Code of Honor wins Travers Stakes

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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.

Flightline, Pletcher, Godolphin lead way at Eclipse Awards

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PALM BEACH, Fla. — Flightline ran away in all six of his races, and ran away with top honors at the Eclipse Awards on Thursday night.

And trainer Todd Pletcher, for the first time in nearly a decade, received the sport’s top prize as well.

Flightline – the now-retired winner of last year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic to cap an unbeaten six-race career – won Horse of the Year as well as the Eclipse as top Older Dirt Male. It was no surprise that Flightline took home both awards, and he’s now standing stud.

“We’ll hope that his future is as bright as his past,” co-owner Kosta Hronis said.

Godolphin was also a double winner, sweeping the Eclipses as top owner and top breeder for the second consecutive year. It was also the third consecutive top-owner Eclipse for Godolphin.

“This is truly a golden era for Godolphin racing,” said Michael Banahan, the stable’s director of bloodstock. “And these awards and accolades recognize how special it is.”

It was Pletcher’s eighth Eclipse, extending his record for the most by any trainer, and his first since 2014. It was one of the few close races in the voting; Pletcher got 108 first-place votes, while four-time Eclipse winner Chad Brown got 95 and finished second.

“This really is not an individual award. This is a team award,” Pletcher said. “This is an award about the owners, and most importantly, the horses.”

Irad Ortiz Jr. won the Eclipse as top jockey for the fourth time in the last five years; he tied Pat Day and Javier Castellano for third-most in history, behind only seven-time winner Jerry Bailey and five-time winner Laffit Pincay Jr.

Ortiz led all jockeys with more than $37 million in purses in 2022.

“Wow,” Ortiz said. “It’s been an amazing year for me.”

Forte won the Eclipse as 2-year-old male, and will enter this year’s Triple Crown season as one of the early favorites.

“We’re all in this game for a horse like Forte,” said Mike Repole, the horse’s co-owner along with Florida Panthers owner Vincent Viola and Teresa Viola. “We’re all in this game to one day maybe own a 2-year-old that has a chance. It’s great to have the Kentucky Derby favorite. … Forte’s an incredible horse.”

Epicenter won the 3-year-old male Eclipse, after running second at both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes, then winning the Jim Dandy and Travers at Saratoga over the summer.

Wonder Wheel was the winner as 2-year-old filly, while Nest won the Eclipse in the 3-year-old filly division. Malathaat was the Eclipse winner for older dirt female, Goodnight Olive for female sprinter and Regal Glory for female turf horse.

Elite Power was picked as the top male sprinter, Modern Games won the Eclipse for male turf horse, and Hewick was the Eclipse winner in the steeplechase division.

Jose Antonio Gomez won as top apprentice jockey.

The Eclipse Awards are voted on by members of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, the Daily Racing Form and National Turf Writers And Broadcasters.

Trainer Bob Baffert’s ban from racing in New York is over

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Bob Baffert can once again enter horses at New York’s major tracks.

The Hall of Fame trainer’s one-year ban by the New York Racing Association ended Wednesday, allowing him to enter horses as soon as Thursday.

“I was disappointed they even did it, but it’s water under the bridge,” Baffert told The Associated Press by phone.

He was suspended last June for repeated medication violations, although none of them occurred in New York. He was barred from Aqueduct, Belmont and Saratoga. A panel credited Baffert for time served for an initial suspension, which allowed him to return this week.

Aqueduct is currently holding its 44-day winter meet that runs through March 26. Baffert doesn’t typically run horses this time of year in New York; he targets the biggest stakes races at Belmont in the spring and Saratoga in the summer.

Baffert remains under a two-year ban by Churchill Downs Inc., which sidelined him after Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit tested positive for a substance that is not allowed on race day. The penalty expires shortly after the Kentucky Derby in May. However, Baffert is fighting the suspension in federal court.

The Southern California-based trainer has a big weekend coming up around the country, although not in New York.

He has horses running at three tracks on Saturday.

Defunded is entered in the $3 million Pegasus World Cup at Gulfstream in Florida, where Baffert assistant Jimmy Barnes will be on hand.

Arabian Knight goes into the $750,000 Southwest Stakes as the early favorite at Oaklawn in Arkansas. Baffert has won the Kentucky Derby prep race a record-tying five times and will travel to Hot Springs to watch the 3-year-old colt.

“It’s going to be a good test for him. The only way to find out is to run him long,” he said. “It’s going to take a superior horse to do that and I’m hoping that he is.”

The Southwest offers Kentucky Derby qualifying points to the top five finishers. Arabian Knight won’t receive any points regardless of his placing because of Baffert’s Derby ban.

Hopper will run in the $200,000 San Pasqual Stakes on Saturday at Santa Anita.

On Sunday at the same track, Baffert has entered four of the five horses set to run in the $200,000 San Vicente Stakes for 3-year-olds.