With major goals in 2020, multiple Grade 1 hero Code of Honor will get back to action in Saturday’s $100,000 Westchester (G3) at Belmont Park. The 1 1/16-mile race shares the spotlight on a dynamite 11-race program that includes the $250,000 Carter H. (G1), $150,000 Fort Marcy (G2) and $100,000 Intercontinental (G3).
Winner of the Travers (G1) and Jockey Club Gold Cup (G1), the latter via disqualification, Code of Honor will face 10 rivals in his seasonal debut, and he’s eligible to keep improving at age 4 for Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey. The chestnut colt also captured the Fountain of Youth (G2) and Dwyer (G3) last year, with placings in the Kentucky Derby (G1) and Florida Derby (G1), and the son of Noble Mission exits a seventh in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) at Santa Anita. Regular rider John Velazquez will be up.
His main challengers include Payne, who will make his stakes bow for Chad Brown with a three-race win streak; Grade 3 scorer Monongahelo, who has been transferred to Brown since his last start; and Endorsed, who most recently overcame a slow start to defeat a stakes-caliber allowance field at Oaklawn Park in his first outing for Bill Mott.
Performer will open his 4-year-old season for McGaughey in the 11-horse Carter. A well-bred son of Speightstown, the once-beaten chestnut colt showed his versatility winning all four starts last season at distances from 6-furlongs to 1 1/8 miles, and Performer will cut back to 7-furlongs following a sharp tally in the Discovery (G3) in late November.
A pair of top contenders, Mind Control and Vekoma, are drawn on the far outside in the Carter. Mind Control has won three straight, including the H. Allen Jerkens (G1) at Saratoga last summer and the June 7 Tom Fool H. (G3) at Aqueduct in his last appearance, and the 4-year-old colt will try to turn things around at Belmont after recording an unplaced effort in his lone appearance at Big Sandy. Vekoma, last year’s Blue Grass (G1) winner, will take plenty of betting action following a 3 3/4-length romp in the 7-furlong Sir Shackleton S. at Gulfstream on March 28, his first outing in nearly 11 months.
Firenze Fire adds further depth, stretching his win skein to three with a four-length decision in the Feb. 15 General George (G3) at Laurel Park, and other runners include Network Effect and Nitrous.
Brown has four of the nine competitors in the Fort Marcy at 1 1/8 miles on turf. French Group 3 winner Flop Shot will make his U.S. debut. Devamani exits a rallying nose second in the Tampa Bay (G3), and French stakes victor Tribhuvan will make his second U.S. start after a fast-closing third in a deep Gulfstream allowance. Instilled Regard, winner of the Ft. Lauderdale (G2) three back, completes the quartet.
Social Paranoia, who returned from a layoff with a nice victory in the Appleton (G2) two back, can’t be dismissed from consideration for Todd Pletcher, and multiple Grade 2 winner Synchrony invades for Michael Stidham.
Newspaperofrecord, a smashing winner of the 2018 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf (G1) but winless from three attempts last year, will return from an 11-month absence in the Intercontinental. Brown trains the Irish-bred daughter of Lope de Vega, and Newspaperofrecord is one of four in the 7-furlong turf affair for the four-time reigning Eclipse Award-winning conditioner. She’ll be joined by stablemates Significant Form, who makes a title defense; Grade 2 winner Regal Glory; and Irish stakes scorer Viadera.