Analysis: Code of Honor, Improbable could take Whitney

Analysis: Code of Honor, Improbable could take Whitney
Photo: Joe Labozzetta/NYRA

With only five horses in the Grade 1, $750,000 Whitney Stakes at Saratoga on Saturday, some bettors might get turned off by the small field. But the race is an intriguing one with a clear favorite, three good horses who are capable of toppling him and one longshot who only runs big figures against lesser company.

The clear favorite is Tom’s d’Etat, the 7-year-old horse who rides a four-race win streak for trainer Al Stall Jr., including recent wins in the Oaklawn Mile and Stephen Foster Stakes (G2). Despite his older age, this horse is in the best form of his life.

For those wishing to play against him, the best alternative is Code of Honor. This 4-year-old comes off a third-place finish in the Metropolitan Handicap (G1).

Code of Honor’s effort in the Met Mile looks better visually than on paper.

As Vekoma secured a comfortable lead early through an opening 22.73, Code of Honor settled in last and 7 1/2 lengths off the pace.

As Vekoma cut a moderate (for the level) 45.87 half-mile, Code of Honor cut into the lead and began to tip outside to set up his stretch run.

In midstretch, Code of Honor continued to pick up ground on the outside. He passed McKinzie in midstretch, even though McKinzie held a better early position. But because Vekoma enjoyed a comfortable lead and reasonable pace, he kept moving strongly and won by 1 1/4 lengths over Network Effect, with Code of Honor picking up third.

Notice the early positions of the first four finishers in the Met Mile: 

Vekoma secured the lead early and won.

Network Effect started in third and finished second.

Code of Honor started in eighth and finished third.

Warrior’s Charge started in second and faded to fourth.

The one outlier on that list is Code of Honor, who came from last, which means he outran every mid-pack type and closer. The other three horses ran on or near the lead, which backs up the theory of a moderate pace.

Last year, Code of Honor captured the Travers Stakes (G1) on this course before winning the Jockey Club Gold Cup (G1) at Belmont via disqualification. Afterward, he turned in a clunker in the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Santa Anita, which is forgivable.

Code of Honor is the main choice. Expect him to peak for trainer Shug McGaughey in his third start off the bench at a longer distance.

Another option to consider is Improbable.

Improbable took some flak from bettors during the 2019 Derby trail because of his losses in the Rebel Stakes (G2) and Arkansas Derby (G1). He also ran fifth in the Kentucky Derby, sixth in the Preakness, fourth in the Pennsylvania Derby (G1) and fifth in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile, giving the impression of a horse that consistently disappoints.

Yet, Improbable returned strong this year with a narrow loss to Tom’s d’Etat by 3/4 of a length in the Oaklawn Mile Stakes, and that finish came after a wide trip.

He then backed up the Oaklawn Mile effort by returning home and winning the Hollywood Gold Cup (G1) by 3 1/4 lengths over Higher Power.

For those two races this year, Improbable earned a 124 and 126 on TimeformUS, which are numbers on par with Tom’s d’Etat’s figures.

Expect Improbable to press or stalk Mr. Buff. As long as the pace is not too fast up front, he is capable of getting the jump on Code of Honor and Tom’s d’Etat and possibly holding them off in the stretch run.

What are Tom’s d’Etat’s qualifications as favorite?

Tom’s d’Etat earned a 123 on TimeformUS in the Oaklawn Mile and 129 in the Stephen Foster. The 129 in the second highest TimeformUS figure in the field.

He also closed from seventh to beat Improbable in the Oaklawn Mile and tracked the pacesetter Pirate’s Punch in the Stephen Foster before drawing clear in the stretch run, which means this horse is versatile.

Furthermore, Tom’s d’Etat enjoys Saratoga, with a 3 for 4 record. His only “bad” race here came in the Woodward Stakes (G1) last summer, when he ran fourth, losing by a little more than a length.

Tom’s d’Etat offers little value, but obviously he can win again.

By My Standards is capable if the other horses fail to fire. He is ranked fourth in this analysis though after his 4 1/4-length loss to Tom’s d’Etat in the Stephen Foster.  

One note about By My Standard’s Stephen Foster run is that Corey Lanerie opted to rate outside in fourth rather than utilize his speed to press the pace. With the switch to Jose Ortiz, it is probable that Ortiz asks him to show more speed on the rail and not leave Mr. Buff alone.

Perhaps showing more speed helps By My Standards. But it is not logical to choose every horse and this one barely misses the cut.

Short field or not, this is a race that bettors can attack if they feel Tom’s d’Etat is not an invincible favorite. As stated above, the two best options to beat Tom’s d’Etat are Code of Honor and Improbable. However, Tom’s d’Etat must be used as a backup in multi-race wagers. Betting aside, this is an exciting race to watch. 

Meet Reinier Macatangay

My first time at the racetrack came as a 5-year-old kid at Santa Anita Park. For most of my younger life, that was the only track I attended other the occasional visit to Hollywood Park. 

Years later, after graduating California State University, Stanislaus with an English MA, I began writing for Lady and the Track. From late 2014-2016, my articles were seen on a weekly basis and covered handicapping, interviews with well-known racing personalities, fashion and more. 

The handicapping style I use concentrates on pace analysis. Some horses are compromised by the pace. Others are helped. Handicappers just starting out cannot easily see how pace affects the finish, so with this blog, I hope to help those unsure of how to apply pace into their handicapping and post-race analysis. 

On an unrelated note, I enjoy video games and attending anime or comic-book conventions. I am currently based in Kentucky, but spend a lot of time traveling between there and California.

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