We've barely finished the post-Thanksgiving turkey sandwiches, but we're already well into Derby points season. Up until Thanksgiving, points had already been awarded for the Iroquois Stakes (G3), Breeders' Futurity (G1), Champagne Stakes (G1), American Pharoah Stakes (G1), Street Sense Stakes (G3), and Breeders' Cup Juvenile (G1) in the United States; the Beresford Stakes (G2) in Ireland; the Royal Lodge Stakes (G2) and Futurity Trophy Stakes (G2) in England; and the Prix Jean-Luc Lagardere (G1) in France. Thanksgiving weekend saw two more qualifying events in the Cattleya Stakes in Japan—won by the white Amante Bianco, by Henny Hughes out of a half-sister to the white champion Sodashi—and the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes (G2) at Churchill Downs.
The Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes fell to Honor Marie, who closed from the rear of an eight-horse field to score by two lengths. He had run a similar race on his debut, a six-furlong Sept. 29 maiden special weight at Churchill Downs, where he trailed eight rivals before uncorking a six-wide late run to win by a head. In his only other start, a seven-furlong Churchill Downs allowance/optional claiming event, Honor Marie again closed from deep in the field, but on a sloppy track couldn't catch the front-running Otto the Conqueror, who had four lengths to spare. A further four lengths back came Just Steel.
Honor Marie's late-closing style is very reminiscent of his sire, Honor Code. From the final crop of Horse of the Year and two-time leading sire A.P. Indy, Honor Code also boasted no less impressive credentials on the distaff side of his pedigree. His dam, the stakes-winning and multiple graded stakes winner-producing Serena's Cat, is not only by Storm Cat but is also out of Hall of Fame mare Serena's Song and is a sister to three other group or graded winners, including group 1 winner Sophisticat.
On the track, Honor Code's deeds lived up to his illustrious pedigree. He ended his 2-year-old career as one of the leaders of his generation, with three starts bringing a maiden victory at Aqueduct Racetrack, a second in the Champagne Stakes (G1) at Belmont Park, and a victory over Cairo Prince in the Remsen Stakes (G2) at Aqueduct. He was sidelined for most of his 3-year-old season after finishing second in an allowance event at Gulfstream Park in March on his seasonal reappearance. He returned in November to secure a late-charging victory in a 6 1/2-furlong allowance at Aqueduct. Honor Code kicked off his 4-year-old campaign with a win in the Gulfstream Park Handicap (G2), and in summer rose to the head of his division with last-to-first triumphs in the Metropolitan Handicap (G1) and Whitney Stakes (G1). He couldn't reproduce that form in his last two starts, but a third to American Pharoah and Effinex in the Breeders' Cup Classic (G1) combined with his earlier success was sufficient to tie up an Eclipse Award as champion older horse. The following year, 2016, he began his stud career standing at Lane's End Farm, Versailles, Ky., at an initial fee of $40,000. At the end of the most recent season he was sold to Yushun Stallion Station in Japan and will stand there in 2024.
As his export indicates, Honor Code hasn't proved to be a prolific stakes sire, and so far his first five crops have produced just 17 stakes winners, seven of those graded. That said, he certainly established that he could get a good one. His first crop produced Honor A.P., who defeated Horse of the Year Authentic to take the Santa Anita Derby (G1); Max Player , successful in the Jockey Club Gold Cup (G1), Suburban Stakes (G2), and Withers Stakes (G2); and the Fair Grounds Stakes (G3) scorer Cavalry Charge. The Coaching Club American Oaks (G1) victress Maracuja, another off-pace runner, appeared in his second crop, as did Essential Wager, successful in the Palos Verdes Stakes (G3). There were only two stakes winners, neither graded, in Honor Code's third crop, and three, headed by Honor D Lady, who took this year's Remington Park Oaks (G3), in his fourth.
Honor Marie is the third winner from the first three named foals for his dam, the Smart Strike mare Dame Marie—herself runner-up in the Churchill Distaff Mile Stakes (G2)—the others including the Bourbon Stakes (G2) second Abarta. The immediate family has already produced a recent classic winner as Dame Marie is a three-quarter sister to the Kingmambo horse Rule of Law, who took the St Leger (G1), the last leg of the English Triple Crown, and earned second in the Epsom Derby (G1). Rule of Law is also a sister to Katyusha, the granddam of Sacred Life, a three-time group and graded winner in France and the U.S., and of Feed the Flame, successful this year in the Grand Prix de Paris (G1). Another three-quarter sister to Dame Marie, the stakes-placed Seeking the Gold mare Totally Devoted, is dam of English group winner Tomyris.
The second dam of Marie's Honor, Crystal Crossing (by Royal Academy), was a black-type winner sprinting at 2 in England. She is a sister to Circle of Gold, successful in the Prestige Stakes (G3) in England and graded placed in the U.S., and granddam of Australian graded winner Signoff.
The dam of Crystal Crossing, Never So Fair, is three-quarter sister to Amaranda, a very fast filly who took the Queen Mary Stakes (G2) at Royal Ascot, and who is ancestress of numerous stakes winners, including Olympic Glory, a champion at 2, 3, and 4 in Europe, and the co-highweighted miler on the World Thoroughbred Ranking in 2013. She's also half sister to Favoridge, a rare European representative for Riva Ridge. Favoridge took the Nell Gwyn Stakes (G1) and also earned the runner-up spot in the English 1,000 Guineas (G1).
Never So Fair is out of the Irish 1,000 Guineas captress Favoletta and from a predominantly European family generally identified by Honor Marie's seventh dam, Horama. Although she was producing as recently as the mid-1960s, Horama is already ancestress of an astonishing 257 individual black-type winners, 37 of them group or grade 1, also including a pair of Epsom Derby winners in Teenoso and Sir Percy, and other English, Irish, and French classic winners Lacquer, Give Thanks, Harayir, and Montare. Horama's granddam, Queen Of The Nore, was a sister to Irish 2,000 Guineas scorer, Fourth Hand, and their three-quarter sister Queen's Pipe is ancestress of a pair of Kentucky Oaks (G1) winners in Sally Ship and her granddaughter, Tiffany Lass, and a Coaching Club Oaks heroine in Quillo Queen. On paper, this is a branch of the Bruce Lowe #3 family, but whereas horses from the #3 family are of the 'L' mtDNA haplogroup, this branch, which has as its most recent common ancestor the 1862 mare Coterie, is the 'A' haplogroup.
Honor Marie is one of two stakes winners from 30 starters by Honor Code out of Smart Strike mares, but there is something more interesting going on here. Honor Code's dam, the stakes-winning Serena's Cat, is by Storm Cat out of a Mr. Prospector mare, and the dam of Marie's Honor is by a son of Mr. Prospector out of a mare by Royal Academy. Since Storm Cat is by Storm Bird (by Northern Dancer) out of Terlingua, and Royal Academy is by Nijinsky II (a son of Northern Dancer bred on similar lines to Storm Bird) and is half-brother to Terlingua, this makes Storm Cat and Royal Academy, and subsequently Serena's Cat and Dame Marie, very similarly bred.