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The Conscience of Thoroughbred Racing


With a wide sweep on the far turn at Saratoga, the momentum carrying him seven paths wide into the straight, the newly matured and much improved Code of Honor gave a memorable performance worthy of a midsummer classic celebrating its 150th birthday.

In doing so, a grandson of Galileo overcame his sprint-throwing bottom-side, finishing up in the Travers as if he were looking for a mile and a quarter all this time.

Code of Honor Wins the 150th Travers Stakes

Now maybe some of his doubters will return to the Kentucky Derby video and watch his third place performance, not the controversial incident. His effort never got the credit it deserved.

But it was more the time that his trainer, Shug McGaughey, a veteran of three Travers victories, that gave the colt that made all the difference and suddenly last summer’s Saratoga maiden breaker returned to gain his first lifetime Grade 1 title.

The tipoff that Code of Honor was coming to himself came in his next start following a break. Never mind that speed toward the inside was working best on July 6th at Belmont Park, and he came storming down the middle of the Elmont strip.

It was the power and strength on display, elements that were missing earlier this year as he tip-toed down the Derby trail. As he grew mentally and physically, he had a teacher who was patiently bringing him along.

Johnny didn’t need a whip in the Dwyer Stakes and didn’t need one Saturday. All the Hall of Famer did was win two other graded stakes on the card and second Travers by avoiding trouble and allowing Code of Honor, the best horse, to do his job.

Travers favorite Tacitus was without an excuse this day, ran his race, a good effort, out-finishing Mucho Gusto who gets props because he was on top of Tacitus’ pace all the way and fought him right to the wire. The blinkers helped the big gray, but he had to settle for place once again.

Fourth finisher Endorsed is also beginning to show continued development. The Travers was his fifth lifetime start and he almost ran over the top of the second and third finishers late, his long and strong strides running right through the finish line.

So now, with Mucho Gusto as the yardstick, Code of Honor has entered Maximum Security territory and, unless the Derby first comes back to win the Pennsylvania Derby, or Game Winner gets his first big victory of the year, or if-and-when Omaha Beach returns, Code of Honor rates to lead the division at season’s end.

The real test, of course, will be the elders. We’re looking forward now, just like the colt.

G1 FOREGO:  Mitole is back! Then again, maybe he never left.

He did, after all, have the track—and possibly the distance going against him last time, in that Steve Asmussen has been gradually stretching him out, culminating with a sensational Met Mile score.

So, in turning back to three-quarters, he might have been a little speed-dulled. Or, perhaps the Met was so enervating that there might not have been enough left in his tank.

In the 7-furlong Forego, he rendered all scenarios moot. Rather than engage in a suicide duel, both he and Luis Saez on Promises Fulfilled managed to slow it down to a tad over 23 seconds. Mitole had plenty left in the tank, and it was Promises Fulfilled who emptied out before reaching headstretch.

Mitole Wins The Forego Stakes

In winning the Forego comprehensively, Mitole lowered the Forego Stakes record. It’s a treat to see him race when there’s some money on the line; he’s all race horse.

GI BALLERINA: Class, courage, Castellano and Carlos.

Horses break slowly all the time and most of the time that’s enough to get them beaten. Then to mid-move into a moderate pace set by a couple of good horses, also won’t get most jobs done. But to loop, clean, then eventually widen?

Well, that’s a credit to the filly, Come Dancing, to both her class to overcome and courage to sustain a run under trying circumstances, mostly on her own ability.

Come Dancing Wins The Ballerina Stakes

It was Javier Castellano’s experience to make it all happen, never panicking after the poor start and Carlos Martin, by Jose Martin, and grandsire Frank Martin, with his Hall of Famer pedigree, was bred to know how to handle a good horse.

And Come Dancing is a good horse, and one of the early favorite of the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint, all expenses paid. Good show, a very good show.

G1 H ALLEN JERKENS: They live, they breathe, they are not machines.

After his freakish performance in the G2 Amsterdam, Shancealot came back to earth when pitched at the Grade 1 level. 

The track announcer said he broke well and rushed up for the lead. Well, he didn’t catch the flyer he did from the outside slip in the Amsterdam, he was a little tardy from the pole position. It was a perfect example of why trainers don’t like to draw the rail.

Especially at 7 furlongs, where the inside can be a detriment. See the two previous Grade 1s at the same trip. Twenty-three was not a soft pace going seven-eighths at the Spa this day.

In midstretch, the water got very deep for the formerly undefeated speedster. Emisael Jaramillo, a brilliant speed rider, could not coax enough to get to the wire first. But Johnny had enough guile to coax enough from Mind Control, getting the head-bob at the finish.

Mind Control Wns The H. Allen Jerkens Stakes

And Mind Control had some luck coming. Two back was a tough go but his last at Laurel? It’s worth going back to the replays to see what might have been the Bad Trip of the Year.

Credit Greg Sacco for taking Mind Control off the classics trail, concentrated on one-turn races and was rewarded with the colt’s first Grade 1 victory. Somewhere, John Brunetti is smiling.

G1 PERSONAL ENSIGN: The Race of Travers Day 2019

As the field of fillies and mares passed the 6 furlong pole, Jose Ortiz put his entire body on a swivel, wondering where, oh where, was Mike Smith.

At mid-turn, Ortiz could wait no more and set sail for the leader and her first lifetime victory over Midnight Bisou.

In midstretch, Elate had a two-length advantage on her rival but Midnight Bisou was coming…and coming…and coming.

In the final hundred yards they matched strides and did truly appear inseparable, and they really weren’t. It was only the latest run, the better turn of foot that enabled Midnight Bisou to hang one on her rival by the most desperate of noses,

Midnight Bisou Wins The Personal Ensign Stakes

Turn of foot prevailed over grinding power. Perhaps, if it were Elate running at Midnight Bisou instead of the other way around, the decision might have gone the other way.

Midnight Bisou, winning her sixth straight, remaining undefeated in 2019, got the money and the glory. Elate and her connections was left was a heart breaking loss, a race in which, if the photo had gone the other way, the vanquished did not deserve to lose.

The video of the 2019 Personal Ensign, the Race of Travers Day 2019, needs to be placed in a time capsule, right alongside of the race’s namesake, who remained undefeated in the near-darkness of a gray afternoon at Churchill Downs in 1988.

Tomorrow: The Sword Dancer, Ballston Spa and Del Mar’s G2 Pat O’Brien

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4 Responses

  1. I’m puzzled. Asmussen said he might have brought Mitole back too quickly—7 weeks—when he lost last time.
    This time he comes back in 3 weeks and runs huge.
    Go figure.🤔

  2. TJ, didn’t get that myself. Maybe what he really meant is that he should have waited for the Forego–not for the extra time but, as noted above, turning back from a gut wrenching mile to three-quarters at Saratoga where getting away from the barrier is so, so important, that he brought him back in the wrong spot after the Met Mile.

    Then again, it’s all trainer-speak, barns where all horses are training unbelievably and could not be doing any better. Of course, “he showed us he was special from day one.”

    Forget it, it’s Chinatown.

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