Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey saddled eventual Kentucky Derby winner Orb to a maiden victory on the 2012 Cigar Mile undercard at Aqueduct, and is certainly hoping the future is equally as bright for the similarly blue-blooded colt Honor Code, who will start as the favorite in Saturday's Grade 2, $400,000 Remsen on Cigar Mile Day at the Big A.
The Remsen, at 1 1/8 miles, features a cast of nine two-year-olds, but much of the pre-race buzz will be on Honor Code and the undefeated Cairo Prince.
Honor Code, a son of A.P. Indy and a descendant of the Hall of Fame filly Serena's Song, turned in a remarkable debut performance at Saratoga on August 31. Down 22 lengths with a quarter-mile remaining in the seven-furlong test, the colt skimmed the rail through the stretch and not only eliminated his margin of deficit but drew off to win by 4 1/2 lengths.
His slow-starting tendencies were not as helpful in the October 5 Champagne, for which he was made the 9-5 favorite. Aided by a fast pace and conceding only 11 lengths at most in the one-mile heat, Honor Code was not able to overcome all of the early ground lost when falling a neck shy of Havana, who went on to run second in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile.
"It will be interesting to see him going around two turns, a mile and an eighth and where he places himself," McGaughey said. "He's done everything pretty well since the Champagne, and we're looking forward to running around two turns and stretching him out a little bit and see where it takes us."
Much more likely to be within striking range in the Remsen is the Kiaran McLaughlin-trained Cairo Prince. On or near the pace throughout when taking a six-furlong Belmont maiden on October 6, the gray Pioneerof the Nile colt returned earlier this month in Nashua over a mile. Though saddled with post 12 in the one-turn event, Cairo Prince settled into a nice, three-wide stalking position, spurted clear around the far turn and won easily by 2 1/2 lengths after being as much as five lengths ahead in the stretch.
"We don't think he has to be in the clear; it just happened he drew the 12 (post) and was clear," McLaughlin said of Cairo Prince's trip in the Nashua. "He hasn't taken dirt in his face, but he's done everything right, and he's a classy horse. We expect him to do well in the Remsen."
Noble Moon is another potential pacesetter. An upset 25-1 debut winner in wire-to-wire fashion September 14, the Malibu Moon colt was bumped into last place early in the Nashua before turning in a sustained stretch rally to finish third, three lengths behind Cairo Prince.
Trainer Todd Pletcher will be represented in the Remsen by Nashua also-rans Intense Holiday and Master Lightning. Fifth in the Champagne in his previous start, Intense Holiday wound up fourth in the Nashua while stablemate Master Lightning was a nondescript ninth in his first attempt against winners.
Stepping up after a solid two-length maiden win for trainer Jimmy Jerkens is Wicked Strong, who graduated going a mile at Belmont a month ago. Longshots to make the Remsen frame are Mental Iceberg, a debut winner on turf against New York-breds; Parx graduate and allowance runner-up Afleet Accompli; and the Bill Mott-trained Kentucky invader Matuszak.