Payson Winner Of The Week
Four weeks after becoming a Grade 1 winner with a last-to-first effort in the Met Mile at Belmont Park, Honor Code came up with an even more impressive encore performance Saturday at Saratoga Race Course.
Trailing by as many as 19 1/4 lengths, the 4-year-old son of A.P. Indy closed with a dramatic surge in the final sixteenth of a mile to catch Liam's Map and win the 88th running of the Grade 1 $1.25 million Whitney by a neck.
As a Breeders' Cup "Win and You're In" Challenge race, Honor Code earned an automatic berth to the $5 million Breeders' Cup Classic on Oct. 31 at Keeneland in Kentucky. He ran 1 1/8 miles in 1:47.82 and returned $9.50, $5.90 and $3.50 as the narrow second choice in a distinguished field of nine older horses.
"He's an amazing horse," said Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey, who won his third Whitney and first since Personal Ensign in 1988 and Easy Goer in 1989. "To be able to win a race like the Whitney is a big feather in our cap."
With spring in full swing, some of horse racing's top runners are just beginning to flex their muscles in their first few starts or workouts of the year. Many of the sport's top performers will be fresh off a respite at the training center that many have called "Club Med for horses."
The slogan of Payson Park in Indiantown, Fla., is "Happy horses win," and it's a philosophy its management takes seriously. It's even their web address. Originally begun in the 1950s as St. Lucie Training Center, Payson spans 400 acres and includes one-mile turf and dirt tracks, European galloping and hacking trails and lots of turnout space.
"What we offer here is very different from the normal training center, in that it is truly a training center," said facility owner Virginia Kraft Payson. "It is not an approximation of a backstretch, as some of our competition which deals in numbers. You won't find an inch of concrete anywhere here."
Payson is proud to say that the facility has played host to the same group of top-class trainers since she took over the training center in 1980. In fact, morning training hours look like a Hall of Fame clinic, with Bill Mott aboard his pony and Shug McGaughey a few feet away watching his horses from along the outside rail. Christophe Clement jokes from atop a trail railing that they "train by committee" here as Roger Attfield's trainees saunter by.
Early in life, Roger Attfield was the sort of kid who would look wistfully out the school window and think of animals, horses or farming. Especially horses.
Obviously, he has a way with them. It's as if he speaks their language, knows how to coax the best out of them. And now the 72-year-old thoroughbred trainer, who is based at Woodbine Racetrack in Toronto, has received the ultimate reward: He will be inducted into the U. S. National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame at Saratoga Springs, N.Y.
The ceremony will take place Aug. 10 at Saratoga, the mecca of all top horsemen in the United States. And now he belongs there. After winning just about every major race in Canada multiple times, last November he won his first Breeders' Cup race at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky., with 27-to-1 shot Perfect Shirl.
"I was so happy for him," said Richard Dos Ramos, a Woodbine jockey who has ridden many long-shot winners for Attfield over the years. "He's well deserved of it. He always wanted to get a Breeders' Cup and that was fantastic to see. The filly probably ran the best race of her life at the right time. He makes them peak at the right time.
"When you're coming up to big races like the Queen's Plate, or any type of big race like that, his horses are always usually right there and they seem to step up."
Attfield was born in Newbury, England, where he worked as a show-jumping rider and an amateur steeplechase jockey. He was the son of a coal merchant who didn't have the means to outfit him with ponies to ride, so Attfield got his fix by riding horses for other people.