don't see why you wouldn't strike while the iron is hot.
Andy you are so right.With the purses being handed out today. A stronf MSW winner,be it colt or Philly.They are a shoe in for one of the Stakes in early October,such as Champagne or Frizette. May not make racing sense,sure makes sense financially.
I, for one, miss the great 2YO racing. The maiden win and then the NW1 allowance paving the way to the stakes races. At Monmouth the Sorority and Sapling were huge stakes and now they barely exist.
Love all the mention honor code is getting and rightfully so. I don't see anyone upset about him skipping the cup. It is the right decision. This horse wants distance and he has the talent to be successful at three. Let Havana the speedster take the cup and two year old honors. I guarantee we will be saying Havana who next year and be all talk about Honor code. I knew this one was special when I jumped off the couch in shock at his maiden win. And I still stand by him as my favorite two year old

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Meet Brian Zipse 

Brian has been a passionate fan of horse racing his entire life. Taken to the races at a very young age, he has been lucky enough to see all the greats in person from Secretariat, Forego, and Ruffian through Rachel Alexandra, Zenyatta, and American Pharoah. Before coming to the Nation, Brian displayed his love for the sport through the development of his horse racing website, which quickly became one of the most popular blogs in the game. 

The Editor of Horse Racing Nation from 2010-2017, Brian authored a daily column as Zipse at the Track, or ZATT for short, and added his editorial flare to the overall content of the website. Now a Senior Writer for HRN, Brian continues to contribute his thoughts on racing, as well as co-hosting the popular racing show, HorseCenter. A big supporter of thoroughbred aftercare, he serves as the President of The Exceller Fund.

Brian's work has also been published on several leading industry sites. He has consulted for leading contest site Derby Wars, is both a Hall of Fame and NTRA poll voter, and is a Vox Populi committee member. 

A horse owner and graduate of DePaul University, Brian lives just outside of Louisville with his wife Candice and daughter Kendra.


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