After a Dramatic Derby, Beckman Looks for Strong Belmont Performance from Honor Marie

Honor Marie sends trainer Whit Beckman to his first GI Belmont S. | Sara Gordon

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Whit Beckman was watching from behind the Churchill Downs winner's circle as the horses loaded into the gates for the GI Kentucky Derby. Honor Marie (Honor Code) was the trainer's first Derby starter and as the colt's odds dropped to 14-1 before the start of the race, Beckman liked their chances.

But as many a veteran Kentucky Derby trainer can attest, a lot can happen when it's a 20-horse field. Only a few moments after the gates sprang open and Honor Marie jumped out of the seventh stall, Beckman knew his horse had lost just about any chance of winning.

“From the four horse over to him and then from the 12, they all just kind of crashed right into him,” Beckman recounted. “He couldn't really get out of it. From the first three strides, he was getting jostled around so bad. He never really wanted to be all the way out in the back but at that point, it was kind of where we just ended up by default.”

The trip didn't get much better from there. Going into the first turn T O Password (Jpn) (Copano Rickey {Jpn}) swung out in front of Honor Marie, forcing jockey Ben Curtis to check and loose any hope of gaining a better position early.

“Even a couple times down the backside, Ben had to steady him,” said Beckman. “Just at no point in the race did he ever get 100 clear yards to run. Down the lane there were a couple of horses tiring in front of him, so he was weaving around them.”

As Honor Marie crossed the wire in eighth, it was a moment where all Beckman could do was throw up his hands, celebrate what they had achieved to get into the race and appreciate the heart their colt had shown in the face of adversity.

“Honestly the moments after the race were probably the best moments I had all week,” Beckman admitted. “We were really proud of him. He's a horse that always puts in maximum effort. Despite not really getting any room to run, I was really happy with it. Just being in that spot was incredible. We walked back to the barn and had a really nice evening. l was grateful for the experience.”

Honor Marie didn't officially turn three years old until Derby Day and in the weeks following the first leg of the Triple Crown, Beckman said the colt has matured by leaps and bounds physically as he prepares for the GI Belmont S.

Beckman explained that he would have been confident sending Honor Marie to the Belmont at a mile-and-a-half distance, but at a mile and a quarter, he believes it's the perfect spot for his trainee to put in a big performance.

Honor Marie breaks from the seventh position in the GI Kentucky Derby | Coady Media

“At this mile and a quarter, I think he's among the top 3-year-olds,” Beckman said. “I believe he's got a great shot to turn it around. If he gets a clean trip, he'll show up on the day. He's been training so well since the Derby and we're really excited to take him up.”

Honor Marie's ownership group includes Ribble Farms, Michael Eiserman, Earl Silver and Kenneth and Dave Fishbein. Kerry and Alan Ribble (profiled here) were partners in Legion Racing when Honor Marie broke his maiden on debut last September and they eventually purchased a majority share in his ownership.

“The Ribbles are great people–just real salt-of-the-earth, loyal people,” explained Beckman. “Having this experience with them has been great. They appreciate everything that's been going on and this is their first big horse.”

Honor Marie has put in three works since his Derby performance. In his final tune-up on Saturday with jockey Florent Geroux aboard, he worked four furlongs in :48.40 at Churchill Downs. Geroux will replace jockey Ben Curtis, who was sidelined by a broken collarbone in May, for Saturday's Belmont.

Honor Marie arrived at Saratoga on Monday morning. The Belmont will be Beckman's first time starting a horse in New York, but the horseman has spent plenty of time in Saratoga from his days working as an assistant to Todd Pletcher.

“I spent the bulk of my time in Saratoga with the babies,” Beckman recalled. “We would bring all the 2-year-olds up early in the spring and you would get so much experience with different levels and types of horses. Just being up there, everything is geared towards the racetrack. The community is totally integrated with the horses. With all the years I spent up there, it kind of feels like I'm going home in a sense because so many of my early days on the racetrack were spent in Saratoga. I'm excited to head back up.”

Beckman also worked for trainers Eoin Harty and Chad Brown and was a head trainer in Saudi Arabia before going out on his own in 2021.

While the stable gained steady moment, Beckman's operation was still in its early stages of development prior to this year. Beckman enjoyed early success with the likes of 2022 GII Jessamine S. third-place finisher Sabalenka (Good Samaritan), Grade III-placed Music Street (Street Sense) and 2023 Tapit S. winner Harlan Estate (Kantharos). But Honor Marie's win in last year's GII Kentucky Jockey Club S. and his subsequent performances on the Kentucky Derby trail, including a runner-up effort in the GII Louisiana Derby, helped Beckman burst onto the scene of rising trainers in Kentucky.

“He's been a huge horse for me,” Beckman said. “We just started less than three years ago and [at first] we kind of struggled. At the end of the day, one horse can make the difference between one level to the next. We feel like he's always been that type horse. I think he's waiting on his day to really put himself in the big spots, but I know it's coming. He's so talented and one of the things you can't really train is a trier. He'll put everything on the line and that's all I can ask for. I'm lucky to have him.”

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