Honor Code re-rallied in deep stretch after being passed in the lane to prevail in the $400,000 Remsen Stakes (G2) at Aqueduct on Nov. 30.
A dawdling early pace—the opening half-mile was run in :52.74 and it required 1:17.56 to cover six furlongs—set the stage for a thrilling stretch duel.
Honor Code, trained by Hall of Famer Shug McGaughey and ridden by Javier Castellano, took the lead at the quarter pole; Cairo Prince passed him a furlong later on the outside, and Honor Code fought back to win by a nose, running the 1 1/8-mile race in 1:52.92.
Cairo Prince, trained by Kiaran McLaughlin and ridden by Luis Saez, finished a half-length in front of Wicked Strong, who was followed by Intense Holiday, Master Lightning, Matuszak, Afleet Accompli and Mental Iceberg. Noble Moon was scratched.
Heading down to the winner’s circle after the race, McGaughey could scarcely process what he had just seen. Asked about the slow early fractions, he said, “I was shocked. Shocked.
“He got down on the inside of [Cairo Prince in the stretch] and he got by him,” McGaughey said. “He showed a lot of guts. I’m proud of him. I think the horse in second is a nice horse, and it was a peculiar race.”
Honor Code, owned by Lane’s End Racing and breeder Dell Ridge Farm, showed in his third career start he is more than just a one-dimensional late runner.
In his debut, a seven-furlong sprint over a sloppy track this past summer at Saratoga Race Course, Honor Code came flying from 22 lengths back to score by 4 ¼ lengths. In his second start, he dropped back to last, 11 lengths off the pace, before rallying to just miss to Havana in the Grade 1 Foxwoods Champagne at a mile on October 5 at Belmont Park.
In the Remsen, however, Castellano involved Honor Code from the start despite a bobble after the break.
On the backstretch, Castellano wanted to get off the rail, and he rode Honor Code into second place and then steered him to the outside of the front-runner.
“I didn’t put him up there; he put me there,” Castellano said. “The way he ran the first part, he showed me more speed and was more comfortable and relaxed. I felt the pace was slow. The opportunity was there; I took it. I didn’t want to fight him.”
Meanwhile, Cairo Prince, coming off a victory in the Grade 2 Nashua, raced on the outside within striking distance throughout before cutting loose at the quarter pole.
He and Honor Code put on a torrid display, with the final three furlongs of the race going in 35.36 seconds. Honor Code, in the end, would not be denied, winning a bob at the wire.
“That was a tough beat,” McLaughlin said. “The winner is a good horse, but that was a tough one. I thought we had it won.”
Honor Code paid $3.60 for a $2 win bet as the 4-5 favorite. The $240,000 first-place purse pushed his earnings to $388,000.
McGaughey said he would take the son of A.P Indy down to the Payson Park Thoroughbred Training Center in Florida for the winter, with an eye on the Fountain of Youth and the Florida Derby as a path to the Triple Crown series.
Castellano said, “The horse showed me he would like more distance,” and McGaughey saw that as a good sign, whether Honor Code wants to come from behind or race near the pace.
“He’s going to run that far,” McGaughey said of the Triple Crown distances. “We just have to figure out how he wants to do it.”