Trainer Brendan Walsh says Honorable Duty has been a new horse mentally over the last few months.
Fittingly, the gelded son of Distorted Humor called up all his improved fortitude in the stretch of the $125,000 Mineshaft Handicap (G3) Feb. 25 when he held strong over International Star splitting horses in late stretch and a stubborn Dazzling Gem to take the 1 1/16 miles test by half a length at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots.
Video: Mineshaft H. (G3)
Making his first start since winning the Tenacious Stakes at Fair Grounds Dec. 17, Honorable Duty turned his 5-year-old debut into his best outing yet in earning his first graded stakes win. The late-blooming bay runner showed talent last year when he broke his maiden fifth time out last April and followed that with two more victories, but an attitude adjustment became necessary—prompting Walsh and owners DARRS Inc. to geld Honorable Duty last fall.
"We gelded him at the end of the fall and I think that's helped him mentally," Walsh said. "He's got the mental part right now and turned into a racehorse."
Sent off at 5-1 odds in the seven-horse Mineshaft field, Honorable Duty rated kindly under jockey Julien Leparoux in third, then fourth in the three-path down the backstretch while Rise Up opened up a clear advantage up front through an opening quarter in :23.69 and half mile in :46.79.
With Rise Up coming back to his stalkers on the far turn, Leparoux had Honorable Duty advancing on the outside, ultimately taking command at the head of the lane as Dazzling Gem tried gamely to fight back on the rail. Honorable Duty wouldn't yield his lead, however, not even when jockey Miguel Mena sent International Star diving between the two leaders in a gutsy attempt that did earn the multiple graded stakes winner runner-up honors.
"I know there were some closers coming at us at the end," Leparoux said. "But he was trying hard the whole way."
Honorable Duty hit the wire in a final time of 1:43.03 over a fast track and paid out $12.40, $5.40, and $4.00 across the board.
Bred by Juddmonte Farms, Honorable Duty is out of the A.P. Indy mare Mesmeric and was purchased by David A. Ross for $130,000 at the 2015 Keeneland November breeding stock sale. He improves his record to five wins from 11 starts with $261,276 in earnings and has only been worse than third twice, including a fifth-place effort in the 2016 Lukas Classic at Churchill Downs last Oct. 1.