03/07/2015 6:26PM

Honor Code uses powerful rally to win Gulfstream Handicap

Barbara D. Livingston
Honor Code, with jockey Javier Castellano up, rallied from far back to win the Gulfstream Park Handicap by half a length Saturday.

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. – Trainer Shug McGaughey, after watching the $300,000 Gulfstream Park Handicap on the television monitor and not seeing Honor Code in the picture down the backside, said, “I was about ready to go home.”

Fortunately, the Hall of Fame horseman stuck around to watch the rest of the race. Otherwise, he would have missed an incredible performance by Honor Code, who rallied down the center of the track from more than a dozen lengths behind to run down 6-5 favorite Private Zone and register a thrilling half-length decision in the Grade 2, one-mile fixture. Valid held on to finish third, a head in front of Wicked Strong.

Honor Code appeared to stumble briefly at the start, then dropped far off the early pace set by Private Zone and pressed from the outset by Valid. The leaders posted early splits of 23.51 and 45.96 seconds for the opening quarter- and half-mile, with Honor Code nearly 15 lengths behind at that point. 

Jockey Javier Castellano eased Honor Code outside while commencing his rally leaving the backstretch as the two leaders continued to battle up front. Honor Code then responded to steady urging while gobbling up ground down the center of the track, ultimately overtaking Private Zone near the wire.

Private Zone, making his first start since winning the Grade 1 Cigar Mile, held on resolutely along the inside to finish second under Carlos Marquez, who replaced regular rider Martin Pedroza when the latter was unable to secure a Florida license. Wicked Strong raced within easy striking distance through midstretch but lacked a final response.

Honor Code, a son of A.P. Indy owned in partnership by Lane’s End Racing and Dell Ridge Farm, completed a mile in 1:36.37 and paid $7.

“I got concerned when there wasn’t a 1 on the TV for a long time,” McGaughey said, referring to the number on Honor Code’s saddle towel. “It was the same thing when he broke his maiden at Saratoga. He was never in the picture, and I was thinking up excuses already. This was only his second race in a year. We’ve got to all remember that. To see him come back and run the way he did, dig down and run as hard as he did and gallop out the way he did, it’s a tribute to the horse and to the people [who work with him]. Everybody put their heads together, we were determined to get him back and see how good he is, and he showed us today.”

McGaughey said he is in no rush to bring Honor Code back off his gut-wrenching effort in the Gulfstream Park Handicap.

“I told the owners, ‘Please don’t make me run him back too quick because I know this had to take something out of him,’ ” said McGaughey. “We’ve got the Westchester Mile up there, but I don’t know what we’re going to do yet. I would seriously doubt the Carter would be something in the books because I don’t know I’d want to run him back that quickly.”