Few horses have been better named than Saturday’s Tenacious Handicap winner Honorable Duty. I normally prefer names that manage to evoke both the name of the sire and the dam, and since Honorable Duty is by Distorted Humor out of Mesmeric, by A.P. Indy, his does neither. But Honorable Duty is a perfect description of the stud career of his sire and of the service his female family has provided for his breeder, Juddmonte Farms.
Bred in Kentucky by the late Charles Nuckols Jr. and sons as part of the Nuckols family’s long-term deal with Russell L. Reineman, Distorted Humor was a high-class sprinter-miler whose racetrack achievements topped out at Grade 2 level. A lengthy, medium-sized, heavily muscular horse who resembles his sire, Forty Niner, Distorted Humor may have possessed the ability to win one of the four Grade 1 events he contested during his 23-race career, but developed a reputation for sulking at inopportune moments.
Unraced at 2, Distorted Humor won his first start, at 3, in a six-furlong Gulfstream Park maiden race by 5 ½ lengths for Reineman and trainer Phil Gleaves. Before his second start a month later, Art Preston’s Prestonwood Farm bought an interest, and Distorted Humor was transferred to trainer Elliott Walden, who is now the general manager of WinStar Farm where Distorted Humor stands. Distorted Humor won the Screen King Stakes at Saratoga later that summer, and ran second or third in the King’s Bishop, Jerome, and Fayette – all Grade 2 stakes – and fifth in the Grade 1 NYRA Mile.
Over the next two seasons, Distorted Humor was a consistent presence in graded stakes at seven furlongs to 1 1/8 miles in the Midwest and New York, winning the Grade 2 Commonwealth Breeders’ Cup at Keeneland and the Churchill Downs Handicap at Churchill Downs, as well as the Grade 3 Ack Ack and Salvator Mile, but his third in the 1998 Cigar Mile behind Sir Bear and Affirmed Success in his final start was his best effort at the Grade 1 level.
Distorted Humor retired to WinStar Farm (formerly Prestonwood Farm, having been purchased from Art Preston and family) in 1999 with rather iffy credentials in an increasingly difficult market for horses that had not won Grade 1’s. Thus, Distorted Humor sired only 62 Northern Hemisphere foals in his first crop. But WinStar took the innovative approach of spreading those foals around to different jurisdictions. That is how 2003 Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner and champion 3-year-old male Funny Cide became a New York-bred: WinStar bred his dam, Belle’s Good Cide (by Slewacide), to Distorted Humor and sent her to foal in New York.
The gelded Funny Cide, who earned $3,529,412 in a six-year career, made Distorted Humor a hot property, but Funny Cide was hardly the only high-class horse in Distorted Humor’s first crop. Awesome Humor (out of Horns Gray, by Pass the Tab) won the Grade 1 Spinaway; Go Rockin’ Robin (Flag Support, by Personal Flag) won the Grade 2 Peter Pan; Humorous Lady (My Glamorous One, by It’s the One) won the Grade 2 Astarita; and Sensibly Chic (Rajana’s Honor, by Hero’s Honor) won the Grade 2 Vagrancy. Seven other offspring of Distorted Humor won listed stakes.
Even with the better mares that success brought, Distorted Humor could not maintain that stakes winners to foals strike rate of almost 20 percent, but he has proven himself consistently one of the world’s best sires, leading the American sire list in 2011. His honors list now includes 143 stakes winners from 1,457 foals of racing age, 15 Grade 1 or Group 1 winners, and champions or international highweights Hillaby (Sealy Hill, by Point Given), Regal Ransom (Kelli’s Ransom, by Red Ransom), and Pathfork (Visions of Clarity, by Sadler’s Wells), as well as Belmont Stakes and Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Drosselmeyer (Golden Ballet, by Moscow Ballet).
Honorable Duty’s dam, Mesmeric, is typical of the better mares Distorted Humor’s early success inevitably attracted. Though unraced, she is half-sister to Funny Cide’s Belmont Stakes conqueror Empire Maker (by Unbridled) Grade 1 winners Chester House (Mr. Prospector), Honest Lady (Seattle Slew), Chiselling (Woodman), and Grade 2 winner Decarchy (Distant View). Honest Lady, in turn, is the dam of Grade 1 winner First Defence (Unbridled’s Song) and two other stakes winners.
Mesmeric and Honest Lady’s dam, Grade 1 winner Toussaud (El Gran Senor), accordingly was honored as Broodmare of the Year in 2002, and she is a full sister to Grade 3 winner Navarra, dam of Grade 3 winner and sire Indygo Shiner (A.P. Indy) and stakes winner Image of Class (Codex), out of Grade 2 winner Image of Reality (In Reality), who was purchased for $500,000 by Juddmonte at the 1987 Keeneland November sale.
Honorable Duty himself made three starts, including a second and a third, for Juddmonte and trainer Bill Mott as a 3-year-old in 2015 before agent James Bredin purchased him on behalf of David A. Ross for $130,000 at the 2015 Keeneland November sale. He has improved to win four of seven starts this year, all for trainer Brendan Walsh, culminating with his first stakes win in the Tenacious Handicap