McGee Eyes Big Closing Week at Churchill

(from Churchill Downs notes)
Two of the most accomplished horses in the career of trainer Paul J. McGee may give the Louisville native a Thanksgiving Week to remember at Churchill Downs.

McGee is pointing 3rd Turn Stable's turf veteran Honor In War to next Sunday's $150,000-added River City Handicap (gr. IIT) and Jay Em Ess Stable's Suave toward the 131st running of the $500,000-added Clark Handicap (gr. II) Nov. 25.

Both horses have given McGee reason for considerable optimism heading into their respective races at his hometown track.

The veteran Honor In War, best known for his upset victory in the 2003 Woodford Reserve Turf Classic (gr. IT), has weathered a continuing battle with a quarter crack that has limited his 2005 campaign to only four races. He ran well in three stakes races at the Fair Grounds, with runner-up finishes to America Alive in the Col. E. R. Bradley and G P Fleet in the Fair Grounds Breeders' Cup, and was fourth to Rapid Proof in the Mervin Muniz, Jr. Handicap (gr. IIT). (He was later moved up to third when Rapid Proof was disqualified several weeks after the race.)

The quarter cracks kept Honor In War out of competition through the summer and early fall until the 6-year-old son of Lord At War scored an impressive half-length win over yielding turf in a 1 1/8-mile allowance race at Keeneland Oct. 22.

"It was a good win for him," said McGee. "I don't know that it was his best race, either, because I thought I was running a little bit of a short horse."

The win at Keeneland improved the career record of Honor In War to 8-5-6 in 28 races and pushed his earnings to $1,027,778.

McGee said that Honor In War could head to Gulfstream Park for a few more starts if things go well in the River City. A possible Southern Hemisphere stallion deal that could allow Honor In War to race for the first few months of 2006 before he moves on to a breeding career.

Honor In War is scheduled to turn in his final pre-race breeze for the River City on Tuesday over the Matt Winn Turf Course.

As for Suave, the runner-up to Borrego in the Jockey Club Gold Cup (gr. I) and close fifth-place finisher to Saint Liam in the Breeders' Cup Classic (gr. I) is reported to be doing well in preparation for the 1 1/8-mile Clark.

McGee said the colt would breeze for the Clark a "week or so" before the race and the improving son of A.P. Indy is scheduled to race next year.

"He'll probably go to Gulfstream," he said. "Our long-term goal is the Donn (gr. I). He came out of the Breeders' Cup just fine."

The Clark is a special race to McGee because he scored the first major stakes win of his career when he saddled Jim Shields and Frank Fletcher's Balthazar B. to win the race in 1988.

"That was a big win," said McGee. "It was a great day."