Code Of Honor Wins The Dwyer Stakes
Past The Wires’ Barbara Luna recently spoke with Shug McGaughey about the Longines Breeders’ Cup Classic
Photo Credit: NYRA Photo
Both trainer Shug McGaughey and jockey John Velazquez have earned Hall of Fame honors and Eclipse Awards in their combined 70 years in racing, but a victory in the Breeder’s Cup Classic has continued to evade them. The three-year-old ever-improving Code of Honor may add the Gr I $6 million Longines Breeder’s Cup Classic to a long list of victories for both trainer and jockey.
All parties, including the three-year-old son of Noble Mission who won the Gr.1 Jockey Club Gold Cup against older horses on September 28, have the credentials for a win. Trainer McGaughey has won nine Breeders Cup races including the 1988 Distaff with Personal Ensign and Velazquez earned three second place finishes in the Classic, one each in 2004, 2005, and 2008.
Described by his trainer as both physically and mentally immature until May, Code of Honor began to put things together after the Kentucky Derby.
“It has been fun training him, he likes to train. Lexi Peaden, his exercise rider, does very well with him galloping and breezing, although he is a bit of a brat in the barn. We had learned how he wanted to run. The relaxed factor is his demeanor on the track. Johnny (Velazquez) had to learn how to ride him, and he knows exactly what the horse wants.”
“He always ran well,” he said. “But I have never had a horse that has changed as much as he has this past summer. I knew if he did not win the Derby, he’d not go to the Preakness or the Belmont because of his lack of maturity. I thought about the Dwyer and the Jim Dandy, the Jim Dandy coming back in three weeks after the Derby and if I was wrong, I’d be creating two wrongs and would not win anything.”
The Dwyer on July 6, two months after the Derby was an easy win for Code of Honor, and after his win in the Travers in late August, McGaughey was still deciding step by step what to do with the improving colt, and the Breeder’s Cup was not necessarily an “absolute goal.”
The Jockey Club Gold Cup against older horses on September 28 came up a solid group of horses and a short field, Code of Honor scoring his third consecutive graded stakes win.
The age difference between three and four-year-olds at this time of year was not a concern to McGaughey. “The three-year-olds are a lot more accomplished than they are earlier in the year,” he said.
“From July to the Travers, to the Gold Cup, this horse has come out of his races so much better from a physical standpoint. Code of Honor has proven he belongs and we do get a little weight relief over the older horses.”
With less than two weeks before the Breeders Cup World Championships at Santa Anita, McGaughey discussed his colt’s schedule up to race day and his thoughts about shipping to California.
Code of Honor worked for the first time since the Jockey Club Gold Cup victory last Sunday. Clocked going what appears to be moderate half-miles in 50 and change over the Belmont surface, it is how he gallops out that is most impressive.
“Coming off of two 1 1/4 mile races, fitness is not a factor, “ said McGaughey. “The works may look slow, but one of the things the clockers and others are not seeing is how strong he gallops out. He may go a half in :50, but he can go the last half galloping out in :48 and change, :5/8 in 1:01.3. Even as a two-year-old, he was better the further he worked.”
Code of Honor will work Sunday, October 20, and then “blow out” on the 27th.
“We will ship to Santa Anita a week from this Monday on the 28th” he said.
“I like to let the horse ship on top of the race, and the last plane out leaves Monday, and I will leave at the same time. I’d prefer Tuesday—he is racing in “another’s backyard”, and that is a disadvantage. It’s always been tougher shipping from the East to California, rather than the other way around, but the this year the track out there is different from previous years. Sometimes you just have to take a shot.”
Code of Honor’ biggest competition on November 2 will be four-year-old McKinzie, his trainer Bob Baffert seeking his fourth BC Classic victory.
“With Vino Rosso, who was second in the Jockey Club Gold Cup, and Oklahoma Derby and Ohio Derby winner Owendale and my horse all shipping to the West, Baffert must be licking his chops“, said McGaughey.
“I think McKinzie will probably be the favorite, although his last race wasn’t as good as his others,” said McGaughey. “For me, I have respect for both the horse and his trainer.”
The increase in injuries earlier in 2019 caused Santa Anita management to work on both the base and the cushion of the dirt track, the result being deeper and slower footing. Racing casualties have decreased dramatically with that improvement.
“I am not a big believer that the problems Santa Anita had were due to the track,” he said.
“Maybe we are forced to run our horses a little more. People do need to understand what goes into keeping things safe,” he said. “They really don’t know what is going on behind the scenes. Maybe they think we wake up at 11 a.m. and just put the bridles on these horses and run them. I’d really like to show them what we do, not just tell them about the care these horses get. If they could see how we do things, they’d have a new respect.”
Along with many other successful horsemen, McGaughey has confidence in the Race Horse Integrity Act. “I think it will help. We need stringent medication rules. We can use regulated medication much further out, and limit the Lasix dosage, and maybe not run two-year-olds on it. We have created a “Lasix culture,” he said.
“It will be hard to make that go away. We need to let the general public know we are trying to clean this up.”
Although Code of Honor is by leading second crop sire Noble Mission (GB), and out of Gr.3 winner Reunited, as enticing as it may be, his career at stud may have to wait. According to McGaughey, the 80-year-old Farish enjoys watching Code of Honor compete and has mentioned racing him at 4 and 5. Also at home at Lane’s End is his dam Reunited, who foaled a full brother to Code of Honor this year.