In his prior start, the Grade 2 Suburban Handicap on July 7 at Belmont Park, To Honor and Serve reacted poorly to the 97-degree heat and finished a dull fourth behind Mucho Macho Man. On a picture-perfect late summer day at Saratoga, To Honor and Serve turned the tables on his rival, holding off Mucho Macho Man’s testing stretch challenge to win the Woodward by a neck.
Owned by Ocala’s Live Oak Plantation and conditioned by Hall of Famer Bill Mott, To Honor and Serve ran the 1 1/8-mile Woodward in 1:48.56 under jockey John Velazquez. The victory by the 4-year-old Bernardini colt was his second Grade 1, along with the Cigar Mile Handicap last November at Aqueduct Racetrack.
“I knew he had it in him,” Mott said. “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 [in the Suburban] 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.”
To Honor and Serve went off as the 7-2 second choice in the field of seven behind 4-5 favorite Mucho Macho Man.
Mucho Macho Man, looking for his first Grade 1 score, was bumped coming out of the gate by fractious long shot Gourmet Dinner and last away from the gate. Jockey Mike Smith positioned Mucho Macho Man behind the leaders down the backstretch and heading into the far turn. When the real running began on the far turn, Smith swung his mount in the clear and set his sights on To Honor and Serve.
“I thought I had it, but his horse dug back,” Smith said.
Velazquez was elated with To Honor and Serve.
“He got to the quarter-pole in hand without asking him to do anything,” said the recent Hall of Fame inductee. “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.”
Mucho Macho Man was followed home by Cease, Trickmeister, Stay Thirsty, Rule and Gourmet Dinner.
To Honor and Serve won for the eighth time in 15 career starts. The $450,000 purse for the Woodward pushed his lifetime earnings to $1,778,840.
“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,” Mott said.
–NYRA Press contributed to this report.
To Honor and Serve/NYRA photo