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Honor Code beats Liam's Map to win Whitney at Saratoga

An exercise rider rides a horse during morning

An exercise rider rides a horse during morning workouts at Saratoga Race Course on Thursday, July 17, 2014, in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. Credit: AP / Mike Groll

SARATOGA SPRINGS - The pace in the Whitney Stakes was hot, and Honor Code was where he usually is, far back. When front-running Liam's Map reached the eighth pole with a 4½-length lead, Honor Code was surging for Javier Castellano, but would they have time to catch him?

Liam's Map was tiring under Mike Smith after a mile in 1:34.66. He lost some momentum after being whipped lefthanded inside the eighth pole, and a few strides from the wire, Liam's Map took an awkward step. Those openings were all Honor Code needed, and in the final stride he flashed past on the outside to beat him by a neck.

"He's a spectacular horse," trainer Shug McGaughey said. "He has been since his first start, and people have held him in high regard. He's won the Met [Mile] and the Whitney and has really grown into himself. To be able to win a race like the Whitney is really a feather in our cap.''

Liam's Map performed brilliantly in only his sixth start, and first in a graded stakes. Moreno put serious pressure on him before the defending Whitney champion faded midway on the far turn. Liam's Map kicked clear as the crowd of 39,841 yelled, but even with the big lead in midstretch, trainer Todd Pletcher knew his gray colt wasn't home free.

"I could see Honor Code was coming, so I knew it would be really close until the finish,'' Pletcher said. "Our horse ran unbelievably well, setting those fractions . He just couldn't hold off a really good horse.''

Honor Code, a son of A.P. Indy, is 6-for-9 after running 11/8 miles in 1:47.82 for his fourth win in his last five starts. He paid $9.50 and earned $670,000, raising his total to $1,930,260 for Lane's End Racing and Dell Ridge Farm.

"He switched leads at the right time at the eighth pole,'' Castellano said. "He ran unbelievable, like he always does. He finished really strong.''

Coming in third, 1½ lengths behind Liam's Map, was Tonalist, the narrow 7-2 favorite. After him came stablemates Wicked Strong and V.E. Day, followed by Lea, Normandy Invasion, Moreno and Noble Bird.

It had been more than a quarter-century since McGaughey's last Whitney trophy. His Hall of Famers Personal Ensign, the 13-for-13 filly, and Easy Goer scored in 1988 and 1989 in the race that's second in Saratoga prestige and tradition only to the Travers. The 88th Whitney winner put his name on a list that includes all-time greats Alydar, Dr. Fager, Kelso and War Admiral.

A last-to-first triumph in the one-turn Met on Belmont Stakes day was a career best that elevated the 4-year-old Honor Code to No. 1 among the older horses. Yet there still were doubts about him, because no matter how good a horse is, there always are. He was only 1-for-3 in two-turn races, and five weeks before the Met he was a distant fifth in Churchill Downs' 11/16-mile Alysheba Stakes.

"Everybody kept questioning him going two turns," McGaughey said, "and whether he'd have the same late punch he has around one turn. We always felt he would go a distance of ground, but you never know.''

Pharoah jogs. Triple Crown winner American Pharoah jogged a mile Saturday morning around the perimeter of Del Mar's main track. Trainer Bob Baffert said the colt was scheduled to gallop Sunday and Monday . . . Cavorting ($7.60) came from far back to take the Grade I Test Stakes for 3-year-old fillies by 2½ lengths over Bar of Gold.


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