September 1, 2012—Very seldom does a horse race live up to the hype, and very seldom do two horses who met as babies meet again for much of the marbles in a Grade 1 at Saratoga.

Actually, this is the fourth time that To Honor And Serve and Mucho Macho Man have met. Advantage To Honor And Serve, by a count of 3 to 1.

To Honor And Serve was always the more precocious; Mucho Macho Man was from Day 1 the promising late developer who would mature into the big horse, figuratively, to go along with his height of 17.3 hands tall.

They always put on a good show. THAS beat MMM twice at 2, in the Nashua and Remsen. Then MMM laid it on THAS in the Suburban, with mucho gusto.

As the field for the Woodward turned into the stretch, Johnny Velazquez on To Honor And Serve, having gotten Trickmeister to put just enough pressure on Rule to keep things honest, made his move, surged to command with three-sixteenths of a mile remaining, and braced for the challenge that surely would come.

Mucho Macho Man could have been luckier, a lot luckier.

Breaking about a half-length slow, as big horses sometimes do, he wasn’t helped when Gourmet Dinner came out soon after the start and bumped him, temporarily finding him last in a compact field of seven as the group approached the first turn.

Mike Smith moved him swiftly around Gourmet Dinner to secure rail position but this guy wants to be out there free running, speedily stalking a rival. But in the end there were no excuses. The Macho Man had every chance to get by but didn’t.

The 4-5 favorite rallied on the far turn while saving ground, angled out for room just as his rival surged to command, reached even terms, but failed to successfully look To Honor And Serve in the eye.

The winner drifted about three paths wide under the punishing left hand of Velazquez, which carried his rival out, but no contact was made.

For Mucho Macho Man, it was his chance to get his Grade 1 and possible move to the top of next week’s NTRA poll. In the end, however, all he lost was a photo, none of the stature he had going in.

But for To Honor And Serve, it was redemption for the Met Mile and Suburban defeats, especially the latter, and now he’s back in the hunt for end of season honors.

“I knew he had it in him,” said trainer Bill Mott. “I told my story the last time about how the heat had him agitated.

“He didn’t do very well in the 97 degree heat that day and just threw a real stinker. But he did come back today and prove he was a pretty darn good horse.”

Fall may be approaching rapidly, but the Eclipse battles are just beginning to heat up.


...And the 'Trainer of the Meet' Is...

Can it possibly be anyone else than Kiaran McLaughlin?

Of course, the buzz all meeting long was could Chad Brown, who’s having a completely break-out meet, saddle enough turf winners to catch Todd Pletcher, armed with a barn full of 2-year-olds?

But let’s count the ways that McLaughlin earned the recognition of the HRI Trainer of the Meet: Travers, Grade 1; Alabama, Grade 1; Coaching Club American Oaks, Grade 1; