The Grade 2 Fayette Stakes brings a host of recognizable names to its Keeneland starting gate Saturday for the featured event on Keeneland’s Fall Meet final day. None more recognizable than the horse running his final career race: Code of Honor.
The 5-year-old owns two Grade 1 wins: both as a 3-year-old. He’s a six-time graded-stakes winner who ran the Breeders’ Cup Classic after finishing second in the 2019 Kentucky Derby. He sits on more than $2.9 million in career earnings and basically has nothing left to prove.
Except if he can win at 1 1/8 miles in a salty field of familiar, battle-tested competitors. Surprisingly, Code of Honor has never won a nine-furlong race in his 18-race career. He’s won at six furlongs, 8 ½ furlongs and 10 furlongs. But Code of Honor is 0-for-5 at nine furlongs. And he’s only 1-for-3 in his 5-year-old campaign.
That victory came in the Grade 3 Philip Iselin Stakes at Monmouth Park in August. It did extend Code of Honor’s streak of graded stakes scores into his 5-year-old season. He’s won graded stakes at ages 3, 4 and now 5. But it came against a weak field of rivals who were never serious threats once jockey Paco Lopez turned Code of Honor loose at the three-quarters pole. He won by 2 ½ lengths.
Code of Honor could feast on early speed here
It’s also marked the only time in three 2021 races Code of Honor found the board. He bookended that score and career-best 120 Equibase Speed Figure with a distant fifth (by 10 lengths) in January’s Pegasus World Cup Invitational and a fourth (by five lengths) in the Grade 1 Woodward earlier this month.
Playing spoilers to the wonderful story of 3/1 Code of Honor stalking his way to a victory are the familiar likes of Sleepy Eyes Todd, King Fury and Independence Hall, your lukewarm 5/2 favorite. Sleepy Eyes Todd (3/1) was last seen finishing second to Art Collector in the Grade 2 Charles Town Classic, a race he won in 2020 with his career-best 121 Equibase.
After that 2020 vicitory, his connections got audacious. They sent him into Grade 1s, such as the Awesome Again at Santa Anita (where he finished fifth), the Pegasus (fourth), the Saudi Cup (fifth) and the Dubai World Cup (10th).
The Fayette is where Sleepy Eyes Todd can wake up
The cash grabs were nice, but Sleepy Eyes Todd only re-found the board when he ran in Black-Type Stakes, such as the Lafayette at Keeneland, or Grade 3s, such as the Mr. Prospector at Gulfstream. He won both those races, adding a third in the Gus Fonner Stakes at Fonner Park in April. Sitting on the rail with his speed in this Fayette field makes him a legitimate threat here.
King Fury (9/2) tore up the Bourbon Trail in his last start, winning that Sept. 25 race at Churchill Downs by 13 lengths. He’s won at Keeneland, taking the Lexington Stakes in April on a sloppy track. That got him into the Derby, where he scratched with a fever.
The Curlin colt came back with a second to Masqueparade in the Ohio Derby before trainer Kenny McPeek tried him on turf in the Grade 1 Saratoga Derby Stakes. There, he finished a dismal 10th. McPeek sent him out in the Travers, where he finished a distant fifth by nearly 10 lengths.
Can King Fury end this race’s sophomore slump?
Like Sleepy Eyes Todd, the Fayette is a better field for King Fury’s class and his pressing style fits this race’s winner’s profile. For the record, the last 3-year-old to win this race was Blame in 2009.
Note we haven’t mentioned the favorite: Independence Hall. And favorites have won four of the last six editions of this race on dirt. But there’s a reason why we saved the best odds for last. Independence Hall is not a nine-furlong router, something that is clear to everyone but his connections, who keep reeling him out in route races. And watching him lose in every one.
The son of Constitution is 0-for-4 at 1 1/8 miles. He did finish second to Knicks Go in the Grade 3 Lukas at this distance. He did finish third to Royal Ship and Country Grammer in the Grade 2 Californian at this distance. And he did finish third to Knicks Go and Jesus’ Team in the Pegasus at this distance.
So expect Independence Hall to appear competitive just long enough to steal a minor award. Just don’t expect him to run to his odds and actually win.