HALLANDALE BEACH, FL – W. S. Farish’s homebred Code of Honor bounced back in a big way on Saturday, grinding hard the length of the stretch to get up at the wire and take the Xpressbet.com Fountain of Youth Stakes (G2) at Gulfstream Park.
Breaking from the rail under John Velazquez at 9/1 odds, Code of Honor soon settled in fifth while the 6/5 favorite Hidden Scroll dueled with longshot Gladiator King through opening fractions of :22.80 and :45.69. Heading into the far turn, Gladiator King soon gave way, but Global Campaign made his bid for the front. That effort was short-lived, however, as he began weakening before the top of the stretch.
Behind them, Code of Honor was gearing up for his run, but he had to wait momentarily for room: Global Campaign was beginning to back up ahead of him and Vekoma was along his outside, keeping him trapped. Velazquez spotted an opening between the retreater and the rail and placed Code of Honor in proper position, then bumped with Global Campaign as he tipped out to chase down Hidden Scroll. With the hot early pace having taken its toll on the bettors’ choice, Code of Honor was able to shoot past in midstretch and continued running on strongly to claim victory. The Shug McGaughey trainee crossed with a 3/4-length advantage over a fast-closing Bourbon War in a final time of 1:43.85 for the 1 1/16-mile event over the fast main track.
“There was so much speed in the race, I was expecting a quick pace in front of us,” Velazquez said. “We broke well, got position into the first turn, and we held that position there. Once I was on the backstretch, I was very comfortable with the way he was doing things. By the 3/8 pole, I was a little uncomfortable – one horse was kind of backing up and the other one was kind of holding me there. I had to make kind of a premature move around the 1/4 pole, and I got there a little too soon to tell you the truth, but once he got in front, he opened up a little bit.”
Though he ran out of track en route to chasing after the winner, Bourbon War raced six-wide in the stretch to rally from towards the rear and take second by 2 lengths. Vekoma grinded his way up to third at the wire, necking out an empty Hidden Scroll.
“The trip was fine, but in the beginning, he showed too much speed,” said Hidden Scroll’s rider Joel Rosario. “He did that last time and he stayed on, but going two turns today for the first time, he got a little tired in the end.”
Global Campaign finished fifth, while Union’s Destiny closed from the rear to take sixth by a 1/2-length over Signalman, the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes (G2) winner making his 3-year-old debut. Everfast, Epic Dreamer, Frosted Grace, and Gladiator King completed the order of finish.
The Fountain of Youth is part of the Road to the 2019 Kentucky Derby prep race season. Code of Honor earned 50 points for the win, with Bourbon War receiving 20 for second, Vekoma 10 for third, and Hidden Scroll 5 for fourth.
Code of Honor’s win was his first since taking home his debut at Saratoga last August and improved his overall record to 4-2-1-0 with $384,820 earned. The 3-year-old son of Noble Mission followed his debut with a fast-closing second in the Champagne Stakes (G1) but was forced to miss the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) after coming down with an illness the day before the event. His 3-year-old unveiling came in the Mucho Macho Man Stakes here on January 5, but he faltered as the heavy favorite to finish fourth.
“After the Mucho Macho Man, I said, ‘Listen, we’re going to train him. If he takes it, he takes it,’ and he took it. He was doing good with what we were putting into him, so we kept doing it and we felt like he was going to come down here and run well. We saved some ground going around the first turn and he was just patient. We got the set up.”
With the 50 points earned all but promising Code of Honor a spot in the Kentucky Derby, McGaughey was unsure where he would make his final pre-Derby tune-up.
“There’s obviously three different spots,” he said. “The Florida Derby would be my preference. We’ve got to ship him an hour and a half down the road. But there is the Wood and Blue Grass. It’s not all the Kentucky Derby. If he takes us there, it’ll be fine, but we still got to do it again.”
Code of Honor returned $21 to win, $8.60 to place, and $5.40 to show. Bourbon War brought back $5 to place and $3.20 to show, while Vekoma paid $3.60 to show.