Seems like everyone’s been waiting for To Honor and Serve.
On Saturday, he waited for his old buddy, Mucho Macho Man.
It was worth it.
The 4-year-old son of Bernardini
who showed such promise as a
juvenile two years ago, but missed the entire Triple Crown series last year, finally reached full bloom, holding off Mucho Macho Man by a neck in the Grade I Woodward before 22,475 at Saratoga Race Course.
Granted, To Honor and Serve was already a Grade I winner, having won the Cigar Mile last November, but the Woodward was his first Grade I win this year and the first of his career at a route longer than a mile.
One woman in the winner’s circle drew a cheer when she turned around and said, “Thanks for sticking with us, To Honor and Serve fans.”
To Honor and Serve, trained by Hall of Famer Bill Mott and owned by Charlotte Weber’s Live Oak Plantation, has a sparkling resume with six graded stakes wins, but his last two starts raised the question of where he stacked up in the older division.
He was third to Shackleford in the Met Mile, then bombed behind Mucho Macho Man in the Suburban on a sweltering day at Belmont Park on July 7.
On Saturday, he took the lead under John Velazquez just inside the eighth pole, but was seriously threatened by Mucho Macho Man, whom he beat twice in graded stakes in 2010, as they approached the sixteenth pole.
Given the wake-up call, To
Honor and Serve dug in and just pulled away in the final strides.
“They’ve raced against each other
since they were 2-year-olds, and we’ve traded win positions with him during that point in time, so I figured it was our turn,” Mott said. “You always wonder how he’s going
to do when he’s in a dogfight.
“That horse ran up to his neck, and he held him and ran well,
although Johnny said he was loafing a little bit when he was on the lead turning for home. But he said, finally, that other horse ran to him and got him back in gear.”
“When he got by himself, he started waiting,” Velazquez said. “When the other horse came to him, he started fighting.”
Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith, who also rode Mucho Macho Man in the Suburban, blamed the antics of Gourmet Dinner, in the stall to his inside, for breaking Mucho
Macho Man’s concentration in the gate long enough to cause him to not break as alertly as he and trainer Kathy Ritvo wanted.
“The break cost him the race,” Ritvo said. “I just didn’t want to break that bad and give the other horses a couple of lengths.”
“I was standing good, and when he started kicking, it really messed my horse up,” Smith said. “I thought I had it [in the stretch], but his horse dug back.”
Mott said the Woodward result affirmed his belief that the hot weather at Belmont caused To Honor and Serve to “throw a real stinker” in the Suburban.
After that, they decided to skip the Whitney.
As a 2-year-old, To Honor and Serve beat Mucho Macho Man twice, in the Nashua and Remsen at Aqueduct, to stamp himself as a Kentucky Derby threat.
He missed all three Triple Crown races, while Mucho Macho Man ran in all three, but To Honor and Serve did win the Pennsylvania Derby in September leading up to a seventh to Drosselmeyer in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, while Mucho Macho Man sat that one out.
“He’s been a good horse, he’s a Grade I winner and he’s competed well at 2, 3 and now 4,” Mott said. “He’s established himself as a top handicap horse, and hopefully, he’ll go on and finish the year out strong and go on to be a good sire.
“I knew he had it in him. He’s been training well, he’s a sound horse and there was no reason for him not to.”
“When he had his problems
before the Derby, we let him have his time,” Weber said. “I think that’s one of the unique things that I do, I give them time. I let them grow up and hang in there.
“He’ll be retired after the Breeders’ Cup, I’m quite sure.”
Mott said they would have to
decide whether to send To Honor and Serve to the Breeders’ Cup Classic or Dirt Mile.