by Jon White
August 29, 2019
In the days leading up to the Travers, Shug McGaughey expressed his confidence that Code of Honor was going to run a biggie in this important 1 1/4-mile event. And the chestnut colt did not let his Hall of Fame trainer down.
Ninth early in the field of 12, Code of Honor charged to the front leaving the eighth pole, then kicked away with gusto to win by three lengths at 4-1. Tacitus, always prominent while racing with blinkers for the first time, finished second as the 2-1 favorite. Mucho Gusto, who was 7-2 in the wagering and raced near or on the lead from the outset, came in third, a half-length behind Tacitus.
This was McGaughey’s fourth Travers victory. His previous winners were Easy Goer (1989), Rhythm (1990) and Coronado’s Quest (1998).
The record for most Travers wins by a trainer is five by Bert Mulholland (Eight Thirty in 1939, Lights Up in 1950, Battlefield in 1951, Jaipur in 1962 and Crewman in 1963).
Elliott Burch is the only other trainer to have won the Travers four times (Sword Dancer in 1959, Quadrangle in 1964, Arts and Letters in 1969 and Key to the Mint in 1972).
I was right to pick someone other than Tacitus to win this year’s Travers. He once again was a beaten favorite. This marked the third straight time in which Tacitus has had to settle for second as the betting choice. Tacitus also was the runner-up in the Grade I Belmont Stakes at 9-5 on June 6 and second in the Grade II Jim Dandy Stakes at 8-5 on July 27.
As for Looking At Bikinis, my Travers pick, his race essentially was over when he stumbled at the start. Instead of being in a forward position early, like Tacitus and Mucho Gusto, Looking At Bikinis was sixth in the early going before finishing next-to-last at 11-1.
Code of Honor’s Travers triumph thrusts him squarely into the discussion as to which 3-year-old male is going to get the Eclipse Award this year. Including the Travers, the Kentucky-bred son of Noble Mission (a full brother to the great Frankel) has three graded stakes victories to his credit this year. He won the Grade II Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream Park in March and Grade III Dwyer at Belmont Park in July. Code of Honor also finished second in the Grade I Kentucky Derby in May through the disqualification of Maximum Security.
Speaking of Maximum Security, he also is a leading contender for the Eclipse Award in the 3-year-old male division, thanks to his Grade I victories in the Florida Derby and Haskell Invitational for trainer Jason Servis.
And though Maximum Security officially did not win the Kentucky Derby, the Kentucky-bred New Year’s Day colt did cross the finish line first prior to having his number taken down. He was disqualified and placed 17th for committing a foul when he veered out sharply nearing the five-sixteenths marker to cause interference to War of Will, Bodexpress and Long Range Toddy. It was the first time in the 145-year history of the Kentucky Derby that a winner was disqualified for an incident during the running of the race.
At this point, I see Code of Honor and Maximum Security as co-favorites to get the 3-year-old male Eclipse Award. Interestingly, they are as close to being tied in this week’s NTRA Top Thoroughbred Poll as it can get, with just a single point separating them.
In the wake of Code of Honor’s win in the Travers, he moved into the Top 10 this week. He finds himself ranked just barely behind No. 9 Maximum Security.
Here is the Top 10 in the NTRA poll for this week:
Rank Points Horse (First-Place Votes)
1. 431 Bricks and Mortar (37)
2. 360 Midnight Bisou (5)
3. 336 McKinzie (2)
4. 298 Mitole
5. 277 Sistercharlie
6. 141 World of Trouble
7. 98 Elate
8. 87 Imperial Hint
9. 81 Maximum Security
10. 80 Code of Honor
In terms of 2019 Eclipse Award voting for 3-year-old male, I have Code of Honor and Maximum Security each at 5-2.
Maximum Security is scheduled to make his next start in the Grade I Pennsylvania Derby at Parx on Sept. 21.
McGaughey said Code of Honor will likely race next in the Grade I Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont Park on Sept. 28.
Here are my current odds regarding who will be voted the Eclipse Award for champion 3-year-old male of 2019:
5-2 Code of Honor
5-2 Maximum Security
6-1 Game Winner
6-1 Omaha Beach
10-1 Mr. Money
12-1 all others
In my estimation, beyond Maximum Security and Code of Honor, the next four who have the best chance of getting that award are, in alphabetical order, Game Winner, Improbable, Omaha Beach and Tacitus.
