State of Honor will never be mistaken for the best horse in this Kentucky Derby field, but he's the kind of horse you can't help but respect. He has just one win in 10 career starts, but since breaking his maiden in his fifth race he has run only in stakes races, and he has finished second four times and third once. He hasn't proven to be quite good enough, but he always finds a way to be a part of things. He's a warrior.
At the very least, then, you have to wonder if he can be a part of things again in the Derby. That would be useful because he's going to go off at a fairly big price, so he could really inflate the prices of exotics. You also have to respect this horse because, like the best of us, he is Canadian-bred.
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Last race: State of Honor was last seen in the Florida Derby. He looked uncomfortable heading into the first turn, but he settled down and found his stride nicely. He likes to be a part of the pace and was just behind the two leaders here. He showed nice patience as things got a little crazy heading into the final turn, and he awaited his chance. He made a nice move forward but seemed to run short of gas at the end and was no match for winner Always Dreaming. He held on nicely for second, though. It wasn't a perfect race, but given the issues he had early on and the crowd later on he showed nice maturity to get what he got. It was a solid B+ effort, and there is nothing wrong with that.
Prior experience: This is truly a seasoned veteran - the Florida Derby was his 10th career start. His first six were at Woodbine in Toronto, starting in the middle of July. He ran in two two-year-old stakes and two maiden races without showing a whole lot, but then as so often happens something clicked and he was a whole different horse. He broke his maiden impressively and then capped his year by finishing second in a stakes race. Then it was time to head south to the bigger time in Florida. He started the year finishing second in the Mucho Macho Man at Gulfstream. Then it was off to Tampa Bay to finish third in the Sam F. Davis and second in the Tampa Bay Derby. Through them all he is a horse that likes to be on or near the lead. There is plenty of speed expected in the Derby this year, and he'll be a part of it early on. This raises a bit of a concern, though. He has a lot of heart, and he is always grinding and giving all he has down the stretch. Consistently, though, it feels like his stamina isn't matching his heart. He has a lot to give but might not have the engine he needs. That's especially a concern as he stretches out to the Derby distance.
Trainer: After long dominating Canadian racing, Mark Casse is moving more and more of his business south of the border. It's working out very well for him - he sits eighth in the nation in earnings right now. Casse has not won a Triple Crown race yet, but he has three Breeders' Cup wins in the last two years and has the reigning two year old champion Classic Empire in his barn, so he is no stranger to winning at a high level. I am very high on Casse as a trainer, and it's only a matter of time until he wins his first of several Triple Crown races.
Jockey: Julien Leparoux is a favorite rider of Casse, and he currently has the mount on both this horse and Classic Empire. He may have a choice to make, and if both are in good form he'll choose the other horse because of the upside. Leparoux has won seven Breeders' Cup races, so he can win on big days, but he has never had it rolling on Derby day even though he is based in Kentucky and should have an edge at Churchill Downs. The most frustrating of his Derby outings was in 2012 with Union Rags. His ride was just awful, and the very talented horse finished a dismal seventh. John Velazquez was given the mount on the horse for the Belmont and won solidly. Leparoux will be far from the best rider in the Derby field, but he's not a disaster, either.
Breeding: State of Honor is a son of To Honor and Serve, a son of the great Bernardini, who was third in the Florida Derby in 2011 and went on to win two Grade 1 races. This horse is the top performer of the young sire's breeding career. State of Honor's damsire is Elusive Quality who, most notably, is the sire of Derby and Preakness winner Smarty Jones. The breeding here is fairly solid, though To Honor and Serve was at his best at shorter than the classic distance, so the Derby distance is a bit of a concern.
Odds: State of Honor is unquestionably a long shot, though not one with a truly massive price. BetOnline currently has him listed at +5000. In the final Kentucky Derby future wager held by Churchill Downs he went off at 47/1, which is the fourth-highest price of the 22 individual horses listed.
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Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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