Code of Honor orchestrated a turnaround in Saturday’s Fountain of Youth (G2), shrugging off a well-beaten fourth earlier in the Gulfstream Park meet to post a 9-1 upset, and the 50-point prize virtually guarantees a berth in a 20-horse Kentucky Derby field. John Velazquez was up for Shug McGaughey on the Will Farish homebred.
Bourbon War enhanced his reputation as well with a fast-closing second and will take plenty of betting action when stretching out to 1 1/8 miles for his final Kentucky Derby prep race. Circumstances didn’t go as planned for 6-5 favorite Hidden Scroll, who dueled through fast fractions with a hopeless longshot before weakening to fourth.
BRIS Speed numbers have been down for Kentucky Derby hopefuls this year (see chart below) and the Fountain of Youth didn’t come back fast. Code of Honor registered a 95 Speed figure, only the second winner this century who failed to reach triple digits, but remains eligible to improve upon the confidence-builder. He definitely appeared to need the race from a fitness perspective.
Speed ratings can increase dramatically as three-year-olds build toward the first Saturday in May and 2013 Kentucky Derby victor Orb, who was also trained by McGaughey, serves as a prime example. Orb garnered only an 89 BRIS Speed rating when opening his three-year-old season with an allowance victory at Gulfstream but came back to post a 102 Speed winning the Fountain of Youth next out.
Four qualifiers in the Road to the Kentucky Derby series were scheduled for this Saturday (March 9) but Santa Anita has canceled racing this week to evaluate track issues, delaying an anticipated showdown between top-ranked Bob Baffert-trained stablemates Game Winner and Improbable in the San Felipe (G2). No indication when the race will be rescheduled.
The Tampa Bay Derby (G2) and Gotham (G3) at Aqueduct are worth a total of 85 points to the top four finishers (50-20-10-5) and the Jeff Ruby Steaks (G3) on Turfway Park’s Polytracks offers 34 (20-8-4-2).
Pool 3 of the Kentucky Derby Future Wager begins Friday and closes Sunday at 6 p.m. (ET).
Fountain of Youth
Code of Honor showed some speed leaving the starting gate from his rail post and eased back on the first turn to sit a good stalking trip in fifth, about eight lengths behind a blistering early pace in :22.80 and :45.69. Fractions were nearly a second faster than a Grade 2 sprint event the race before and Code of Honor took advantage while accelerating into contention on the far turn.
Hidden Scroll was still clinging to a short lead in upper stretch but Code of Honor easily dismissed the tiring pacesetter and opened up a clear lead. Bourbon War rallied with a flourish on the far outside to make it interesting late, but Code of Honor held to win by three-quarters of a length.
A smart debut maiden winner at Saratoga, Code of Honor fell out of the starting gate but rebounded to finish a solid second in the Champagne (G1) next out. Installed as the 5-1 third choice on the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile morning line, he was forced to scratch the morning of the race due to a fever. McGaughey planned to reroute the colt to the Remsen (G2) at Aqueduct in early December but removed him consideration after a subpar workout the week of the race.
Code of Honor returned from a three-month layoff as the 4-5 favorite in the January 5 Mucho Macho Man at a one-turn mile but never made an impact, retreating through the stretch to finish nearly eight lengths back in fourth. He was freshened 56 days in advance of the 1 1/16-mile Fountain and McGaughey attributed the improved performance to aggressive training preparations: “After the Mucho Macho Man, I said listen, we’re going to train him. If he takes it he takes it, and he took it. He was good with what we were putting into him, so we kept doing it and we felt like he was going to come down here (from Payson Park training center) and run well.”
Code of Honor has stamina and turf influences in his sire line. He’s by Noble Mission, a son of Galileo and full brother to unbeaten European superstar and fast-rising sire Frankel. Code of Honor’s broodmare sire (Dixie Union) produced Belmont Stakes winner Union Rags, but the immediate female family raises some concern for distances past nine furlongs. His dam, Reunited, captured the six-furlong Thoroughbred Club of America (G3) and raced exclusively in sprints during her 10-race career. She hails from Tivli, a stakes-winning daughter of Mt. Livermore (sire of champion sprinters Housebuster and Orientate) who never raced past 6 ½ furlongs from her 24 career starts.
