Code of Honor wins Travers Stakes

AP Photo
1 Comment

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. — Trainer Shug McGaughey walked into Saratoga Race Course stoked for the 150th running of the Travers Stakes. Code of Honor validated those feelings.

Code of Honor won a stretch duel with Tacitus and Mucho Gusto, holding off hard-luck Tacitus by three lengths to win the $1.25 million Travers Stakes on Saturday.

“I’ve been really excited all week, I’ve been excited about the way the horse was doing,” McGaughey said after his fourth win in the race and first in 21 years. “When he worked here on Monday, it was something to see. I wasn’t nervous. I was ready to get it on. Today, he put it all together.”

With jockey John Velazquez aboard, the chestnut son of Noble Mission covered the 1\ miles in 2 minutes, 1.05 seconds and paid $10.80, $5.20 and $3.80 on a sunny day with temperatures in the mid-70s. The colt now has four wins, two seconds and a third in eight starts and nearly $2 million in earnings.

Tacitus paid $3.70 and $2.80, and Mucho Gusto returned $3.80.

Code of Honor won the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream in February and was third in the Grade 1 Florida Derby to set up a strong run in the Kentucky Derby, where he finished third before being moved to second when winner Maximum Security was disqualified for interference.

“I never had any doubts about distance as a problem, just him putting his mind to running,” Velazquez said. “When I got him out in the clear, he responded right away.”

Code of Honor was the second choice in the Travers at 4-1 after an impressive victory in the Dwyer at Belmont Park in his previous start in early July. Belmont Stakes runner-up Tacitus was the 5-2 morning line favorite.

Tacitus, wearing blinkers for the first time, had the lead in the back stretch before Mucho Gusto moved alongside at the half-mile pole and edged in front. At the top of the stretch they were challenged by Code of Honor, Owendale and Tax before Code of Honor slid past on the outside for the win.

Endorsed was fourth, followed by Owendale in fifth.

Tacitus trainer Bill Mott was looking for a breakout race for his gray colt, which stumbled out of the gate and nearly fell in finishing second to Tax in the Jim Dandy Stakes in July, a traditional prep race at Saratoga for the Travers. Instead, he finished second for the third straight time.

“Our horse was just there,” Mott said. “I had one eye on the winner and one eye on mine. It looked like there was a good chance we were going to outduel Mucho Gusto, but the winner, he rolled by pretty fast.”

The race was delayed for about five minutes while crews took down signs on the inner turf course after jockeys raised concerns the billboards might distract the horses.

“That was one thing I didn’t have to worry about,” McGaughey said with a chuckle.

McGaughey’s other wins in the Travers came with Coronado’s Quest in 1998, Rhythm in 1990, and Easy Goer in 1989. He said he wasn’t sure where Code of Honor would race next, as the Pennsylvania Derby looms in a month.

The 13-race card also featured five other Grade 1 stakes: Favored Mitole won the 40th running of the $600,000 Forego, taking the lead from pace-setting Promises Fulfilled and pulling away down the stretch from Firenze Fire by 3 + lengths for his fifth win in six starts this year and ninth overall in 12 starts for trainer Steve Asmussen; Come Dancing rallied from a slow start and powered to the front from the outside entering the stretch and captured the 41st running of the $500,000 Ballerina by 3 + lengths over Dawn the Destroyer; Mind Control, with Velazquez aboard, took the 35th running of the $500,000 Allen Jerkens, winning a stirring duel by a nose over Hog Creek Hustle and favored Shancelot, who was overtaken at the wire after gaining a two-length lead down the stretch; Midnight Bisou used a late charge to edge Elate by a nose at the wire and win the 72nd running of the $700,000 Personal Ensign; and Annals of Time, trained by Chad Brown, barely held off Sadler’s Joy to take the 45th running of the $850,000 Sword Dancer, a 1 +-mile test on the turf.

Breeders’ Cup spots on the line this weekend, top trainers hold keys to 2-year-old tests

0 Comments

Sometimes, in assessing stakes races, it is best to look at the history of the race and see if there is a dominant factor in that history. This weekend’s racing features both the Champagne Stakes and the Miss Grillo Stakes, two Win and You’re In races for the Breeders’ Cup (coverage begins Saturday at 4 pm ET on NBC). For both races, you need to look no further than the “winning trainer” column, which provides some unavoidable facts:

  1. Since 2004, Todd Pletcher has won the Champagne Stakes a record-setting six times.
  2. In recent times, Chad Brown has asserted himself in this race, winning 3 of the last 6 runnings.
  3. In the 14 runnings of the Miss Grillo since 2008, Chad Brown has been the winning trainer 8 times.

All observations and handicapping of these two races must begin with these facts. Is there something that makes horses from these barns better than others? Not necessarily. But history tells us that these two barns have high-quality and expensive horses and they tend to get them to peak at this time of year. You can try to beat them at the betting windows, but be aware of the history that you are running into.

Further research brought up some interesting notes about these two races and their Breeders’ Cup divisions.

First, a look at the 2-year-old colt division. Since 2004 (when Todd Pletcher won the first of his 6 Champagne Stakes), three 2-year-olds have won the Champagne, the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and the 2-year-old Eclipse Award. They were War Pass (2007), Uncle Mo (2010) and Shanghai Bobby (2012).  Pletcher trained Uncle Mo and Shanghai Bobby, and Hall of Fame trainer Nick Zito handled War Pass.

RELATED: Kentucky Derby modifies qualifying, elevates prep races

Looking at the 2-year-old turf fillies, the dominance of Chad Brown is even more striking. Since 2008, when Chad Brown captured his first Miss Grillo and the first running of Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf, four 2-year-old fillies have captured the Miss Grillo and the Juvenile Fillies Turf. They were Maram (2008), Lady Eli (2014), New Money Honey (2016) and Newspaperofrecord (2018). All four fillies were trained by Chad Brown.

