The 3-year-old Code of Honor was one of the most dominant horses of his age group. The 4-year-old Code of Honor was one of the most disappointing.

Code of Honor-Iselin return
Code of Honor captured the Dwyer Stakes as a sophomore. As a more mature 5-year-old, he seeks his first win in 14 1/2 months in Saturday’s Iselin Stakes at Monmouth Park. (Image: NYRA Photo)

So now, after a seven-month layoff, what will we see from the 5-year-old Code of Honor? His answer comes in Saturday’s Grade 3 Philip Iselin Stakes at Monmouth Park. That is the feature on Monmouth Park’s 14-race card.

It’s also a race Code of Honor should dominate. His six rivals are an uninspiring stew of overmatched allowance, Listed Stakes and Grade 3 types running in a race fitting their abilities. For the 2019 Kentucky Derby runner-up and Travers Stakes winner, tangling with Phat Man and I’m A G Six at Monmouth Park is several steps down from the company Code of Honor usually keeps.

Then again, the last time Code of Honor found a winner’s circle came in a Grade 3: the 2020 Westchester Stakes at Belmont Park. That was five races and 14 ½ months ago.

Code of Honor a passive fifth in his 5-year-old debut

The last time we saw Code of Honor was in January’s Pegasus World Cup at Gulfstream Park. There wasn’t much to see from a disinterested horse finishing 10 lengths behind winner Knicks Go. That passive fifth-place finish opening his 5-year-old campaign led trainer Shug McGaughey to bench Code of Honor.

As McGaughey saw it, Code of Honor – six wins, more than $2.73 million in earnings and all – was an immature 5-year-old who needed a time-out.

“He has grown up quite a bit physically with the time off,” McGaughey told Monmouth Park’s Tom Luicci. “He was a late foal (May 23), so we were always kind of playing catch up with him. I think he is all caught up now. It wasn’t a body maturity thing with him. He was always doing fine. Being a late foal, it just took him a little time to catch up. That’s the best way I can explain it.”

Four victories as a 3-year-old

For anyone who watched Code of Honor as a 3-year-old, this doesn’t fit in the mental Samsonite. The Noble Mission colt won four races: the Fountain of Youth, Dwyer Stakes, Travers and Jockey Club Gold Cup. The latter two were Grade 1s. He was promoted to second in that controversial 2019 Derby and threw in a third in the Grade 1 Florida Derby.

His seventh in the Breeders’ Cup Classic that year is excusable, considering he ran against older horses. And Code of Honor opened his 4-year-old season winning that Westchester as the 1.25/1 favorite.

That was Code of Honor’s high-water mark in 2020. He went 0-for-4 the rest of the year, finishing third by 1 ½ lengths in the Met Mile, fourth (by five) in the Whitney, second by 2 ¼ in a four-horse Kelso Handicap and second by a length to 11/1 Bodexpress as the 1.60/1 favorite in the Clark.

Keep an eye on Code of Honor’s price

“It wasn’t a frustrating year, but it wasn’t exactly what we hoped for after it started out with a win,” McGaughey said. “That’s why I’m looking forward to running him again with the time off we gave him. He was so close last year. Maybe this year will be the year for him.”

It doesn’t go unnoticed McGaughey decided to ship Code of Honor from his Saratoga headquarters to Monmouth Park – a much easier track in terms of competition. Make of that what you will when it comes to what price you’re willing to take on an overwhelming favorite with name recognition.