01/06/2016 11:57AM

2015 Eclipse Awards: Honor Code

Barbara D. Livingston

If at all possible, an Eclipse Award should not come down to a single race. The season is long. The opportunities are many. And every racehorse deserves more than one chance to prove his championship worth.

In 2015, however, there was such a race, or at least it seemed that way at the time. The date was Aug. 8 at Saratoga, the race was the $1.25 million Whitney Stakes, and all the right players showed up.

Honor Code and Tonalist had finished first and second in the Met Mile. Liam’s Map was the fiery newcomer on the rise. Lea was a contender every time he ran. And the last time stablemates V. E. Day and Wicked Strong came over for the same race at Saratoga was in their 1-2 Travers finish the year before. How deep was the field? Moreno, the defending Whitney champ, was 19-1.

:: 2015 Eclipse Awards: Finalist profiles

As it turned out, the Whitney belonged to just two horses, both at their very best. Liam’s Map ran fast and free with the lead under Mike Smith, while Javier Castellano allowed Honor Code to disappear off the television screen at the back. Around the final turn, with Liam’s Map still clearly in command, Honor Code began a long, steady run, knifing inside and through the field until he arrived at the top of the stretch under a full head of steam.

There are few duels more entertaining than the stubborn front-runner pitted against a dedicated closer. The fast pace did not seem to phase Liam’s Map, nor did the vast ground between them appear daunting to Honor Code. In fact, Honor Code seemed inspired, even inside the final sixteenth of a mile when Liam’s Map looked like the winner. What Honor Code found in those final yards to score by a neck defines bravery in a racehorse. Often, a championship goes with it.

Still, Honor Code was hardly a one-trick pony. The injury that sent him to the sidelines in the spring of 2014 kept him away from the races for eight months, which meant that his 2015 campaign effectively began in November 2014, when he returned for trainer Shug McGaughey to win an allowance race at Aqueduct.

By the time the summer of 2015 rolled around, Honor Code, who was bred in Kentucky by Dell Ridge Farm, had stamped himself as a world-class miler, with victories in the Gulfstream Park Handicap and the Metropolitan Handicap. There was a suggestion that the son of A.P. Indy could not produce the same results going nine furlongs. But then they ran the Whitney, and the talk died down.

Honor Code ended his career on a quiet note with third-place finishes in the Kelso Handicap and the Breeders’ Cup Classic. He was retired to the Lane’s End Farm of his owner, William S. Farish, where he will be standing alongside Liam’s Map and Tonalist. Anyone for a Whitney rematch?