When asked about added ground, McGaughey highlighted the sire and his pupil’s disposition: “I don’t think distance will be a problem at all…(Code of Honor) is a very efficient kind of horse in the way he moves.”
The 1 1/16-mile distance at Gulfstream features a short stretch (wire at the sixteenth pole) and Code of Honor took advantage of the configuration, appearing spent as Bourbon War blew past him in the gallop out between finishing poles. But considering he got little out of only one start over the previous five months, the lightly-raced sophomore had reason to be tired after passing an extreme class check.
The chestnut possesses tactical speed and displayed a keen turn of foot while cornering better than Bourbon War, and the Fountain of Youth was his first two-turn start. The top two are under serious consideration for the $1 million Florida Derby (G1) at Gulfstream on March 30 and Bourbon War will be the shorter price again if both show up.
Unlike the winner, Bourbon War was exiting an encouraging performance over the track. The Mark Hennig-trained Tapit colt powerfully dispatched entry-level allowance foes in mid-January and registered commendable BRIS Speed (96) and Late Pace (107) numbers for the 2 1/4-length decision. Bettors hammered him down to the 4-1 third choice from a 10-1 morning line on Saturday.
Bourbon War reached the far turn almost two lengths behind Code of Honor and lost ground to his rival through the bend. He started making headway approaching the stretch and when Irad Ortiz Jr. guided his mount extremely wide, Bourbon War responded with a visually-impressive closing kick in the straightaway.
He was the only one finishing at the end and ran out of room on the wire. Bourbon War established himself as major Kentucky Derby contender in the process and it was easy to come away bullish on his chances, but fast finishes for a minor award can be misleading sometimes because the horses in front are stopping. Bourbon War remains a developing type with an abundance of potential this spring.
Hidden Scroll was knocked sideways leaving the starting gate by the horse to his immediate outside and Joel Rosario hustled his mount to establish forward position after the rough beginning. That didn’t work out well for an inexperienced colt. Hidden Scroll took his cue and set sail for the lead, outgunning 132-1 longshot Gladiator King, who eventually weakened to last after being run into submission by the overwhelming favorite.
Bill Mott thought Hidden Scroll would be tractable enough to sit second behind a horse like Gladiator King and came away disappointed by his charge’s antics, but he recognized the silver lining and will keep the well-bred Juddmonte Farms homebred on the Kentucky Derby trail. Hidden Scroll performed like an enormous talent in his debut, winning wire-to-wire in a fast time (102 BRIS Speed rating), and kept fighting Saturday despite shortening stride by the completion of the far turn. Considering how tired he appeared, I was surprised to see Hidden Scroll nearly outfinish Vekoma, who got up in the final stride for third as the 3-1 second choice.
Hidden Scroll figures to benefit greatly from the experience and whether it’s turf or dirt, the well-bred Hard Spun colt looks capable of winning big races down the road if he remains healthy. We’ll learn in the coming weeks whether he has the mental fortitude for a legitimate Kentucky Derby bid.
BRIS Speed Rating Chart
As referenced earlier, BRIS Speed ratings have declined in eight-of-11 qualifiers this year. The exceptions are a pair of Aqueduct qualifiers and the Robert B. Lewis (G3) at Santa Anita. Withers (G3) victor Tax has been the only winner to receive a triple-digit BRIS Speed rating in 2019.
It’s too soon to make any judgments on this year’s crop and I’m not concerned by the lower numbers so far.
Most of the 2018 Kentucky Derby contenders peaked too early, failing to carry their form forward after registering big numbers in prep races, and the three-year-old division seemingly fell apart once Justify locked up favoritism in the Santa Anita Derby (G1). Last year’s crop will not be remembered favorably outside of the Triple Crown winner.
