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.
“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. The winner paid $9.30 for a $2 win bet.
When the gate opened, long-shot Rule ambushed predicted pace-setter Trickmeister from his inside post position and cut out a first quarter-mile in 23.70 seconds and a half in 47.45. Trickmeister raced in second, while To Honor and Serve, wide into the first turn, steadily tracked on the backside in the three-path in third place.
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.
When Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith recovered and established an inside position with Mucho Macho Man on the backside, Javier Castellano on Stay Thirsty stayed close off his right flank.
Velazquez moved To Honor and Serve to the lead inside the quarter pole and roused him for the drive, while Mucho Macho Man cut around the tiring leaders, shifted outside and took aim at the last horse in front of him.
Under a right-handed whip, Mucho Macho Man drew even with To Honor and Serve, but the winner dug down and pulled away.
“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.