WOODWARD STAKES | PURSE: $750,000 | 3-YEAR-OLD & UP | GRADE 1 | 1 1/8 MILES
Odds-on favorite Mucho Macho Man got to the throatlatch of Live Oak Plantation's To Honor and Serve inside the eighth pole in Saturday's Grade 1, $750,000 Woodward at Saratoga, but in a thrilling dogfight couldn't get past the gutsy son of Bernardini, who record the neck victory as the 7-2 second choice.
Tracking in third outside Rule, who set splits of :23 3/5, :47 2/5 and 1:10 4/5, To Honor and Serve reached that leader at the quarter pole, moved on past to gain a one-length advantage at the eighth pole, and braced for the oncoming rush of Mucho Macho Man. The 4-5 favorite bumped with outsider Gourmet Dinner at the start, was trapped inside of Stay Thirsty most of the way, and only found a clear path at the three-sixteenths pole. Despite having all chance to overtake To Honor and Serve, he couldn't quite seal the deal.
"The trip was perfect," winning jockey John Velazquez said. "I thought [Rule and Trickmeister] might go, and Mike [Smith aboard Mucho Macho Man] take back, and I expected they were going to send Rule from the rail. It worked out perfect.
"I talked with [trainer] Bill [Mott], he said 'Don't get into a wrestling match with him; just kind of let him do a little more.' After the half-mile pole, going to the three-eighths, I gave him his head and let him get a nice rhythm. He got to the quarter pole in hand without asking him to do anything. When he got to the lead, he started waiting. I thought he was going to gallop, but when he got by himself, he started waiting. When the other horse came to him, he started fighting. It was a great effort."
To Honor and Serve completed nine furlongs on the fast main track in 1:48 2/5 and returned $9.30, $3.60 and $2.60. Mucho Macho Man finished 2 3/4 lengths ahead of Cease, who led Trickmeister, Stay Thisty, Rule and Gourmet Dinner under the wire.
To Honor and Serve's scorecard now stands at 15-8-1-3, $1,778,840. A smashing maiden winner in his second career start, the bay captured the Grade 2 Remsen and Grade 2 Nashua to rank as one of the best juveniles of 2010. He endured a rocky road to the 2011 classics, finishing a lackluster third in both the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth and Grade 1 Florida Derby before heading to the sidelines with an injury.
Later in his sophomore season, To Honor and Serve began to fulfill his early potential. He crushed older horses in a nine-furlong Saratoga allowance, and dominated the Grade 2 Pennsylvania Derby. Only seventh in the Grade 1 Breeders' Cup Classic, he rebounded with a vengeance against his elders in the Grade 1 Cigar Mile, hinting at a big four-year-old campaign to come.
To Honor and Serve's 2012 season got off to a strong start with a 5 1/4-length decision in the Grade 3 Westchester, but he fell short as the favorite in both the Grade 1 Metropolitan Handicap and Grade 2 Suburban Handicap. Third by three lengths in the Met Mile, To Honor and Serve finished fourth, 7 1/2 lengths adrift of Mucho Macho Man, in the Suburban, a performance Mott blamed on the prevailing heat at Belmont.
"I knew he had it in him," Mott said following the Woodward. "He's been training well, he's a sound horse and there's no reason for him not to. I told my story the last time about how I thought the heat had him agitated, and he didn't do very well in the 97 degrees that day. I think he just threw a real stinker and he did come back today and prove he was a pretty darn good horse.
"When we went into the Suburban, we were really shooting for the Whitney [Handicap on August 4]. I think after the result of that, I felt like our excuse was the real sultry hot weather. I made the decision to bypass it because earlier in the month it's very hot. I figured we'd get a little break in the weather toward the end, and we have. Not only today, but during the nights, and he's been doing very well and eating very well because he's appreciated the better weather."
Bred by Twin Creeks Farm, Larry Byer and Rancho San Miguel in Kentucky, To Honor and Serve brought $250,000 as a Keeneland November weanling, but commanded $575,000 at the same venue as a September yearling. He is out of the stakes-winning Deputy Minister mare Pilfer, who is a half-sister to Grade 2 star India and Group 3-placed stakes victress Sing Softly.
This is the family of former Canadian turf champ Rahy's Attorney, champions Ryafan and Sunshine Forever, the Grade 1 mother/daughter turf duo of Memories of Silver and Winter Memories, multiple Grade 1-winning millionaire and successful Japanese sire Brian's Time and noted sire Dynaformer.