12/10/2015 2:18PM

Crist: Class of 2014 looking better all the time


Once maligned as subpar and ordinary, the 3-year-olds of 2014 have turned out to be a better and deeper group than anyone expected.

Last year, they dominated the showdowns with older horses, winning the Pacific Classic, Jockey Club Gold Cup, Awesome Again, and Breeders’ Cup Classic, fielding three deserving Eclipse finalists in California Chrome, Bayern, and Shared Belief. This year, an entirely different trio from the same crop will compete for the older-male Eclipse after ruling the division while combining to win the Met Mile, Whitney, Woodward, Jockey Club Gold Cup, Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile, and Cigar Mile.

Honor Code is likely to triumph over Liam’s Map and Tonalist for the title, just as he did on the track. Any of the three would have been a worthy champion in many a recent season, when good older dirt males were in distressingly short supply – so much so that grass horses were awarded the Champion Older Male title three years in a row, and the category was renamed Best Older Dirt Male to keep that from happening again.

This year’s trio, however, is a strong one and no grass horse would have been a finalist if the old rules still applied. Honor Code’s Met and Whitney were brilliant, Liam’s Map’s Dirt Mile was heroic, and Tonalist was the ultimate versatile professional. All three of them ran Beyer Speed Figures of 110 or higher at least twice this year.

The three will be bound together going forward as well. When the older-male Eclipse is announced in Florida on Jan. 16, these three likely finalists will be under the same roof in the stallion barn at Lane’s End Farm in Lexington, Ky, where they are entering stud simultaneously after being retired there in recent weeks. It is an extraordinary bet on three sire prospects from the same class, but there’s good reason to be excited about the possibilities.

Honor Code’s pedigree is as good as it gets: He is a beautifully bred colt from the final crop of A.P. Indy, the most influential sire of his generation, from the Storm Cat mare Serena’s Cat, whose maternal granddams were the champion fillies Terlingua and Serena’s Song. A.P. Indy has been a sensational sire and grandsire of sires, a group that includes Pulpit, Tapit, Malibu Moon, and Bernardini.

“Tapit is the most important stallion in America and Tonalist is his best son,” said Bill Farish of Lane’s End, which also bred and raced A.P. Indy, in the retirement announcement earlier this week. “Tonalist is his only Grade 1-winning son at a mile and a quarter, from a tremendous female family. He’s exactly the kind of stallion we want to stand.”

Pedigree aside, Tonalist is one of the few horses in recent racing history to win Grade 1 races at a mile (Cigar), a mile and a quarter (two Jockey Club Gold Cups), and a mile and a half (2014 Belmont Stakes.)

It’s going to be a lot of fun to see what happens when the first sons and daughters of Honor Code, Tonalist, and Liam’s Map (by Unbridled’s Song) hit the racetrack as 2-year-olds of 2019 – even more so because they will be in the same foal crop as the first runners by another new sire you may have heard of, American Pharoah.

This year’s Triple Crown and Breeders’ Cup Classic winner is also beginning his stud career in Lexington in 2016, at Coolmore’s Ashford Stud. Despite being more modestly bred than Honor Code or Tonalist, the Pioneerof the Nile colt’s historic achievements on the racetrack in 2015 have launched his stud fee into the stratosphere at an alleged $200,000. That’s five times the $40,000 fee for which Honor Code and Tonalist are standing, and eight times Liam’s Map’s initial stud fee of $25,000.

Those differences seem preposterous at first glance, but you never know. In 1979, another Triple Crown-winning front-runner with a middling pedigree went to stud amid widespread skepticism that a son of Bold Reasoning and a Poker mare would become an important sire. His name was Seattle Slew, and he begat A.P. Indy, who begat Pulpit, who begat Tapit, who begat Tonalist. Watching these dynasties unfold over the decades is one of the true joys of Thoroughbred racing.

happyhorseracin More than 1 year ago
Is this actual news or an actual observation or just shilling for Lanes End? Hmmmm.
Ray Sousa More than 1 year ago
i guess this is a confession on how wrong most of the drf writers were about the crop. they usually are.
Kristopher Marshall More than 1 year ago
Shared Belief deserves a mention. The first 3 months of the year count too.
Jay More than 1 year ago
The Honor Code/Tonalist exacta handicappers are still sore 6 weeks after the BCC.
Frank More than 1 year ago
Now that would of been a true race: Honor Code, Liams Map, Shared Belief, American Pharoah, and California Chrome -- that would of been the exact order of finish to I believe.... Instead Horse Racing sold us out w/AP since they needed a TC winner -- Horse Racing's new Reality Show that was even capped off with the show's new coined term -- The Grand Slam!
Jay More than 1 year ago
Honor Code lost his last 2 races by a total of 15 lengths. Liam's Map had his chance of entering in the BCC, instead he dodged it. Shared Belief and California Chrome had their chance in the 2014 BCC and they both finished behind Bayern and Toast of New York. The one time Shared Belief traveled outside of California to race, he fractured a bone and didn't finish the race.
TomPHickey More than 1 year ago
Thinking that Honor Code or Liam's Map would have beaten Shared Belief is lunacy. I mean that in the nicest way. :)
Joel Firsching More than 1 year ago
The vets pockets are getting bigger and bigger. More and more meds/peds and more injuries to the top dirt horses the last two years. Even the four horses listed here had their problems. The top four finishers in the 2014 breeders cup classic were all three year olds who fell to injuries this year. Da plague is alive and well in da dirt division. Isnt it bad, when we all of the sudden have four sires with huge stud fees ? Price and demand says Larger prices means fewer well bred horses.
BearsyZoo More than 1 year ago
I'd take Tonalist or Honor Code over American Pharoah any day. And the price is right.
Ray Sousa More than 1 year ago
so you lost big on breeders cup day.
Frank More than 1 year ago
And I'm sure you cashed a big won Ray -- Cause you had Effinex for 2nd since you knew all about the big fix and how it was going down...
SaratogaBob More than 1 year ago
Touche Steve.