Honor Code proved a popular winner of the 100th renewal of the $400,000 Remsen Stakes (gr. II) Nov. 30 when he battled back along the inside to get his nose on the line just ahead of Nashua Stakes (gr. II) winner Cairo Prince in a terrific finish at Aqueduct Racetrack (VIDEO).
Last seen finishing second in the Foxwoods Champagne Stakes (gr. I) by a neck to Havana Oct. 5 at Belmont Park, Honor Code was ridden to victory by Javier Castellano for trainer Shug McGaughey and owners Lane's End Racing and his breeder, Dell Ridge Farm of Kentucky. Honor Code will head into the 2014 racing season as one of the favorites for the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I).
"He got down on the inside of (Cairo Prince) and he got by him," said McGaughey who trained this year's Derby winner, Orb . "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. We'll give him a little time and take him to Payson (Park Thoroughbred Training Center in Florida). He's going to run that far (Triple Crown distances), we just have to figure out how he wants to do it."
The son of A.P. Indy out of the out of the Storm Cat mare Serena's Cat was hung way wide in the Champagne before making a huge charge in the stretch. But he experienced no such difficulties after a bit of an awkward start in the Remsen. The final time for the 1 1/8-mile distance on a fast track was a slow 1:52.92.
McGaughey won a record fourth Remsen, breaking his tie with Woody Stephens.
Bettors could see just the first two finishers. Honor Code, who carried 116 pounds, was the 4-5 choice and Cairo Prince, carrying 122 by virtue of his win in the one-mile Nashua Nov. 3, was at 8-5. Everyone else in the field, reduced to eight by the veterinarian's scratch of Noble Moon, was in double digits.
Fourth for the opening quarter mile after his slight stumble at the start, Honor Code advanced into second on the outside of pacesetter Master Lightning, who set a glacial-like tempo (:25.84, :52.74, and 1:17.56) for six furlongs with the favorite poised on his outside. Honor Code, progressing from between horses, took the lead near the quarter pole as Master Lightning dropped back. But the stalking Cairo Prince, up on the outside for Luis Saez in upper stretch, appeared to have the momentum while gaining a slight edge.
In the final furlong, however, Honor Code showed great fight to prevail by the narrowest of margins over an unlucky Cairo Prince. Wicked Strong, who made a bold move from fourth through the lane while racing somewhat greenly on the outside for Rajiv Maragh, settled for third. He was half a length length behind the first two.
"I didn't put him up there; he put me there," Castellano said of Honor Code's move to prompt the pace. "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 know he's a come-from-behind horse but the pace was slow. I didn't want to fight him.
"I think Cairo Prince tried to make the strong, sweeping move and tried to get the jump. My horse is a big, long-striding horse and he anticipated it a little bit. He found a second gear and he came back. He galloped out very strong. The horse showed me he would like more distance. Today, he proved a lot. He's a special horse, and you can put him wherever you want."
Intense Holiday also finished well for fourth, followed by Master Lightning, Matuszak, Afleet Accompli, and Mental Iceberg.
Honor Code, who would have gone to the Breeders' Cup Juvenile (gr. I) as the favorite had his connections not opted to skip the trip to Southern California, won for the second time in three starts. A half sibling to multiple graded stakes winner Noble Tune, he began his career at Saratoga Race Course Aug. 31 with a 4 1/2-length win over a maiden special weight group going seven furlongs on a sloppy track. He rallied from 22 lengths behind that day and displayed a similar late turn of foot in nearly winning the Champagne despite being floated seven or eight paths wide off the turn.
McGaughey had been pleased by how the leggy dark bay or brown ridgling had trained since the Champagne. Honor Code posted five works at Belmont since the Oct. 5 race, including a pair of bullet moves.
The winner's share of $240,000 boosted Honor Code's career purse earnings to $388,000. He paid $3.60, $2.30, and $2.10.
McGaughey previously won the Remsen with Fast Play (1988), Coronado's Quest (1997), and Saarland (2001).
Cairo Prince, trained by Kiaran McLaughlin for Namcook Stables, Paul Braverman, Harvey Clarke, and Craig Robertson III, gave an excellent account of himself as well while suffering the first loss of his three-race career. He returned $2.50 and $2.30 while completing a $7.20 exacta.
"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."
Wicked Strong, coming off a two-length maiden score going one mile at Belmont Oct. 26, paid $3.20 to show.
"Anytime they finish strong, it's good," trainer Jimmy Jerkens said. "With the slow pace, everyone was in the same boat. He had a nice ground-saving trip."