Here are the winning BRIS Speed ratings from the last two years:
|Fountain of Youth||104 (Promises Fulfilled)||95 (Code of Honor)|
|Risen Star||98 (Bravazo)||96 (War of Will)|
|Southwest||98 (My Boy Jack)||94 (Super Steed)|
|Sam F. Davis||101 (Flameaway)||99 (Well Defined)|
|Robert B. Lewis||88 (Lombo)||95 (Mucho Gusto)|
|Holy Bull||105 (Audible)||95 (Harvey Wallbanger)|
|Withers||94 (Avery Island)||102 (Tax)|
|Smarty Jones||99 (Mourinho)||92 (Gray Attempt)|
|Lecomte||96 (Instilled Regard)||94 (War of Will)|
|Sham||104 (McKinzie)||88 (Gunmetal Gray)|
|Jerome||94 (Firenze Fire)||96 (Mind Control)|
Other three-year-olds of interest
Roadster returned in outstanding condition on March 1, squaring off against four foes in a Santa Anita entry-level allowance at a two-turn mile. Unraced since a third in the Del Mar Futurity (G1) on March 1, the Speedway Stables colorbearer stalked the pace up close and advanced to collar the pacesetter leaving the far turn. He took a short lead while still under a hold in upper stretch and when Mike Smith asked for run, Roadster drew away sharply and won geared down late by a 2 1/2-length margin. There was plenty to like about this performance and Roadster is in the barn of five-time Kentucky Derby winner Bob Baffert. A gray son of Quality Road, Roadster has the pedigree for longer distances being a half-brother to Ascend, winner of the 1 1/4-mile Woodford Reserve Manhattan (G1); and Moro Tap, who placed in the 1 1/2-mile Louisville H. (G3). It will be interesting to see where Roadster winds up next.
Runner-up Nolo Contesto received a rough trip, stuck down on the inside most of the way, but appeared to be hitting his best stride late and galloped out well after the finish line. I don’t know why John Sadler didn’t ship the January 4 maiden winner out of town for another prep race after scratching him from the February 2 Robert B. Lewis due to sloppy track conditions, with Nolo Contesto missing no time on the worktab as he essentially waited a month for this allowance race, but the Pioneerof the Nile ridgling remains a nice prospect for Hronis Racing.
Instagrand broke his maiden by 10 lengths the first time out and followed with a spectacular 10 1/4-length victory in the Best Pal (G2) at Del Mar. A $1.2 million two-year-old sales purchase, the son of Into Mischief remained on the worktab for the next few weeks before owner Larry Best announced the exciting colt would be given the rest of the year.
He returned to the worktab in late December for Jerry Hollendorfer and the one-turn mile Gotham distance should benefit Instagrand, who appears capable of overwhelming the competition off the layoff.
The Tampa Bay Derby looks like a good betting race. Win Win Win registered a 101 BRIS Speed rating for a track record-setting victory in the seven-furlong Pasco at Tampa Bay Downs and looms a major contender if handles the stretch out to two turns. Well Defined catches a field lacking early speed following a comfortable wire-to-wire upset in the Sam F. Davis (G3) and is unbeaten from a pair of two-turn starts when able to dictate the pace. Dream Maker rates as another top threat following an 8 ½-length allowance triumph at Fair Grounds.
Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (G1) third-placer Somelikeithotbrown made a seamless transition to synthetic like so many turf horses do when capturing the February 15 John Battaglia Memorial by open lengths and will be the one to beat among 11 rivals in the Jeff Ruby Steaks.
Scully’s Kentucky Derby Top 10
- IMPROBABLE: Appears headed to the Rebel following San Felipe cancellation
- GAME WINNER: Expected to join stablemate Improbable in the Rebel
- COUNTRY HOUSE: Risen Star runner-up brings closing kick to Louisiana Derby
- WAR OF WILL: Seeks sweep of Fair Grounds prep races in Louisiana Derby
- CODE OF HONOR: Restored lost luster in Fountain of Youth upset
- BOURBON WAR: Fountain of Youth runner-up displayed dynamic late run
- ROADSTER: Established himself as one to watch recording sharp allowance win off shelf
- HIDDEN SCROLL: Talented colt’s lack of maturity showed in Fountain of Youth
- GUNMETAL GRAY: Grade 3 winner has been rallying into paceless races
- MAXIMUM SECURITY: Fast but unproven type to try a Kentucky Derby qualifier next time