SARATOGA SPRINGS – Despite a victory in the Fountain of Youth back in March, a second in the Kentucky Derby – after being moved up on the DQ of Maximum Security – and an impressive 3¼-length score in the Dwyer last month, Code of Honor had been something of a forgotten horse. When the conversation turned to the top 3-year-olds, the son of Noble Mission wasn’t always in the conversation.
Not anymore. Benefitting from a perfectly timed ride by John Velazquez, Code of Honor ran down pacesetters Tacitus and Mucho Gusto inside the final furlong, running to daylight and continuing on to take the 150th edition of the Travers (G1) by three lengths.
“I never had any doubts about distance being a problem, just him putting his mind to running,” said Velazquez, who has been aboard Code of Honor in all six starts in 2019. “Today, when I got him into the clear, he responded right away, so I was very happy for him. He’s never really put it together until today.”
It was the second Travers win for the Hall of Fame jockey, who first won with Flower Alley in 2005, and the fourth for winning trainer Shug McGaughey.
“He’s been a bit of a Jekyll and Hyde horse,” said McGaughey, whose previous Travers victories came with Easy Goer (1989), Rhythm (1990) and Coronado’s Quest (1998). “Today, he put it all together. The Dwyer was a really good race, so we were hoping we were going to see what we saw then [today]”
Favored Tacitus (2-1) was put in the race early, perhaps to avoid the traffic difficulties that had impacted him in the Belmont and Jim Dandy. Mucho Gusto kept him company up top, with Tax not far back in third, and those three maintained their positions into and around the turn. At one point, just after the field had wheeled into the stretch, Tacitus appeared to have put Mucho Gusto away, but the Californian battled back.
Just when it looked like the Travers might be down to a two-horse race, Code of Honor ran into the picture. Well back for the first seven furlongs, the W. S. Farish homebred made up ground on the turn but still had five horses to pass in the stretch. Once he made the front, however, the outcome was never in doubt.
Tacitus finished a half-length in front of Mucho Gusto for the place, with Endorsed another length and a quarter back in fourth. Then it was Owendale, Highest Honors, Tax, Chess Chief, Laughing Fox, Scars Are Cool, Looking at Bikinis and Everfast.
The Travers win ups Code of Honor’s earnings to $1,885,820 and improves his record to 4-2-1 in eight starts. Code of Honor paid $10.80 as the 4-1 third choice in the wagering.
The last words go to the trainers of Tactitus and Mucho Gusto.
“I’ve been doing this a long time, and when they fire a good shot like that, and they try, you’ve got to be pleased,” said Bill Mott, who conditions Tacitus. “I want to win, but I don’t know how I could have turned it around today. I think we made the right choice putting blinkers on him. My horse was brave. No regrets.”
“He’s trying,” Jim Barnes, assistant to Bob Baffert, said of third-place Mucho Gusto. “These are tough races we’re competing in. He ran a great race. We had reason to jump in the end and root for him. Take nothing away from the winner. He just breezed by us.”