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Sunday, November 27, 2011
Give that horse a Cigar

By Bob Ehalt

As much as the $250,000 Cigar Mile Handicap helped bring down a curtain on the Grade 1 portion of the 2011 NYRA stakes schedule, it also enhanced the possibility that some great racing might be waiting for us right around the corner in 2012.

As much as we won’t have Uncle Mo to kick around next year, we might have the winners of all three Triple Crown races -- Animal Kingdom, Shackleford and the gelding Ruler On Ice -- plus Stay Thirsty, the Travers winner, meaning there’s an excellent chance that for the first time since 2008 a 3-year-old champion colt might race at four.

Now you can add the enigmatic To Honor and Serve to that list of soon-to-turn 4-year-old males who might finally steal the spotlight away from the sport’s leading ladies.

After tiring and fading to seventh earlier this month in the mile-and-a-quarter Breeders’ Cup Classic, trainer Bill Mott gave Live Oak Plantation’s To Honor and Serve a chance for redemption in the shorter Cigar Mile and was rewarded with a 1 3/4-length victory Saturday in a swift 1:33.89 for the eight furlongs.

As much as a victory in a one-turn mile does not always equate to success in nine- or 10-furlong Grade 1 stakes, To Honor and Serve was already a proven commodity at two turns prior to the Cigar. At two, he won the Nashua and then the Remsen to become a top Kentucky Derby candidate. After third-place finishes in the Fountain of Youth and Florida Derby tarnished his Triple Crown luster, he suffered a strained suspensory ligament of his left foreleg which kept him sidelined until the summer.

When he returned, he looked like anything but one of the year’s top 3-year-olds, turning in a no-show in the form of a sixth-place finish in the 6 1/2 furlong Amsterdam at Saratoga. But when Mott put the son of Bernardini back in two-turn races, he promptly posted a lopsided win in an allowance race followed by a 2 1/4-length victory in the Grade 2 Pennsylvania Derby over Ruler On Ice and Travers runner-up Rattlesnake Bridge.

To Honor and Serve’s plans for next year are uncertain, but with a little luck he could be part of one of the most exciting collections of older colts in recent memory, a possibility that can help warm the cold, winter days ahead.

“I thought he was professional before this race, but this certainly puts the right markings on his calendar,” said To Honor and Serve’s owner, Charlotte Weber. “He’s going to go home to Live Oak [in Florida] and rest for a little bit. After his rest he will go back to [Mott] and we will figure out his campaign for next year. I can’t see any reason not to race him next year. [Having fun] is what this game is all about. I don’t think it’s about retiring them as soon as you can to get your maximum dollars. That’s nice too, don’t get me wrong, but it also is about racing and continuing on and having good older horses show what they’re made of.”

Indeed it is, and, after what may very well be three straight years with a filly or mare earning Horse of the Year honors, it will be quite refreshing to finally see older colts strut their stuff.