By Richard Rosenblatt
Somewhat reluctant to head out West for the 36th Breeders’ Cup, knowing full well history does not bode well for East Coast runners at Santa Anita Park, Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey found he had no choice – Code of Honor has been that impressive.
The 3-year-old Code of Honor seems to be the rising star in Saturday’s $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic, the grand finale of the two-day, 14-race, $30 million racing extravaganza.
While Code of Honor may not go off as the favorite in the 1 ¼-mile Classic, he is more than deserving of the accolades he’s receiving.
“For me to see his development, not only mentally but physically, too, has been something I’ve seen in very few horses,’’ said the trainer of stars that include Personal Ensign, Easy Goer and Lure, who gave McGaughey his only Breeders’ Cup win at Santa Anita (from 18 attempts) in the 1993 Turf. “As much as he’s grown up, as much as he likes doing what he’s doing, is something.”
The Classic features a wide-open field of 11, with an added bit of intrigue as Elate attempts to join the great Zenyatta as the only females to win the prestigious race.
Code of Honor’s credentials are quite excellent despite this crazy 3-year-old season. After winning the Fountain of Youth (G2), the chestnut son of Noble Mission ran third in the Florida Derby (G1). In the Kentucky Derby, he finished solid third but was elevated to second after first-place finisher Maximum Security was disqualified for interference and second-place runner Country House was declared the winner.
After sitting out the Preakness (G1) and Belmont Stakes (G1, Code of Honor has won three in a row – the Dwyer (G3), the Travers (G1) and the Jockey Club Gold Cup (G1) when he was bumped by first-place finisher Vino Rosso, who was DQ’d to second.
The star power in this Breeders’ Cup is strong in several other races Saturday, starting with unbeatens-in-2019 Bricks and Mortar in the $4 million Turf, Midnight Bisou in the $2 million Distaff and Sistercharlie in the $2 million Filly & Mare Turf. These three are far from alone, with the $1 million Dirt Mile featuring former-Derby favorite Omaha Beach and beaten Derby and Preakness favorite Improbable. And there’s the $1 million Sprint, with a stellar field that includes Mitole, Imperial Hint, Catalina Cruiser and Shancelot.
Horse of the Year honors may not be on the line in the Classic, but not so in the Turf and Distaff. Bricks and Mortar, trained by turfmeister Chad Brown, is 5-for-5 this year, and has been training topnotch since winning the Arlington Million (G1) in his most recent start. The 5-year-old son of Giant’s Causeway is the 9-5 favorite in a field that includes Euro challenger Anthony Van Dyck (3-1), trained by Aidan O’Brien. Irad Ortiz, Jr., has the mount. The question is whether Bricks and Mortar can win at 1 ½ miles in his first attempt at the longer distance in the final race of his career.
“If he runs in this race the way he’s been settling, he’s going to run quite well,’’ Brown said. “It’s a solid field and there’s several horses in there who if they run their best race, they’re going to be equally as tough.”
In the Distaff, trainer Steve Asmussen has high hopes that Midnight Bisou (7-for-7) can complete an unbeaten season before heading into the sales ring next week. The 4-year-old daughter of Midnight Lute is the 6-5 favorite with Hall of Famer Mike Smith – a five-time Distaff winner — aboard. She doesn’t win by much, and faces a strong field that includes Blue Prize, Dunbar Road, Ollie’s Candy and Paradise Woods, who is trained by John Shirreffs, who sent out Zenyatta to win the Classic 10 years ago.
Omaha Beach made a winning comeback from a series of setbacks that kept him out of the Triple Crown races, and trainer Richard Mandella says the Dirt Mile fits best.
“He’s certainly talented enough for the Classic, but the proper thing is the mile,” Mandella, a winner of nine Breeders’ Cup races, said. “The Classic may have been asking too much.”
Don’t rule out Catalina Cruiser, either. He’s 7-for-8 overall and unbeaten in three starts this year.
“Other than the Breeders’ Cup last year, he’s won everything so he’s doing well,” said trainer John Sadler, referencing Catalina Cruiser’s sixth-place finish in last year’s Dirt Mile. “We’re looking forward to this one on Saturday.”
Sistercharlie, also trained by Brown, comes into the Filly & Mare Turf with a six-race winning streak dating back to last summer. The 5-year-old mare comes into the race after winning the Flower Bowl Invitational (G1).
And the Filly & Mare Sprint featured the likes of Covfefe, a winner of five of seven this year, taking on the likes of Bellafina, Come Dancing, Spice Perfection and Kentucky Oaks winner Serengeti Express.
McGaughey is looking for his first win the BC Classic.
“There are two really major races in the United States that I haven’t won, the Preakness and the Breeders’ Cup Classic,” he said. “I’ve been close in both of them, so they’re both on my list. I hope that maybe this year we can get the one behind us.”
|Updated Nov 01, 2019 17:00 EST . |
All odds are fixed odds prices.
|2||Seeking the Soul||20/1||+2000|
|4||War of Will||20/1||+2000|
|11||Code of Honor||4/1||+400|
Over the years while working at The Associated Press, Rich Rosenblatt became a familiar name to legions of the horse racing fans and industry insiders with his award-winning articles on horse racing and his stories from the backstretch.
In addition to being an astute observer of sports, Rosenblatt is the co-author of The All-American Chili Cookbook. His work has been seen in just about every publication in the world, including The New York Times, The Washington Post and Time Magazine.