Code of Honor is forging ahead towards the Kentucky Derby after showing high energy in winning the historic $400,000 Fountain of Youth Stakes Saturday at Gulfstream Park.

Code of Honor at the Fountain of Youth Stakes
By winning Fountain of Youth Stakes, Code of Honor (center) stamps himself as a strong Kentucky Derby contender. (Image: Gulfstream Park)

Jockey John Velasquez, breaking from the inside post, allowed Code of Honor ($21.00-$8.60-$5.40) to establish position fifth at the rail. Settling his mount off the pace for the majority of the 1 1/16 race, Velasquez saw how the race was unfolding in front of him.

Watching favorite Hidden Scroll and Gladiator King contesting the early lead, Velasquez angled away from the rail and gradually wore down the leaders by the head of the stretch, steadily advancing, gaining the upset victory by 1 3/4 lengths, holding off a fast-closing Bourbon War ($5.00-$3.30) with Vekoma ($3.60) finishing third, another two lengths back.

Conditioner Shug McGaughey describes Code of Honor as an “efficient little horse” with exceptional maneuverability. He can now follow in the path of Kentucky Derby winner Orb. That’s the McGaughey student, also ridden by Velasquez, who won the Fountain of Youth in 2013, followed by the Florida Derby and then the Kentucky Derby.

Tightening Screws Makes the Difference

McGaughey disclosed before the Fountain of Youth he hoped stepped-up conditioning for Code of Honor after his fourth place finish in a field of six in Mucho Macho Man Stakes in early January would produce better results. Tightening the screws clearly worked, resulting in a winners’ circle visit for the son of Noble Mission. The final time for the 74th running of the 1 1/16 mile Fountain of Youth, 1:43.85.

Code of Honor earns 50 points on the Kentucky Derby points schedule.

The points leaderboard is the determining factor for the 20 horses to gain first crack at entering the Derby starting gate on May 4. McGaughey says Code of Honor’s tractability means he’ll be well served in a bulky Derby field.

Trainer Bill Mott’s Hidden Scroll finished fourth as the 6/5 public choice. The official Equibase race chart notes that Hidden Scroll:

 “….got bumped off stride and lost a couple of steps at the start, vied for the lead with Gladiator King in the first turn, continued to set pressured pace on top then cleared over rival, continued to hold off challengers in the final turn, appeared all out when Code of Honor moved up to challenge…”

For the complete race chart including pari-mutuel payoffs click here.

Hidden Scroll’s connections say he’s likely to remain on the Derby trail. Where and when are still undecided.

Up Next: Florida Derby or Wood Memorial Road Trip

McGaughey says we may see his Derby contender next in the $1 million Florida Derby on March 30, also at Gulfstream. Or, if Code of Honor needs a bigger gap between starts, he’ll go in the $750,000 Wood Memorial at Aqueduct in New York on April 6.

Both races are at 1 1/8 mile. The Kentucky Derby is 1 1/4 mile event. Both races offer 100 Derby points to the winner. Although Code of Honor probably won’t need them to make the race, another win could keep another Derby hopeful from getting them.

Code of Honor is now second in the Kentucky Derby points standings. He’s just behind of War of Will, last seen racking up points at the Fair Grounds in New Orleans in two Derby preps. Just behind Code of Honor is trainer Bob Baffert’s undefeated Game Winner. The 2-year-old juvenile champion makes his 2019 debut Saturday in the San Felipe Stakes at Santa Anita, near Los Angeles.