Shug McGaughey walked straight to his pole, the one that offers a view and an escape. Second row, back right corner of the finish-line box, on the edge of the steps. Will Farish and his family settled into the first row boxes. Alison McGaughey stood in a third-row box over her husband’s right shoulder. The Fox TV crew, holding cameras and microphones, wedged into gaps, fans with beers and wine glasses filled in the steps, a waiter ran a ticket for a lunch order.
As Larry Collmus announced that the Travers field was at the gate, McGaughey turned and smiled, almost smirked, raising his eyebrows to his wife. If looks had words, it was ‘Well, this is it.” After that McGaughey stood silently like he was being read his rights, shifting from the right side of the pole to the left side, that’s it, for 2:01.05 of the Travers Stakes. McGaughey didn’t utter a word, didn’t pump his fist, didn’t react as Alison screamed, “Come on Code. Come on Code. Come on Code.”
And, yeah, Code came on.
Code Of Honor and jockey John Velazquez rallied from ninth to win the $1.25 million stakes by 3 lengths over favorite Tacitus and third-choice Mucho Gusto. As Code Of Honor streaked past McGaughey, the Hall of Famer turned away from the pandemonium, walking down the back steps like he was heading home instead of the winner’s circle. That direction offers a moment of solitude, a moment of reflection.
“That was fun to watch,” McGaughey said.
For all the reasons.
Code Of Honor, a horse McGaughey had believed in since breaking his maiden here last summer, gave the trainer his fourth Travers victory and first since Coronado’s Quest in 1989. Making his eighth career start, Code Of Honor earned his first Grade 1 victory. A victory that had confirmed McGaughey’s confidence in the chestnut homebred who had never finished worse than fourth in his career but had never won the big one. Tantalizingly close in the past, Code Of Honor had arrived.
To read the rest of the Travers recap, download Sunday's digital edition of The Saratoga Special presented by Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners.