Honor A.P. Cracks the Genetic Code

Honor A.P. | Benoit


If someone new to our business asked you to pick a single race in 2015 that might explain the passion that consumes us, you probably wouldn't pick the processional exhibitions of a first Triple Crown winner in 37 years. You'd show them the GI Whitney S.

In a summer when hardly anyone will be able to renew the Saratoga pilgrimage, you may find the jolt of nostalgia too poignant to revisit the video yourself. But gosh, that was a horserace. Liam's Map (Unbridled's Song), flying just that fraction too close to the sun as he tore clear; and Honor Code (A.P. Indy), a perfect obverse of the same daring and brilliance, swooping out of his hiding place somewhere among the forests and lakes to ambush the leader in the very last gasp. It was as though Javier Castellano had flung a javelin through some flap of Mike Smith's silks, billowing in the forward rush, and skewered him to the winning post. Thwack.

In a just world, they might have shared a dead-heat. But then this race would also explain to the outsider how our endeavors are predicated on the simple fact that in order for somebody to win, everybody else has to lose.

Unless, that is, you happen to be reviewing the race from Lane's End. Here, it has turned out, everyone could be a winner. Honor Code was already in the farm's camp; and both Liam's Map and third-placed Tonalist (Tapit), who had been detached early with the winner, were also corralled there the following spring to launch their second careers together.

“It was an incredible race,” recalls Bill Farish of Lane's End. “Liam's Map deserved to win, he was just half a stride short of doing so, and Tonalist acquitted himself very well too. It was an interesting dynamic after the race, put it that way, with the other owners all being good friends.”

All three horses had rooted their racetrack excellence in aristocratic pedigrees and, while it is still early days, their first sophomores do seem to be working on a pretty exciting replica of that Saratoga melodrama.

Once again, it has been Liam's Map who has made the explosive start. Two Grade I winners among his first juveniles last year qualified him for a hike in fee to $35,000 from $20,000; Honor Code, in contrast, lay off the early pace after drawing a black-type blank and was dropped to $30,000 from $40,000.

But with his sumptuous pedigree, maturing horses round a second turn were always going to show Honor Code in a better light. Sure enough, he now has a spectacular flagbearer in Honor A.P.–whose GI Santa Anita Derby success last Saturday qualifies him as one of the favorites for a GI Kentucky Derby that should, on its new date, prove tailormade to his later development.

Those of us who deplore the puerile impatience of the commercial market today will be delighted for those who kept the faith with Honor Code–whether at the yearling sales last fall, or with their mares this spring–despite his “failure” to produce a series of 4 1/2-furlong maiden winners at Keeneland last April.

His flamboyant physique had been so eerily reproduced in his first crop that only American Pharoah had outpunched a $200,000 median/$220,303 average; yet those indices sank to $40,000/$75,494 as his second crop went to market. True, that kind of slippage is nearly universal nowadays; and Honor Code's average was overtaken, in their intake, only by Liam's Map himself and the overnight sensation, Constitution. Nonetheless, it beggars belief that a stallion of this profile should be condemned, in a single cycle, to a median worth just 20 percent of his opening score.

The guys at Lane's End have seen it all before, and faith in their rookies was never shaken by a quiet start. Liam's Map himself, after all, did not have a winner before Saratoga–but that was Basin, who promptly won the GI Hopeful S. on his next start. And then Wicked Whisper did much the same, winning on debut at the Spa before following up in the GI Frizette S. Honor Code did not have to seek far for an example, then, after likewise waiting until July for the first of 14 juvenile winners.

“How often does it happen that you have two Grade I winners in New York right out of the first crop?” asked Farish of Liam's Map. “That was an amazing start, and yet we kind of went from a few weeks before, when it was getting a little concerning, to all of a sudden, boom, boom, he gets a colt and a filly winning a Grade I race. So, no, we were never panicking at all with Honor Code. We had so much confidence in him, and had been so pleased with what his offspring looked like, and just felt they would come on as they got older.”

In the circumstances, however, the suspension of so much racing because of the pandemic was an especially tedious hindrance to a stallion whose stock would just be getting real traction.

