Honor Code will take on Triple Crown winner American Pharaoh in Saturday's $5 million Breeders' Cup Classic, America's richest race. Honor Code is a regally bred 4-year-old son from the final crop of legendary sire A.P. Indy, whose father was Seattle Slew and grandfather was Secretariat. With a Silky Sullivan storm-from-behind racing style, Honor Code has won six of 10 starts, plus earnings of $2 million, which is only half the average salary for a Major League ballplayer but considerable coin for a horse.
Liam's Map is the heavy favorite in Friday's $1 million Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile, and only on Thursday did Hunsicker and his partners obtain a share in exchange for part-ownership of Honor Code. Both horses will be making their final starts before being retired to stud careers.
Hunsicker, who will attend the races at Keeneland in Kentucky, can't believe his racing luck. Racing a horse in the Breeders' Cup is the highest level for the Sport of Kings.
"The little guy doesn't usually have the opportunity to be part of a horse of this caliber," said Hunsicker, Houston's general manager from 1995-2004 and the Sporting News Executive of the Year in 1998, when the Astros won 102 games.
"I feel like I play in the Minor Leagues, and this is analogous to a team being in the World Series, I suppose. There's great excitement, and I also understand the challenge. It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for someone like me."
Hunsicker served in various management roles with the Mets before joining the Astros. After the 2004 season, he resigned from the Houston GM job, spent one year as a Houston advisor, then became senior advisor and mentor to then-28-year-old Tampa Bay general manager Andrew Friedman while pursuing a passion for thoroughbred horses.
Hunsicker was hired by Dodgers CEO Stan Kasten as a senior advisor three years ago. Two years later, Kasten hired Friedman as president of baseball operations.
Robert McNair, owner of the NFL's Houston Texans, taught Hunsicker the breeding side of the thoroughbred racing business, matching bloodlines of stallion and mare. Hunsicker transitioned to racing by participating in partnerships with Kentucky-based Woodford Racing, run by Bill Farish, son of Will Farish, former U.S. ambassador to England.
One of the partnerships led to the acquisition of Honor Code. Coincidentally, the Breeders' Cup is held Friday and Saturday, the same days as Games 4 and 5 of the World Series. Had the Dodgers reached the World Series, which Classic would Hunsicker have attended?
"I don't want to answer that," he said. "I was very disappointed at our premature ending. But I was dreading the decision, I must admit. I wrestled with it many times."