Game Winner, trained by Hall of Famer Bob Baffert, was voted the 2018 Eclipse Award as champion 2-year-old male. He had to miss the Travers due to a virus. In his most recent start, the Kentucky-bred Candy Ride colt won the Grade III Los Alamitos Derby by five lengths on July 13.
Improbable was sent off as the favorite in the Kentucky Derby and Grade I Preakness Stakes, but he finished off the board on both occasions. The Kentucky-bred City Zip colt, who also resides in the powerful Baffert barn, registered a 2 3/4-length win in Del Mar’s Shared Belief Stakes last Sunday. The Pennsylvania Derby is next for him.
Omaha Beach, conditioned by Hall of Famer Richard Mandella, has not started since he won the Grade I Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park last April 13. He was the morning-line favorite in the Kentucky Derby, but the Kentucky-bred War Front colt was withdrawn due to an entrapped epiglottis that required surgery. The hope had been for Omaha Beach to return in the aforementioned Shared Belief, but he missed that race due to an illness. The word now is he will go to Churchill Downs for the Grade III Ack Ack Handicap on Sept. 28.
Despite losing three in a row as the chalk, Tacitus is by no means out of the running for the 3-year-old male title. He does deserve some credit for running second in the Belmont, Jim Dandy and Travers. Earlier this year, the Kentucky-bred Tapit colt won the Grade II Tampa Bay Derby and Grade II Wood Memorial. Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott has indicated the Jockey Club Gold Cup probably is next for Tacitus. If Tacitus took the Gold Cup and then won or ran well in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, it quite possibly would be enough for him to nab the Eclipse Award as champion 3-year-old male.
Mr. Money, trained by Brett Calhoun, has been smartly managed to make a lot of money while beating up on opponents in Grade III races. The Kentucky-bred Goldencents colt has won the Grade III Pat Day Mile by 5 1/4 lengths, Grade III Matt Winn Stakes by 6 1/2 lengths, Grade III Indiana Derby by 2 1/2 lengths and Grade III West Virginia Derby by six lengths. If Mr. Money can get a Grade I victory before the end of the year, it would make him a contender for the Eclipse Award in this division.
One wild card in the chase for the Eclipse Award for champion 3-year-old male could be Valid Point. The Kentucky-bred Scat Daddy colt, trained by Chad Brown, is undefeated in three career starts, all on the grass. He stepped way up in class to win the Grade I Secretariat at Arlington Park on Aug. 10 in his stakes debut. If Valid Point manages to stay undefeated for the rest of the year and add more graded stakes wins to his resume, he might appeal to some Eclipse Award voters in a year in which none of the leading 3-year-old males on the dirt has won been perfect in 2019.
With his win in the Travers, Code of Honor took his game to a higher Beyer level. He was credited with a career-best 105 Beyer Speed Figure for his Travers performance. His previous top had been a 97 when he won the Dwyer and when he was placed second through disqualification in the Kentucky Derby.
Code of Honor’s 104 Beyer is better than any of Maximum Security’s figures to date. Maximum Security recorded a 102 Beyer when victorious in the Haskell and also when he won a seven-furlong allowance/optional claiming race at Gulfstream Park in February by 18 1/4-lengths.
These are the Beyer Speed Figures for winners of the Travers going back to 1990:
2019 Code of Honor (105)
2018 Catholic Boy (104)
2017 West Coast (108)
2016 Arrogate (122)
2015 Keen Ice (106)
2014 V.E. Day (102)
2013 Will Take Charge (107)
2012 Alpha (100)*
2012 Golden Ticket (100)*
2011 Stay Thirsty (101)
2010 Afleet Express (105)
2009 Summer Bird (110)
2008 Colonel John (106)
2007 Street Sense (108)
2006 Bernardini (116)
2005 Flower Alley (110)
2004 Birdstone (108)
2003 Ten Most Wanted (112)
2002 Medaglia d’Oro (113)
2001 Point Given (117)
2000 Unshaded (109)
1999 Lemon Drop Kid (110)
1998 Coronado’s Quest (107)
1997 Deputy Commander (110)
1996 Will’s Way (114)
1995 Thunder Gulch (110)
1994 Holy Bull (115)
1993 Sea Hero (109)
1992 Thunder Rumble (109)
1991 Corporate Report (109)
1990 Rhythm (104)