A review of charts from the Champagne back to 2004 (the year of Todd Pletcher’s first winner in the race) reveals that he had 20 starters, with 6 wins, 3 seconds and 1 third. That means he has won 30% of the time and been in the money 50%.

A review of the charts from the Miss Grillo dating back to 2008 (Chad Brown’s first winner in the race) shows that he has had 23 starters, with 8 wins, 1 second and 4 thirds. That means he has won approximately 35% of the time and been in the money 56%.

RELATED: Olympiad cruises to Jockey Club Gold Cup victory

Storylines to Watch for 2022 Champagne Stakes

So, what does this mean for this year’s editions of these two “Win and You’re In” races for the 2022 Breeders’ Cup?

In the Champagne, it seems that the dominant trainers in the sport are putting forth the major contenders.

  • 2021 Eclipse Award-winning trainer Brad Cox is likely to start Verifying, who was a solid winner at Saratoga as a big favorite in his only career start.
  • The sport’s all-time winningest North American trainer is Steve Asmussen, who is rapidly closing in on 10,000 career wins. Asmussen, who won this race in 2020 with Jackie’s Warrior, will send out Gulfport, a very impressive son of Uncle Mo. Gulfport won his first two races by an average winning margin of almost 10 lengths. Then, he had some real misfortune in his next two starts, finishing 2nd in both races at Saratoga. In the Saratoga Special, he had major traffic problems that led to losing several lengths at the top of the stretch. As the favorite in the Hopeful, he endured a wide trip on a sloppy surface to be 2nd best again. With a clean trip, he will be a major contender in the Champagne.
  • As previously stated, Chad Brown has won the Champagne in 3 of its last 6 runnings. He is likely to enter Blazing Sevens, who is a son of Good Magic, the 2017 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner. After a big win in the first race of his career at Saratoga, Blazing Sevens endured a wide trip on a sloppy track in the Hopeful Stakes, and he should improve here, especially on a fast track.
  • The horse who beat Gulfport in the Hopeful was Forte, trained by the 6-time winner of this race, Todd Pletcher. The stretchout to a one-turn mile in the Champagne would have seemed to be made to order for his closing kick. At entry time, Pletcher chose to not enter Forte in the Champagne Stakes, in all likelihood because he plans to enter the horse in the Breeders’ Futurity next Saturday at Keeneland. The Breeders’ Futurity is a Win and You’re In race for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, and can be seen on CNBC.

RELATED: Taiba wins $1 million Pennsylvania Derby for Baffert

Storylines to Watch for 2022 Miss Grillo Stakes

Moving on to the Miss Grillo, Chad Brown is likely to enter Free Look, who was an impressive late-closing winner of a Maiden race in her second career start. In her first start, she was a victim of a slow pace, and the best she could do from the back of the pack was close to be 3rd. She seems to be a horse who is likely to improve with more racing. Free Look is a daughter of the leading sire Tapit.

Two others to watch in the Miss Grillo are Be Your Best and Pleasant Passage. Be Your Best is undefeated in two starts for trainer Horacio DePaz. Her last start was the P.G. Johnson Stakes, and she displayed the stalking style that has led to wins in both of her starts. Another with a license to improve is Pleasant Passage, from the barn of legendary trainer Shug McGaughey. In her only career start, she rallied up the rail and endured a stretch battle to get up for a narrow win. She has outstanding grass breeding, and the experience of that win should work in her favor in this race.

It is hard to predict outcomes with lightly-raced 2-year-olds. What we do know is that two horses will win their way into two Breeders’ Cup races on Saturday. That’s the great thing about these “Win and You’re In” races… they are running for something other than purse money, and it often produces some outstanding outcomes.

Lookahead to 2022 Breeders’ Cup

These races lead up to two of the 14 championship races on November 4th and 5th. For those who have never watched an entire Breeders’ Cup, get ready for the rush of witnessing a world championship event every 35 minutes or so. It’s like the Olympics of our sport. Be ready to watch and wager, and you’re sure to come away with some great memories. If you pick some winners, you might come away with a nice profit, as well. The Breeders’ Cup…there’s nothing like it!

Pegasus on Jan. 28, Florida Derby on April 1 at Gulfstream

Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images
1 Comment

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. — Gulfstream Park announced the schedule for the 2022-23 Championship Meet, highlighted by the $3 million Pegasus World Cup Invitational on Jan. 28.

Also on Pegasus day: The $1 million Pegasus World Cup Turf Invitational, as well as the $500,000 Pegasus World Cup Filly & Mare Turf.

Gulfstream’s top Kentucky Derby prep race, the $1 million Florida Derby, will be run on April 1 as part of a card with 10 stakes races. Other top 3-year-old preps at Gulfstream in early 2023 include the $150,000 Mucho Macho Man on Jan. 1, the $250,000 Holy Bull on Feb. 4 and the $400,000 Fountain of Youth on March 4.

The Pegasus is returning for a seventh time. The format has changed several times in the race’s infancy; the purse structure for the Pegasus World Cup no longer requires owners to put up $1 million apiece for a spot in the starting gate for what was, at its inception, the world’s richest race with a purse that reached $16 million.

This much has remained constant: Winning the Pegasus changes a horse’s resume. No Pegasus winner has ever finished worse than sixth in the yearlong earnings among North American horses, and two past winners – Arrogate and Gun Runner – are two of the three highest-earning thoroughbreds in U.S. history.

Gulfstream’s Championship Meet runs from Dec. 26 through April 2, featuring 60 stakes races, 35 of them graded, and worth a combined $13.6 million.