By Andrew Caulfield
As we are all being encouraged to recycle as much as possible nowadays, perhaps you will forgive me for re-using a promotional piece I was asked to write for Lane's End Farm in late-2014, after Frankel's younger brother Noble Mission had been added to the stud's illustrious stallion team.
“When Will Farish announced that Noble Mission has been recruited to join the stallion roster at Lane's End,” I wrote, “he made the point that 'many of the world's best stallions are in Europe and we feel the need to revert to the days of importing top-class European horses to stand in America. We're confident he can add to the long list of influential stallions like Nasrullah, Roberto, Nureyev, Lyphard, Kingmambo, etc., to become a successful stallion here.'
I added that Lane's End's owner could also have mentioned numerous other top-notch European turf performers which made a sizeable contribution to American bloodstock, such as Giant's Causeway, El Prado, Storm Bird, Blushing Groom, Riverman, Alleged and Caro.
Noble Mission has already started to repay Farish for his boldness, with Farish's homebred colt Code of Honor defeating sons of Tapit and Candy Ride to land the GII Fountain of Youth S. The owner's satisfaction must be made all the greater by the fact that Code of Honor's dam Reunited is a homebred daughter of the former Lane's End resident Dixie Union, himself a son of another Lane's End stalwart in Dixieland Band.
Code of Honor's future looks all the more rosy in view of the fact that his Fountain of Youth success was gained nearly three months before his actual third birthday, which is on May 23, 19 days after the Kentucky Derby. Trainer Shug McGaughey nominated the GI Florida Derby as his preferred target on the road to Churchill Downs.
It is worth pointing out that only seven colts have managed to complete the Fountain of Youth-Florida Derby double since 1990, but they include the champion two-year-old Fly So Free, the Kentucky Derby and Belmont S. winner Thunder Gulch, those excellent stallions Scat Daddy and Quality Road and the Kentucky Derby winner Orb. In other words, Code of Honor's future will look very bright if he manages to land the Florida Derby. Another Fountain of Youth winner was Union Rags, the Dixie Union colt who landed the Belmont S. after finishing third in the Florida Derby.
I find it interesting that McGaughey felt it necessary with Code of Honor “to get into him,” training him “a little harder and more frequent.” Noble Mission, of course, is a son of the great Galileo. When Chris McGrath interviewed Aidan O'Brien about the stallion who has been the source of so much of the Irishman's success, he was told that “Galileos never question anything they are asked” and they are usually sound enough to cope with a tough campaign.
Noble Mission fitted this description. After a single juvenile start, he raced a further 20 times over the next three seasons, with 15 of his races being Group events. However, his career wasn't as straightforward or predictable as that might suggest.
As a youngster he was considered to be more forward and precocious than his year-older brother but, whereas Frankel proved himself a champion at two, Noble Mission was held up by sore shins. And, whereas Frankel was campaigned at up to a mile as a three-year-old, Noble Mission was initially considered a Derby candidate, even though he ran out an easy winner of a maiden race over a mile on his reappearance at three.
Noble Mission was never to tackle a distance shorter than a mile and a quarter during the rest of his career and for a while he had his connections scratching their heads in puzzlement. When tried over a mile and a quarter he often gave the impression that he needed further, but when upped to a mile and a half he sometimes looked as though he didn't quite stay.
His comparatively disappointing four-year-old season coincided with the terminal illness of his trainer, Sir Henry Cecil., and Noble Mission was often steadied at the start in the hope that he would relax better. His new handler, Lady Cecil, eventually came to the conclusion that he would be better suited by more positive tactics and the five-year-old Noble Mission was transformed. Ridden in front, he won five of his last six starts, his only setback coming when he was forced wide from a high draw on a trip to Germany.
His victories included G1 successes in Ireland, France and England and he followed in Frankel's footsteps in winning the Qipco Champion S. on what proved to be his final appearance. His courage was very apparent at Ascot, when he held on most gamely to defeat Al Kazeem after a prolonged battle. Timeform summarised Noble Mission's performance on its website as “one of the gamest displays of recent years, a 140 performance if guts were quantifiable.” The time was also very fast, given the conditions, and Noble Mission and Al Kazeem recorded the two fastest Timeform timefigures of 2014.
The sectional times for the race didn't escape the notice of Lady Cecil, who reported to Juddmonte that Noble Mission's sectional times at Ascot bore favorable comparison to the Queen Elizabeth II S., run over a mile on the same card.
“I think the prospect of running him over a mile in G1 company would be very exciting,” she suggested. “So much of his improvement has been down to the style of running and I believe these assertive tactics would prove equally effective over the shorter distances. He has such a high cruising speed – not dissimilar to Frankel – that he could draw the sting from other milers.”
This suggestion was never tried, as Noble Mission was sold to Lane's End, to start his career at a fee of $25,000. In addition to Code of Honor's exploits on dirt, several other members of Noble Mission's first crop, such as Creationist, Spanish Mission, Humanitarian and Buffalo River, have displayed plenty of potential on Britain's all-weather tracks, while others have won on turf, both in the U.S. and Europe.
He will probably need an injection of dirt ability from his mares if he is to sire more main-track performers such as Code of Honor. This colt's dam Reunited raced exclusively on dirt and his second dam Tivli gained six of her seven wins on dirt. Both mares were stakes winners over sprint distances, and Reunited was good enough to win five of her eight starts as a three-year-old, including the GIII Thoroughbred Club of America S. over six furlongs.
This raises the question of whether a mile and a quarter will ultimately suit Code of Honor. I will be surprised if it doesn't, as Noble Mission's G1 wins were gained at up to a mile and a half and the colt's broodmare sire, the versatile Dixie Union, stayed at least a mile and an eighth, as he showed in defeating Captain Steve, Milwaukee Brew and More Than Ready in the GI Haskell Invitational H.
Dixie Union had to be euthanized at the comparatively young age of 13, because of a deteriorating neurological problem. His comparatively early demise looks even more unfortune now that his sons and daughters are doing well at stud. Two of his sons have sired GI winners, with Union Rags making such a bright start at Lane's End that his fee has risen from $35,000 to $60,000.
Code of Honor will be bidding to become the sixth GI winner produced by a daughter of Dixie Union, following the two-year-old Breeders' Cup winners New Year's Day and Caledonia Road, the high-class filly Salty, the Met Mile winner Mor Spirit and the Del Mar Futurity winner Klimt. Three of these are by Lane's End's Quality Road,
Incidentally, anyone who tries to assess Noble Mission later this year will need to remember that he was sidelined by colic for part of his second season, so he has only 39 two-year-olds. However, he has around 80 live foals in his third crop, so has enough ammunition in his bid to justify Lane's End's belief that he can become “the next great European import.”