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The Conscience of Thoroughbred Racing


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.

Shug McGaughey, trainer of Code of Honor
Photo: NYRA YouTube

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.

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6 Responses

  1. Code of Honor hasn’t crossed the Rockies yet and probably never will.

    I doubt any horse’s campaign is ever based on “what’s good for the sport,” but I believe these connections avoid “what’s bad for the horse” in pursuing their agenda.

    However, It’s hard to imagine them passing the BC Classic if COH wins the Jockey Club Gold Cup easily, and continues to exhibit energy and enthusiasm. That WOULD be bad for racing.

  2. It’s all a dream we dreamed, one afternoon long ago…

    A “Box of Rain” of Mott and McGaughey in the Mud at Churchill. A Box of Sunshine of McGaughey and Mott at the SPA. The M & M boys competing like yesteryear’s Mantle and Maris.


    What if COH went old school Fall Championship Turfing like Secretariat? What if COH won the Joe Hirsch and skipped the Classic? A week later than the JCGC and a possible meeting with Bricks and Mortar? Noble Mission the sire of COH is a full brother to Frankel as you know. This could actually clinch HOY and 3yo honors and set up a fresh 4yo campaign of Pegasus, Met Mile, Whitney or Arlington Million, JCGC and Breeders Cup Classic. Lets remember COH was a May foal and is still a young horse, what’s the rush? It’s all moot because Shug will take it race by race and do what’s best for the horse.


    What’s bad for the horse is pushing too hard. It’s time to face facts. Horse racing is a different sport in the modern era of Lasix racing. The dehydration side effect from Lasix is a big concern. Look up the Vet List for the three days leading up to the Travers supplied by NYRA and the NY Gaming Commission. COH was the only horse in the Travers to not get pre treated by medication for dehydration or other ailments. Shug’s concern is for what’s good for the horse. The sport will actually be better off in the long run with a star like COH competing at full strength next year. Also, the spacing of the Triple Crown and placement date/venue of the Breeders Cup make no sense to even consider it a competitive sport anymore.


    Shug is quietly building a resume for all around G.O.A.T. trainer in the modern era. Baffert, Lukas and Pletcher mostly have dirt racing success. Brown mostly turf racing. Shug has both. Shug also has no drug violations. That combination puts him on top.

    Shug trails only Lukas in Breeders Cup races with nine wins. Shug has the Derby win and the Belmont win. He has three JCGC wins. A Met Mile win. A Whitney win. You name a stake on the biggest stage of racing, New York, he has it.

    With his 4th Travers win, Shug is now tied for 2nd with Elliott Burch who trained for Rokeby. Bert Mulholland who trained for Widener is at the top with five wins. It took a nose win by Jaipur over Ridan for Mulholland to remain at the top.

    He also trained an undefeated horse, the lady, Personal Ensign. Who beat the boys in the Whitney and the KY Derby winning filly in the BC.

    You know it had to be a bitter sweet couple of days for Shug and Mary Jane McGaughey. Winning the Travers but also knowing that their friend Randy Romero is stricken from cancer. Shug said that Personal Ensign was his career maker. Without Randy’s expert riding skills PE may never have accomplished what she did. In the last race of her career, the Breeders Cup on the Muddy Sloppy racetrack PE seemed helplessly stuck in place on the rail. Randy’s instincts guided PE out to the center of the track at the 3/8ths pole to nail Winning Colors at the wire. It capped a perfect season and probably the most exciting race of all time. A McGaughey/Lukas Box of Rain. Prayers to you Rajin Cajun, I love ya.

    The beat goes on…

    Look out of any window
    Any morning, any evening, any day
    Maybe the sun is shining
    Birds are winging or
    Rain is falling from a heavy sky,
    What do you want me to do,
    To do for you to see you through?
    For this is all a dream we dreamed
    One afternoon long ago

    Walk out of any doorway
    Feel your way, feel your way
    Like the day before
    Maybe you’ll find direction
    Around some corner
    Where it’s been waiting to meet you,
    What do you want me to do,
    To watch for you while you’re sleeping?
    Well please don’t be surprised
    When you find me dreaming too

    Look into any eyes
    You find by you, you can see
    Clear through to another day
    Maybe been seen before
    Through other eyes on other days
    While going home,
    What do you want me to do,
    To do for you to see you through?
    It’s all a dream we dreamed
    One afternoon long ago…

    Walk into splintered sunlight
    Inch your way through dead dreams
    To another land
    Maybe you’re tired and broken
    Your tongue is twisted
    With words half spoken
    And thoughts unclear
    What do you want me to do
    To do for you to see you through

    A box of rain will ease the pain
    And love will see you through
    Just a box of rain,
    Wind and water,
    Believe it if you need it,
    If you don’t just pass it on

    Sun and shower,
    Wind and rain,
    In and out the window
    Like a moth before a flame
    And it’s just a box of rain
    I don’t know who put it there
    Believe it if you need it
    Or leave it if you dare
    And it’s just a box of rain
    Or a ribbon for your hair
    Such a long long time to be gone
    And a short time to be there…

  3. Well, looking out my window about 72 hours from now may not be a good idea.

    Cat, the permutations are endless. It is, for those of us who are in it for more than the gambling, what makes the game so fascinating.

    Having options has not been a great thing, where nowadays you can duck the toughest competition and still earn seven figures.

    But it’s sure fun to speculate about, and that was the idea behind the piece; to get some of the fans thinking outside the box.

    But, I, you’re right. If Code of Honor wins the JCGC easily–possible, of course, but highly unlikely IMO–it would be a bad look if the connections skipped the Breeders’ Cup.

    Owner Will Farish, prominent breeder, would feel some obligation to support, well, you know, the Breeders’ Cup.

  4. Tabasco Cat has it right. Horses need more time to recover due to the debilitating effects of Lasix. A nation of horse drug addicts (and people but who gives a crap, they do it to themselves).

    Stop the drugging of horses now.


  5. T, most good-minded people in this industry are working toward that end. The world would never be perfect but it sure as hell could be better, and everyone should care about that, especially outside the gates.

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