He is almost certain to be overbet, based on his 3-year-old campaign. But in Friday’s Grade 1 Clark Stakes at Churchill Downs, the question is, will we see the sophomore sensation Code of Honor or the jittery, junior Code of Honor?

Code of Honor-Clark
Code of Honor’s Jockey Club Gold Cup victory in 2019 was one of his four 3-year-old wins. He figures to be the favorite in Friday’s Clark Stakes at Churchill Downs. (Image: Sophie Shore/Eclipse Sportswire)

Code of Honor owns the biggest name of the overflow field of 15 horses entered in the 146th running of the Clark, one of 15 Thanksgiving weekend graded stakes races. The 1-1/8-mile Grade 1 event for older horses will run under the Churchill Downs lights, which puts the spotlight right back on the 4-year-old son of Noble Mission.

This is Code of Honor’s first trip to the Churchill Downs starting gate since he was bumped up to second in the 2019 Kentucky Derby. That set the stage for a $2.2 million sophomore campaign where Code of Honor won four races – including the Grade 1 Travers and Jockey Club Gold Cup. He came out of that Derby runner-up winning the Grade 3 Dwyer Stakes and the aforementioned Travers and Jockey Club Gold Cup.

When you add in his Fountain of Youth victory and his third in the Florida Derby, you could forget Code of Honor’s subpar seventh in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. Yet, that closed the book on a remarkable season and set up Code of Honor as one of the older horses to watch.

A Great Beginning to Code of Honor’s 4-Year-Old Campaign

When he opened his 2020 campaign winning the Grade 3 Westchester at Belmont Park in June, the script was in place for a monster season. But the COVID-19 pandemic wreaked havoc on trainer Shug McGaughey’s scheduling plans.

McGaughey turned Code of Honor around a month later in the Metropolitan Handicap. He finished third with a strong 115 Equibase Speed Figure. A month after that, in early August, Code of Honor didn’t fare as well, finishing a well-beaten fourth in the Whitney. The 113 Equibase brought small solace.

“He’s just been a victim of circumstances with the COVID situation,” McGaughey told Churchill Downs. “I would’ve liked to run him in the Westchester, which would have been the start of the Belmont Meet in the spring, I would’ve spaced the races out that way. That didn’t work out, so we couldn’t run until June 6 in the Westchester. He won that and I really had it in my mind I wasn’t going to run him back until the Whitney. He’s run a lot better with his races spaced.”

More Turns, Please

Code of Honor’s second in October’s Grade 2 Kelso brought McGaughey more solace. In the Kelso, Code of Honor had to break earlier than he liked. This hammered home another lesson to McGaughey, one brought to him by jockey John Velazquez.

“Johnny told me after the Met that this horse definitely wants two turns,” McGaughey said. “His races in the Kelso against Complexity – who was the favorite in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile – was a really good race. We had to change riders on him that day. Javier (Castellano) is obviously a great rider, but may not have known him as well as Johnny did. All in all, it was sort of a messed-up year.”

Even in this “messed-up year,” Code of Honor hit the board in three of his four races. His worst Equibase was his 111 in the Kelso. And again, this is a horse with more than $2.5 million in earnings.

Let Code of Honor Run — After You Give Him a Break

Two other factors bear mentioning. The Whitney was Code of Honor’s only two-turn race of 2020. That came four weeks after his Met Mile. Basically, Code of Honor thrives when you send him out over two turns – after you’ve given him six to eight weeks off in between.

Code of Honor comes back on eight weeks rest,and the Clark is a two-turn race. Put that together here and it’s the perfect antidote to a messed-up year.