Iselin puts Code of Honor back in the win column

Racing for the first time in seven months, Code of Honor won for the first time in six starts, proving much the best in the Grade 3, $250,000 Philip H. Iselin Stakes.

Code of Honor traveled sweetly throughout the 1 1/16-mile Iselin and jockey Paco Lopez, who has been putting on a riding clinic this summer, made the most of his live mount. Lopez left his rail spot stalking the pace from mid-pack at about the five-furlong marker, keeping the best horse in the Iselin out of trouble. From that point, Code of Honor’s six opponents were in trouble. The even-money favorite won by 2 1/2 lengths, breezing across the finish in what looked like a perfect comeback run for a horse whose connections will chase bigger game in the autumn.

“This is the first time he has run in a long time,” said Shug McGaughey, who trains Code of Honor for his breeder, William Farish. “With my training, I don’t try to overdo it. I think he could have been drifting out a little at the end. Maybe he was getting a little tired, I don’t know. But we got it in him, and we got a win and hopefully we can go on to some other things down the road. We’ll see how he comes out of it, but I think it sets us up pretty good.”

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McGaughey didn’t name a race but mentioned an early October stakes at Belmont, which would be the Oct. 2 Woodward over nine furlongs, as Code of Honor’s likely next stop, all being well.

It’s easy to forget what a rising star Code of Honor seemed two Augusts ago, when he won the Travers, and a month later the Belmont stewards reversed his narrow defeat by Vino Rosso in the Jockey Club Gold Cup. Vino Rosso went on to win the Breeders’ Cup Classic, but Code of Honor finished a flat seventh in the race, didn’t start again until the following June, and while effective at times, has never quite gotten back to his peak.

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Saturday’s start was a step in the right direction. Code of Honor broke alertly and took Lopez – if not the other way around – right into the Iselin. Code of Honor settled in fourth while in front of him three horses, West Will Power, Brice, and I’m a G Six, volleyed for the lead. The first quarter-mile was slow, the second one considerably quicker for a half-mile split of 47.72, and by then Lopez had Code of Honor outside.

Going three paths wide around I’m a G Six and Brice, Code of Honor had the lead at the three-furlong pole. Into the stretch Lopez looked over his left shoulder, his right shoulder, saw nothing and was able to ease up on his mount the final half-furlong. Winning time was 1:42.38 over a fast track, good enough for a 105 Beyer Speed Figure. Code of Honor paid $4.

Phat Man was geared up for this race and Lopez said that was the horse he looked out for after making the lead, but Phat Man, rallying mildly and wide, never threatened the winner. West Will Power, running an odd race, and still a work in progress, came back on Phat Man and edged him by a neck for second.

“He’s a very nice horse,” Lopez said of Code of Honor. “He was strong. You could not tell he was off as long as he was. He was very comfortable the whole time.”

The 2021 Travers comes next weekend, harking back to Code of Honor’s high point, reached as a 3-year-old. Two years on, Code of Honor hinted he still could make a dent in the top of the older-male dirt division.

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