“We said all spring and early summer that this would really hurt Honor Code,” Farish says. “Because we all felt like they'd be later developing 2-year-olds, early 3-year-olds. Not having racing during that crucial time, with horses like Honor A.P. and Max Player unable to run, really prevented him getting off to the kind of start I think he would have done [otherwise]. So it was just very gratifying to see how well Honor A.P. ran last weekend.”

If the market's absurd impetuosity put Liam's Map in the greater demand this spring, Farish is confident that Honor Code's “incredible books in years one, two and three” will consolidate and sustain the gains he is making now. Certainly it isn't hard to picture Honor Code elevating his fee far beyond its current level in years to come. Because here is a living, breathing exemplar of the basic tenets on which this whole business achieves its viability.

His elite genes, build and performance should together mean that Honor Code can only be a wholesome contributor to the breed. The same was true of his own sire, remember: A.P. Indy was the most expensive yearling of his crop and went on to become Horse of the Year. If there's any kind of validity to the lore agreed by generations of horsemen, then really Honor Code can't miss as a stallion.

There are, of course, extra dimensions specific to Honor A.P. Apart from anything else, he's out of a Grade I winner and, as a $850,000 Saratoga yearling for CRK Stable, qualified as the most expensive member of his sire's first crop. And then there's the sense of destiny vested in his name, a tribute to a grandsire whose passing in February, at the venerable age of 31, gave Honor A.P. an obvious cue to certify the continued vitality of the A.P. Indy dynasty.

Honor Code himself had been charged with a very similar duty, as one of 36 named foals in A.P. Indy's final crop. In each case, moreover, there is a vivid imprint. While Honor Code had an idiosyncratic brilliance, working his way through the gears from the rear, in physical terms he appears to have served as a bridge between his sire and his son.

“Honor A.P. has a lot of Honor Code in him,” he says. “And all three have a similar running style, with that low head carriage. But this horse [Honor A.P.] also resembles A.P. Indy in the way he used to look like he wasn't running fast, but was passing everybody just the same. A.P. Indy had that cadence about his stride, and this horse does the same thing: just gets that long stride going. Even though A.P. Indy himself wasn't that big a horse, he had a very long stride. Honor A.P. also seems to have A.P. Indy's tactical speed, compared with Honor Code who would come from farther back in the race.”

Of course, Honor Code also introduces a female family no less illustrious than that of A.P. Indy himself, his dam Serena's Cat (Storm Cat) having made $1.4 million as a weanling grand-daughter of Hall of Famer and elite producer Serena's Song (Rahy).

Quite apart from extending the Bold Ruler sire-line, then, Honor Code brings together two outstanding achievements, as an outstanding broodmare sire, of Bold Ruler's greatest son: both A.P. Indy and Storm Cat, of course, are out of Secretariat mares. (A.P. Indy's third dam Gay Missile, by the way, was by Secretariat's half-brother Sir Gaylord, himself a strong distaff influence, including through his sons.) Certainly anyone who wouldn't mind keeping a filly should be taking a very good look at Honor Code.

In his own youth, Honor Code wrapped his genes into such a traffic-stopping package–this big, glossy animal with a head that seemed to bear an invisible crown–that William S. Farish of Lane's End, who had co-bred A.P. Indy, was prompt to work a deal with Dell Ridge to keep him out of the sales ring and race him in partnership.

Admittedly, Honor Code's track career was not without its frustrations. Fast-tracked by Shug McGaughey from a debut success at Saratoga, he missed by a neck in the GI Champagne S. and instead settled, at two, for rallying past Cairo Prince (Pioneerof The Nile) in a crawl for the GII Remsen S. He then had to sit out the whole Triple Crown trail after suffering an injury in the spring, but regrouped at four and set up his epic Whitney display with a scarcely less dramatic swoop round the single turn of the GI Met Mile, feeding gratefully on white-knuckle fractions of 22.42, 44.92 and 1:08.74. (Runner-up Tonalist, incidentally, anticipated his own fine effort in the Whitney: proofs of toughness, class and versatility in the 2014 Belmont winner to be kept in mind by breeders, should they find Honor Code's fee moving beyond reach.)

