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The Conscience of Thoroughbred Racing

SHUG’S GREATEST HONOUR EMERGES FROM THE HOLY BULL A STAR IN THE MAKING

HALLANDALE BEACH, FL, January 31, 2021 — Really looked forward to getting back to Gulfstream Park Saturday, a week after the Pegasus World Cup festivities with a limited number of fans on hand–racing, as it was meant to be. In the Press Box much of the day, however, it felt more like watching-in-place at home.

It is fans that make Thoroughbred racing a sport. I always thought so, but now I believe that to be true more than ever.

The purpose of the visit was to whittle the Kentucky Derby watchlist down to a precious few and set out to do just that because I believed I had found a horse that might be really special. And I did. But now I’m even more confused because Greatest Honour wasn’t the horse I went specifically to see.

Don’t misunderstand. In Saturday’s handicapping advance, I indicated that both Prime Factor and Greatest Honour were extremely impressive in their maiden victories, noting too that the Greatest Honour had broken maiden in his second start going two turns, at the Holy Bull trip and on this track.

Greatest Honour delivered what only can be termed a wow performance. Now the problem is what to make of Prime Factor’s third-place finish.

As the horses returned for unsaddling, all the came back to the horse path area as Greatest Honour was showing himself off to a whole bunch of folks in the winner’s circle. Todd Pletcher, walking slowly and carrying his binoculars limply, walked trackside to great his runners.

Prime Factor had to be a major disappointment. Stablemate Amount, also quite impressive winning on debut and is a real looker, was a striking individual as he circled the ring pre-race, even if a bit on the quiet side. For his part, Great Honour stood out—sharp, but not too high, perfect really.

As Pletcher awaited the horses, Elliott Walden, CEO of 2020 Breeder of the Year WinStar Farm and co-owner of Prime Factor with China Horse Club, walked over to huddle up with his trainer and from my vantage point seemed to do most of the talking.

Pletcher, meanwhile, had just finished chatting up Irad Ortiz Jr, who also was feted at Thursday’s Eclipse Awards ceremony. Ortiz headed back to the jock’s room appearing a bit stunned by what just happened; When the real running started, Prime Factor had no response.

Meanwhile, younger brother Jose was granting interviews in the circle a sixteenth of a mile up the track, thankful that Luis Saez, who rode Greatest Honour to his maiden victory, had a previous commitment to ride Amount for Pletcher, saying how thrilled he was to get the mount back.

“I took some time off with my family,” Ortiz explained. “He won with Luis and lucky for me Luis had to ride Todd in this race and I was able to get back on. I’m very happy and thankful to ride him.”

And of the horse?

“In the beginning we had a very tough time with him. Shug deserves a lot of credit, and his exercise rider… Mentally he wasn’t in the right place but Shug did an amazing training job and the exercise rider, they combined together as a team as it should be. They made him a really, really nice horse.

McGaughey had the same view: “He was kind of a big clown all summer. We got him ready to run at Saratoga. Sprinting wasn’t going to be his bag, but I think those two sprint races sort of helped him to learn and learn how to finish.

Ortiz More Passenger Than Pilot at the Finish Line [Gulfstream Photo]

“He had a big race at Aqueduct and just got beat. He came here and his two races here have been very good. The distances helped too; two turns. I think the farther we go, the better.”

His work done, Greatest Honour came back to Ortiz on the gallop-out, his slender physique indicative of a horse that will get better “the farther we go.” Until we learn otherwise, we don’t know exactly what went wrong with the Pletcher horses.

Amount began his retreat from between horses at the far turn, was taken to the outside by Saez and was eased, out in the middle of the track. Showing no apparent unsoundness, the chances that he bled merit serious consideration.

But Prime Factor, in light of his eye-catching debut and subsequent company workouts, is hard to explain beyond the fact that horses don’t always bring their ‘A’ game. Given what was expected and displayed, it was more of a ‘D’.

