Honor Code: A.P. Indy's Last Derby Hope

Honor Code: A.P. Indy's Last Derby Hope
Photo: Coglianese Photos

A.P. Indy has achieved much during his stud career, but one thing has eluded him: a Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) winner. With his last foals having been born in 2011, time is running out. But the former Lane's End stallion may have one last shot at the roses. Racing for Lane's End Racing and breeder Dell Ridge Farm, Honor Code bounced back from his narrow defeat in the Foxwoods Champagne Stakes (gr. I) with a gritty win in the Nov. 30 Remsen Stakes (gr. II).

At nine furlongs, the Remsen is North America's longest graded stakes for juvenile males on dirt and so would seem a logical test for sorting out next year's potential classic horses. While it has not done badly in that regard—Kentucky Derby winners Pleasant Colony (1980), Go for Gin (1994), and Thunder Gulch (1995), as well as 1992 Preakness Stakes (gr. I) winner Pine Bluff and 2006 Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes (gr. I) runner-up Bluegrass Cat  , were all Remsen winners at the race's current distance—it has nonetheless suffered somewhat by its position on the racing calendar following the Breeders' Cup and has not always had a strong enough field to promise much for the following year.

This year's renewal may be different. While only two of the eight starters had significant credentials, those two—Honor Code and Nashua Stakes (gr. II) winner Cairo Prince—did exactly what good horses should despite a snail-like early pace that took Honor Code out of his preferred off-the-pace running style. Battling to the wire, the pair finished a nose apart, a half-length in front of Wicked Strong.

As a son of A.P. Indy, Honor Code should have no problems with stamina, nor is there much concern as to whether he will train on at 3. A winner of the Hollywood Futurity (gr. I) at 2, A.P. Indy earned Horse of the Year honors at 3 with grade I wins in the Santa Anita Derby, Belmont Stakes, and Breeders' Cup Classic. As a stallion, he was one of the few able to combine a high level of commercial appeal with the ability to transmit stamina, and he was North America's leading sire in 2003 and 2006. He has also managed to continue the Bold Ruler/Seattle Slew male line, now being ably carried on by top-10 sires Malibu Moon (by A.P. Indy) and Tapit (by Pulpit, by A.P. Indy) as well as by other male-line descendants.

Even more important to the Triple Crown trail than stamina is tenacity when the chips are down, and this was a characteristic noted again and again in the progeny of Storm Cat, Honor Code's broodmare sire. A two-time leader of the general sire list, Storm Cat also led the juvenile sire list a record seven times, reflecting his penchant for transmitting speed and precocity. His progeny were often willful and tough-minded, but those characteristics were generally coupled with a strong drive to win, a trait that even the best trainers will admit is more a matter of a horse's inborn nature than training. Currently right behind A.P. Indy in a tight battle for this year's broodmare sire championship, Storm Cat led that list last year and is the maternal grandsire of 194 stakes winners to date.

While the cross of A.P. Indy to Storm Cat mares has not shown outstanding results compared to crosses of A.P. Indy with mares by other sires, the cross of A.P. Indy's sons and grandsons to mares sired by Storm Cat or his sons appears to be gathering steam, with 12 grade I winners bred in this fashion to date. The most notable have been 2011 champion juvenile male Hansen and four-time grade I winners Turbulent Descent and Princess of Sylmar. All crosses of A. P. Indy with Storm Cat involve inbreeding to Secretariat, the broodmare sire of both stallions via his daughters Weekend Surprise (A.P. Indy) and Terlingua (Storm Cat).

Storm Cat is not the only possible source of Honor Code's determination and grit, for the colt's great-granddam Serena's Song (Rahy—Imagining, by Northfields) was as tough and resolute a filly as one could wish. A narrow second to divisional champion Flanders after a ding-dong stretch battle in the 1994 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies (gr. I), Serena's Song won six grade I races en route to a 1995 title as champion 3-year-old filly, including the Haskell Invitational Handicap against male sophomores and the Beldame Stakes against older females. Nine furlongs was the limit of her tether, but within that limit she was consistent, durable, and dead game, qualities that netted her 18 wins from 38 starts over three seasons.

Serena's Song proved a very good broodmare, her five stakes winners including 2002 Coronation Stakes (Eng-I) winner Sophisticat (by Storm Cat) and grade II winners Grand Reward (by Storm Cat) and Harlington (by Unbridled). Unfortunately, the best producer among her daughters, listed stakes winner Serena's Tune (by Mr. Prospector), produced only four foals, three of them colts, though one, Vocalised (by Vindication), became a two-time group III winner in Europe. But Serena's Tunes's one daughter, stakes winner Serena's Cat (by Storm Cat), is off to an excellent start as a broodmare with 2013 American Turf Stakes (gr. IIT) winner Noble Tune (by Unbridled's Song) and Honor Code as her first two foals. She has since produced a yearling filly by Bernardini and a 2013 colt by Tapit.

Honor Code still has a long way to go before getting to the starting gate at Churchill Downs, much less winning America's most storied race. But if "blood tells," as the saying is, then he has as good a chance as any colt out there of carrying off the prize and adding a fitting epilogue to the tale of one of the best sires of recent years.

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