I’m about to commit Thoroughbred heresy and, in the process, incur the wrath of racing fans, Breeders’ Cup, and Santa Anita Park.
But if the Travers winner comes back to win the Jockey Club Gold Cup, maybe he shouldn’t run in the 2019 Breeders’ Cup Classic.
My first reaction to Shug McGaughey’s initial remarks in the afterglow of Travers 150 was: “What?!” That probably was yours after reading the above. But there are considerations beyond starting Code of Honor in the 2019 Classic:
How about racing’s best interests—in 2020.
McGaughey initially was hesitant when discussing the remainder of Code of Honor’s 2019 schedule. His continually developing 3-year-old cracked the open NTRA Top 10 for the first time this week.
At first, Shug surprisingly was tentative with respect to a JCGC run. Twenty-four hours later, however, he was in. But as for November, there was talk of Aqueduct’s Discovery and G1 Cigar Mile, offering only that he knew “where the Breeders’ Cup is.”
If there is to be no Breeders’ Cup for Code of Honor, there are reasons why skipping the Classic is not necessarily a bad thing for the sport. Consider the possibilities at stake for Code of Honor’s present and future.
If, say, defending champion Game Winner were to win the Pennsylvania Derby, it would be his first Grade 1 this year and a small step on the road to a divisional title. He would need to win in Bensalem and Arcadia; one of two won’t do. And that might not be enough; a big ask either way.
Maximum Security? Have you heard anything about him recently? Seen any recent workouts, read any quotes from Jason Servis? Neither have I. Maybe it’s just me but I don’t consider his participation in Parx’s signature event a given at this juncture.
For any three year old to be 2019 Horse of the Year material, it cannot happen without a victory, or two, over Grade 1 elders, especially given the lack of consistency among this deep, talented but unreliable sophomore class. Now there’s a new and matured Code of Honor on the scene.
Maximum Security probably would nail down the three year old championship with one more Grade 1. The PA Derby could do it. If he subsequently lost to older horses, that defeat would not be held against him by divisional voters. It hasn’t in the past, anyway.
Now consider Code of Honor sweeping the JCGC and Classic. That would seal the divisional title and might be enough for Horse of the Year. The leader in that clubhouse now is turf specialist Bricks and Mortar.
And what if Midnight Bisou were to take on G1 males, and win, making her 7-for-7 this year. She certainly would earn legitimate support.
But what if Code of Honor won the JCGC and/or Classic and Cigar Mile, giving him three Grade 1s, a Grade 2 and a Grade 3 on the year, his four straight graded win. Added to his mandated Derby placing, that’s a strong resume.
But if he did somehow become the 2019 Horse of the Year, would Will Farish of Lane’s End do the smart thing and retire him at the top of his game? Farish certainly couldn’t be accused of being unsportsmanlike at that point, could he?
What if, however, he skipped the Classic after a possible JCGC win and came back to win the prestigious Cigar Mile? That might not be enough for a Horse of the Year title but it could set up a four-year-season that could include, say, the Pegasus, Dubai World Cup and then the Classic as a career finale?
Down the road thinking in this game can be folly, of course. But if he remains healthy, fills out his four-year-old frame, the sky might be the limit. This much we do know.
He’s been a different horses this summer; bigger, stronger and smarter, putting it all together. “He’s been running pretty good,” which is hyperbole for Shug. Then this: “I think we’re going to see more as a four year old, or at least I hope so.”
As most everyone knows, Code of Honor is a son of late developer Noble Mission, grandson of late developing Galileo and great grandson of late developing Sadler’s Wells, whose offspring have continued to thrive with maturity.
There plenty of time left for squeezing lemons. Either way, it’s a good problem to solve.