The “Road to the Kentucky Derby” takes us to the Empire Stake Saturday where nine young Thoroughbreds will go to the gate in the 99th running of the $400,000 Remsen Stakes (G2) at Aqueduct racetrack. Post time for the Remsen is 3:49 Eastern Daylight Time (EDT). Later that afternoon, the Derby Trail runs southwest to the Bluegrass State where 10 horses have been entered in the 87th running of the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes (G2) at Churchill Downs. Post time is 5:35 EDT.
Under the new tiered-point system implemented by Churchill Downs last year to determine which horses will qualify to enter the Kentucky Derby starting gate, the winner of the Remsen and Kentucky Jockey Club will each receive 10 points while the second-place finishers will receive 4 points, the third-place finishers will receive 2 points and 1 point will be awarded to the fourth-place finishers.
Trainer Claude “Shug” McGaughey, trainer of the 2013 Kentucky Derby winner Orb, will send the 9-5 morning-line favorite Honor Code to the starting gate. Since his impressive performance in the Champagne Stakes (G1) at Belmont Park, Honor Code has been working out good in preparation to run in the Remsen.
"He's done everything pretty well since the Champagne, and we're looking forward to running around two turns and stretching him out a little bit and see where it takes us," said McGaughey in an Aqueduct track news story by John Scheinman. "It will be interesting to see him going around two turns, a mile and an eighth and where he places himself," added McGaughey.
Honor Code has yet to win a stakes race. But, he showed early brilliance in his maiden debut, coming from dead-last, 22 lengths behind the leaders, to win the 7-furlong sprint by an impressive 4½-lengths over a sloppy track at Saratoga. Honor Code followed that performance with another dazzling come-from-behind rally to narrowly miss earning graded stakes honors in the Champagne Stakes by a neck.
Although Honor Code has not won a stakes race, he has the breeding to be a stakes-caliber Thoroughbred.
His sire, A.P. Indy, broke his maiden on his second attempt by 4-lengths, running 6½-furlongs at Santa Anita Park. He followed that brilliant run with a victory in a one mile allowance race and capped off his 2-year-old racing season with a narrow win by a neck in the 8½-furlong Hollywood Futurity Stakes (G1).
As a 3-year-old, A.P. Indy won his season debut in the one mile San Rafael Stakes (G2) and followed that with a 1¾-length win over Bertrando in the Santa Anita Derby. On Kentucky Derby day, A.P. Indy was scratched with a sore hoof, but finished his racing season with wins in the Peter Pan Stakes (G2), Belmont Stakes (G1) and Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1).
The tail-female line of Honor Code is pretty good with the stakes winners Serena’s Cat, Serena’s Tune and, most notably, Serena’s Song, an outstanding multiple graded-stakes winning filly, who compiled a 18-11-3 record in 38 starts with $3,283,388 in career earnings.
Like Shug, I’m looking forward to see how well Honor Code performs in the Champagne Stakes.
Another horse I like in this race is Noble Moon who will go to the starting gate as a 6-1, morning-line long shot. Noble Moon is also stepping up in class and has yet to win a stakes race. He broke his maiden by three-quarters of a length in a 6-furlong sprint at Belmont Park on September 14. He followed that performance with a third-place finish in the one-mile Nashua Stakes (G2) at Aqueduct on November 3.
Noble Moon also has the breeding to be a stakes caliber racehorse. His sire, Malibu Moon, is the sire of Derby winner Orb and his damsire is the Classic Champion Thoroughbred, Kingmambo.
Long shot Afleet Accompli (20-1) and Cairo Prince, the 2-1, morning-line second choice, round out the exotics.
KENTUCKY JOCKEY CLUB
Trainer Patrick Byrne will send the prohibitive 6-5 morning-line favorite Almost Famous to the starting gate. Almost famous moves up in class and has yet to win a stakes race. However, he looked good easily winning an 8½-furlong race by six lengths at Churchill Downs on November 9.
Since his last race, Almost Famous has been working out good at Churchill and he repeats the performance of his last race, he should be competitive in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes.
Two horses I like a lot in this race are Notability (10-1) and Culprit (6-1), and both are trained by Dale Romans.
Notability comes into this race off of a second-place finish in his maiden debut when he lost by a half-length to Culprit running a mile at Churchill Downs on October 27.
Sired by English Channel, Notability is bred on the same Ancestral Herd nick of Optimizer who, with $916,747 in lifetime earnings, is English Channel’s best runner to date.
Culprit also moves up in class and has yet to win a stakes race. However, he also has the breeding to be a stakes-caliber Thoroughbred.
Street Sense, the sire of Culprit, won the 2007 Kentucky Derby and his damsire A.P. Indy won the 1992 Belmont Stakes (G1) and Breeders’ Cup Classic Stakes (G1). Seattle Slew, the grand damsire of Culprit, was the 1977 Triple Crown winner.
The pace figures and speed ratings for Notability and Culprit are on par with the figures for this race and if they repeat the performance of their last race, they should be competitive in the Kentucky Jockey Club.
Mygalsal (15-1) rounds out the exotics. Of all the horses in the race, Mygalsal has the most foundation and he’s only finished out of the money once with a 1-4-1 record in seven starts.
Mygalsal is a sire-line descendant of Mr. Prospector and he’s bred on the Ancestral Herd nick of Mr. Prospector over the Northern Dancer Ancestral Herd. That’s the same Ancestral Herd nick that produced the 2007 Kentucky Derby winner Street Sense.
Mygalsal’s tail-female line is reinforced by the Classic Champion Thoroughbreds Louis Quatorze, and Conquistador Cielo.
If Mygalsal moves forward and improves off of his last race, he should be competitive in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes (G2).