SARATOGA SPRINGS -- Groom Jorge Molina was brimming with pride as he showed off Code of Honor in his stall Sunday morning.
"He has a lot of energy," he said, cupping Code of Honor's nose with a big grin as the colt bobbed his head, nudged his groom and showed his teeth.
Molina still has all of his fingers, somehow.
Code of Honor was his usual frisky self at trainer Shug McGaughey's barn after having won the 150th Travers Stakes at Saratoga Race Course on Saturday. McGaughey expects that his smallish chestnut colt will come down in a few days, when Saturday's big effort will hit him.
But he showed all the signs of continuing forward with a 2019 campaign that took a big step in the right direction with the Travers victory. Tellingly, McGaughey skipped over the Breeders' Cup and mentioned two stakes at the Aqueduct fall meet, the Discovery and Cigar Mile, when listing potential future races for Code of Honor.
The next logical step is the Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont Park on Sept. 28, but McGaughey is taking a more cautious approach to plans for the Breeders' Cup Classic at Santa Anita on Nov. 2, not because of the rash of horse deaths earlier this year, but because the logistics make it less appealing.
No matter which course they take, he was gratified that the patience and preparation for the Travers paid off in a big way, making Code of Honor a significant presence in the 3-year-old male division as the season moves toward the fall.
"I think that has to put him in the mix," McGaughey said. "That's three graded stakes that he's won. He's won a Grade III, a Grade II and a Grade I. He was second in a Grade I, third in a Grade I. I can't put him on top, but I can't put anybody else above me. So I think he's well into the mix."
McGaughey said Saturday that he was so excited by the way Code of Honor had been training that he didn't get a good night's sleep Friday night.
That wasn't a problem Saturday night, after he and his wife Allison went to Solevo on Phila Street for a quick celebratory dinner. No big party, no fanfare, but "We got a standing ovation," she said.
"I slept pretty good," Shug said. "I think I fell asleep watching the Miami-Florida football game in my chair."
Code of Honor, a late foal born in May of 2016, brought all of the preparation to fruition by running past Tacitus and Mucho Gusto inside the eighth pole to win in a fast 2:01.05.
Jockey John Velazquez said Code of Honor gave a complete effort and only had one moment of uncertainty in the Travers, as they moved up behind Looking At Bikinis, ridden by Javier Castellano, at the half-mile pole.
"I was watching Javier, and he started to move, so I gave a little nudge to follow Javier," Velazquez said. "And Javier didn't go anywhere, and I hit him from behind, a little clip from behind. Javier looked to the inside, and I was thinking, 'I'm not going to stay in there, I'm going to go around.' After that, it was easy. I knew I had his momentum going and happy the way he responded to everything I asked him to do.
"Everybody kept saying that he was small and maybe the distance was too far, and I kept saying that he just needs to mature, and you'll see, he'll get it done. Shug gave him the time he needed, he got his mind on business and he showed it."
McGaughey said the Sept. 21 Pennsylvania Derby at Parx probably jumps up too soon on the schedule.
The Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont Park is a week later, and although Code of Honor would have to run against older horses, he would get some weight allowance as a 3-year-old.
"I'll have to see what's in it," McGaughey said. "We just have to walk from there across the street to the paddock, it's a mile and a quarter, he's trained on Belmont and he's always done well on Belmont. So instead of having to ship him someplace and having to run him over something that he's not familiar with, I think that that would just be the better option.
"And that doesn't mean that that's what I'll do. You've got the Discovery at Aqueduct in November, and you've got the NYRA [Cigar] Mile at Aqueduct.
Much farther down the road, McGaughey mentioned that the Pegasus World Cup in January might be something to look at.
"The Breeders' Cup is on our mind, but it's not the absolute goal," he said. "If you look at the facts, dirt horses coming from the east to the west haven't really done that well. So that's going to go into my thinking a little bit. I'm not counting it out by any means."
"Listen, I think we have the best horse and a horse who was still very immature early in the year," Velazquez said. "He's shown that he's maturing, which is what we were waiting for, and let's see what happens. Like everything, just stay healthy."
Reach Gazette Sportswriter Mike MacAdam at 518-395-3146 or [email protected]. Follow on Twitter @Mike_MacAdam.