Carried wide into the first turn, he came out of it well and took a perfect attending position as the speedy Willy Boi and California ship-in Tarantino, making an excellent effort on dirt debut, battled the early pace throughout. Ortiz was keeping Prime Factor out of the kickback, a perfect-trip third.

When Ortiz asked for more at the turn, he got insufficient response, and when he was attacked by the leader at headstretch, Greatest Honour joining him immediately at headstretch, a battle never materialized. The race was over with three-sixteenths left to run. The winner separated himself on his own.

McGaughey mentioned the FEB 27 Fountain of Youth as a possibility. He could run there and if he wins would have enough Derby qualifying points. A good-finish third in the Florida Derby would be enough to get him to the big dance on time, assuming all goes according to plan.

If he were ours, and I believed in him as much as Shug did prior to the Holy Bull, I’d freshen for the 1-1/18-miles Florida Derby, five weeks in advance of May’s first Saturday. The Florida Derby would be his fourth race around two turns. This is known as a nice problem to solve.

McGaughey had the same view: “He was kind of a big clown all summer. We got him ready to run at Saratoga. Sprinting wasn’t going to be his bag, but I think those two sprint races sort of helped him to learn and learn how to finish.

“He had a big race at Aqueduct and just got beat. He came here and his two races here have been very good. The distances helped too; two turns. I think the farther we go, the better.”

His work done, Greatest Honour came back to Ortiz on the gallop-out, his slender physique indicative of a horse that will get better “the farther we go.” Until we learn otherwise, we don’t know exactly what went wrong with the Pletcher horses.

Amount began his retreat from between horses at the far turn, was taken to the outside by Saez and was eased, out in the middle of the track. Showing no apparent unsoundness, the chances that he bled merit serious consideration.

But Prime Factor, in light of his eye-catching debut and subsequent company workouts, is hard to explain beyond the fact that horses don’t always bring their ‘A’ game. Given what was expected and displayed, it was more of a ‘D’.

Carried wide into the first turn, he came out of it well and took a perfect attending position as the speedy Willy Boi and California ship-in Tarantino, making an excellent effort on dirt debut, battled the early pace throughout. Ortiz was keeping Prime Factor out of the kickback, a perfect-trip third.

When Ortiz asked for more at the turn, he got insufficient response, and when he was attacked by the leader at headstretch, Greatest Honour joining him immediately at headstretch, a battle never materialized. The race was over with three-sixteenths left to run. The winner separated himself on his own.

McGaughey mentioned the FEB 27 Fountain of Youth as a possibility. He could run there and if he wins would have enough Derby qualifying points. A good-finish third in the Florida Derby would be enough to get him to the big dance on time, assuming all goes according to plan.

If he were ours, and I believed in him as much as Shug did prior to the Holy Bull, I’d freshen for the 1-1/18-miles Florida Derby, five weeks in advance of May’s first Saturday. The Florida Derby would be his fourth race around two turns. This is known as a nice problem to solve.

Coming Tuesday: An assessment of the Robert B Lewis Memorial, the So-Cal-based three-year-olds, and a brief take on the 2020 Eclipse champions

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2 Responses

  1. JP–
    How exciting to see a star emerge from the Holy Bull! Happy for Shug, and here’s hoping Greatest Honour stays sound on his way along the Triple Crown trail.
    Will you be commenting on the recently released study commissioned by the NYS Gaming Commission that, among other items, calls for closure of Aqueduct for 1 month in the winter and the consolidation of the regional OTBs?
    Chuck from Saratoga

  2. Have not read that study, Chuck. Outside free lance project taking up much of my spare time, which has been precious little in the first place, but will get to that at some point.

    Off the top. given the competition from Gulfstream, Santa Anita and Tampa, three very popular winter signals, it might make sense to close for a month and reopen with a bang; bigger fields of the better horses on the grounds to complete with the winter “giants.”

    Consolidation of OTBs seems to make sense, particularly if they merge their mobile, phone betting operations. With the exception of Capital OTB’s theater in Albany, which likely is still a fun go-to destination for socialization, distanced of course, and depending on the state of the virus.

    Damn, everything must be viewed through a prism of killer microbes!

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