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Competitive Group Set for Saturday’s Suburban Handicap

mucho macho man
A versatile and accomplished group of older horses will assemble Saturday at Belmont Park for the 127th running of the Grade 2, $350,000 Suburban Handicap (G1).

Topping the field for the 1 1/8-mile race are Grade 1 winners To Honor and Serve and Stay Thirsty, who between them have won eight graded stakes and more than $2.8 million. Another eight graded stakes and $4.1 million in earnings is divvied up among the remaining six entrants, including 4-1 third choice Mucho Macho Man.

To Honor and Serve enters the Suburban off a career-high 109 Beyer Speed Figure, earned when finishing third after an eventful trip from the rail as the favorite in the Grade 1 Metropolitan Handicap. Winner of the 2011 Grade 1 Cigar Mile Handicap and the Grade 3 Westchester in April, To Honor and Serve will be making his first start at the Suburban distance since taking the Grade 2 Pennsylvania Derby at Parx Racing last fall.

“He’s extremely good at a mile, but he’s classy enough to get 1 1/8 miles,” said Hall of Famer Bill Mott, who trains the Bernardini colt for Live Oak Plantation. “In the Met Mile, I think he was extremely compromised by his post position and – not to take anything away from the first two finishers – didn’t have the smoothest of trips.”

To Honor and Serve is the starting high weight under 120 pounds, including Jose Lezcano, and will leave from the outside, having drawn post position No. 8.

Stay Thirsty, who took last year’s Grade 1 Travers at Saratoga Race Course for owner Mike Repole, was runner-up to fellow Suburban entrant Trickmeister as the even-money favorite in his 2012 debut, the Vanlandingham overnight stakes on May 17. No worse than third in four lifetime starts at Belmont, the 4-year-old Bernardini colt tuned up for the Suburban on Sunday with a five-furlong breeze in 1:00.05.

“With this being his second race off a layoff, we’re obviously looking for him to move forward,” said Michael McCarthy, assistant to trainer Todd Pletcher. “He’s been very sharp since the race, and we’re hoping this will set us on our way to a very, very productive summer.”

Javier Castellano will ride Stay Thirsty from post position No. 2, directly inside Repole Stable’s Caixa Eletronica. The entry was listed as the 7-2 second choice on the morning line.

Winner of the Sunshine Millions Classic at Gulfstream Park in January at the Suburban distance, Mucho Macho Man will be seeking his third victory of 2012, having also taken the Grade 2 Gulfstream Park Handicap in March and finishing third as the favorite in the Grade 2 Alysheba at Churchill Downs on May 4.

With a new jockey, Hall of Famer Mike Smith, in the irons, Mucho Macho Man drew post position No. 7.

Hoping to earn his first graded stakes victory is Godolphin Stable’s Buffum, whose eight-length victory in a one-mile optional claimer on May 28 in his 4-year-old debut earned him a career-high 105 Beyer.

“His first race back was huge coming off the layoff,” said trainer Tom Albertrani of Buffum, who like Stay Thirsty and To Honor and Serve, is by Bernardini. “He’s trained very well since then, and we’re hoping he can run the same race back.”

A $1.2 million yearling purchase and a first-out maiden winner in October, 2010, Buffum next was fifth behind winner To Honor and Serve in the Grade 2 Remsen. He was immediately shipped to Dubai, where he was fifth in the Group 3 UAE 2000 Guineas in his 2011 debut, and then returned to finish fourth in the Grade 3 Bay Shore at Aqueduct Racetrack in April.

Drawing post 4 at 8-1 on the morning line, Buffum will be ridden by Rajiv Maragh.

Completing the field are multiple graded-stakes winner Endorsement, who was a game third in the Grade 3 Pimlico Special last time out; Grade 1 Donn Handicap winner Hymn Book, fifth in the Pimlico Special, and Trickmeister, whose lone loss in seven starts came when he was sixth behind Hymn Book in the Donn, his only other graded stakes appearance.

–NYRA Press release

Mucho Macho Man/Courtney Stafford photo