Kelso loss by Honor Code might lead to second guessing
Honor Code, the country's leading older dirt male in training, will enter the $5 million Breeders' Cup Classic (G1) later this month off a loss as the regally-bred four-year-old finished a non-threatening third in Saturday's $400,000 Kelso H. (G2) at Belmont Park.
Showing hesitation at being loaded and lingering well behind lone speed Appealing Tale, Honor Code came under strong urging approaching the quarter pole, circled wide for the stretch run and made a modest rally to earn the show. However, he shut down rather abruptly passing the wire.
Appealing Tale, invading from California and the apparent lone speed on paper, skipped over the sloppy conditions, posting fractions of :23.50, :46.35, and 1:09.89. Under Joe Talamo, the Peter Miller trainee finished up 1 3/4 lengths ahead of Red Vine while covering a mile in 1:34.86.
It's hard to pin the blame on Honor Code's loss to surface conditions as he captured his debut in the slop. He simply couldn't overcome that an improving horse in Appealing Tale, who captured the Pat O'Brien (G2) and finished a close second in the San Diego H. (G2) in his previous two starts, snuck out to an easy lead and exploited that advantage.
The decision to prep in the Kelso rather than the Jockey Club Gold Cup (G1) later in the afternoon might come under stronger scrutiny. While the Kelso made a modicum of sense for a horse that was a brilliant winner of the Metropolitan H. (G1), there still exists an inkling that Honor Code might not be that strong of a two-turn performer, his scintillating, last-second win in the 1 1/8-mile Whitney (G1) notwithstanding.
Those concerns will continue over the next several weeks heading into the Classic, which will mark Honor Code's first ever try at 1 1/4 miles. His main rivals, American Pharoah and Beholder, have both won over that distance this year.
On the flip side, trainer Shug McGaughey is in the Hall of Fame for a reason, and there certainly could have been valid reasons why he felt the shorter prep would be more conducive to success in the Classic than a potentially harder race in the 10-furlong Gold Cup. There is no guarantee Honor Code would have fared better in the Gold Cup, another race that appeared to lack much in the way of pace on paper.
Perhaps this indeed was the perfect prep for Honor Code, the point being for him to peak on Breeders' Cup Day and not in the Kelso. However, doubters of Honor Code's ability to prove best in the Classic now have a lot of ammunition following this lackadaisical lead-in.
Appealing Tale and Red Vine, both likely to point for the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile (G1), have maintained their solid recent form and will add depth to that feature.
(Appealing Tale photo: Chelsea Durand/Adam Coglianese Photography)