Few animals in the breed's history would have been able to reel in American Pharoah with the start Honor Code gave the GI Breeders' Cup Classic field, but he did reach the podium and so sealed an Eclipse Award as champion older male.

George Krikorian's Hollywood Story (Wild Rush) was among the most distinguished of his first partners, and brings old-school influences–first three dams by Dynaformer, Never Bend and Swaps–and hardiness to the Classic credentials of Honor A.P. She won elite races at two (Hollywood Starlet) and five (Vanity H.) in a 27-race career for John Shirreffs, whose skilled hands duly obtain the additional merit of familiarity in dealing with Honor A.P.

Now 19, Hollywood Story's two most accomplished foals to date are both by another son of A.P. Indy in Malibu Moon–GII Saratoga Special S. runner-up Hollywood Star, and stakes winner Miss Hollywood–albeit her overall record is no more than middling, given her opportunities. These included an early date with A.P. Indy, but the resulting filly was unraced. Hollywood Story's stakes-placed dam (whose partners likewise tended to be very eligible types, following the achievements of her first foal) had herself produced two duds, more or less, from assignations with A.P. Indy.

It is only her grand-dam Huggle Duggle (Never Bend) whose racing and breeding record feeds at all immediately into Hollywood Story's distinction: she was a graded stakes winner on turf for Leslie Combs and dam of a German group winner/second dam of multiple graded stakes-winner Seattle Fitz (Arg) (Fitzcarraldo {Arg}).

But the next dam was a half-sister to Kentucky Oaks winner Silent Beauty, tracing to none other than Myrtlewood. And that great matriarch also has a foothold in both sides of Honor Code's own page: Mr. Prospector, sire of his grand-dam Serena's Tune, famously traces to Myrtlewood; and so does My Charmer, who gave us A.P. Indy's sire Seattle Slew.

Honor A.P.'s build and running style are clearly oriented to dirt, but you couldn't rule out his sire producing turf runners. European investment in the Serena's Song family has produced some top-class grass runners, and Honor Code's half-brother by Unbridled's Song is Noble Tune, a Grade II winner on the surface and also runner-up in the GI Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf.

In theory, at least, Honor Code's sparky acceleration–which was there from the outset, making up 22 lengths in the slop over seven furlongs on debut–might well have adapted to turf. True, the physical affinities between Honor A.P., his sire and grandsire have essentially combined into a low, powerful, raking stride tailored to dirt. But European breeders could do a lot worse than give Honor Code a chance to draw out his maternal line.

“He certainly could,” says Farish, asked whether Honor Code might prove at all versatile that way. “A.P. Indy did get some [turf runners]. Not too many at the top level, but it's certainly possible. A few trainers I've talked to have said they have [Honor Codes] that seem to prefer the turf. But it doesn't seem like the majority.”

Overall the direction of travel seems clear. Honor Code's first graded stakes winner, Max Player, set the template: he didn't surface until November, but progressed from his maiden success just before Christmas to win the GIII Withers S. in style. He is pointing to the GI Belmont S., so already you couldn't rule out Honor Code's debut crop taking two of this year's three Classics.

The A.P. Indy legacy was already long secure, both as a sire of sires and as a broodmare sire. The Lane's End roster itself reflects that, from Mineshaft (A.P. Indy)–himself now 21, a reflection of his sire's longevity–to West Coast (Flatter); from Mr Speaker (Pulpit) to Tonalist. The distaff footprint, moreover, is now embedded by Catalina Cruiser (Union Rags), whose dam is a daughter of Mineshaft; while the incoming Game Winner (Candy Ride {Arg}) is out of an A.P. Indy mare.

But there is no mistaking the extra fulfilment that would be shared by the whole Lane's End team, should it turn out that the great patriarch had reserved his most eligible successor until last.

In the Keeneland catalogue, Honor A.P. had actually been registered as Hollywood Hero. With his matinee idol looks, it made ample sense. But the script has since been turned over to a new studio. CRK Stable aptly anticipated a sentimental plot-line: the death of the grandsire, the accession of the sire, the emergence of a new prince.

“Honor A.P. is well named, for sure,” Farish says. “Getting such a top horse out of A.P. Indy's last crop was amazing enough. But if Honor Code could be a true heir to his legacy, it would be amazing.”

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