Honor Roll

- -

Jose Ortiz recalled his conversation with Chad Brown about an unraced first-time starter by Tapit when he arrived in the paddock before the last race at Keeneland April 20, ready for the finale on one of many raw afternoons in the Bluegrass this year.

Ortiz showed up prepared, knowing that Will Farish’s homebred Highest Honors could run and that he’d need some cold-weather gear to stay warm for the 6 1/2-furlong maiden on the muddy track. The day was wintry, but Brown already entertained thoughts of summer when he spoke to his rider.

“This is my Travers horse,” Brown told Ortiz of the 5-2 favorite facing eight other 3-year-olds that afternoon.

Ortiz wouldn’t be faulted for not thinking about the race some call the Midsummer Derby since he was only two weeks out from riding the Kentucky Derby. He took the words at face value and readied the big gray colt for his belated debut.

“He really knows what he has and I respect that,” Ortiz said Friday, stopping on his way back to the jockeys’ room to watch the replay of the $100,000 Curlin Stakes. “He’s bred to run the (Travers) distance. That’s why he surprised me at Keeneland going the (6 1/2 furlongs).”

Highest Honors didn’t win that day, finishing second by a neck to longshot Winning Number after an eventual trip that found him in tight quarters in the stretch. He won Friday, staying off the inside and defeating a field that included previously unbeaten stablemate Looking At Bikinis, multiple Grade 1-placed Rowayton and classic starter Intrepid Heart.

Highest Honors won the Curlin by 1 1/2 lengths from Endorsed, a colt Godolphin Racing and Kiaran McLaughlin thought enough of as a 2-year-old to try him in the Grade 1 Champagne, with Looking At Bikinis, Rowayton and Intrepid Heart well beaten on the drying out, muddy and sealed track.

To read the rest of the Curlin recap, download Saturday’s digital edition of The Saratoga Special presented by Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners.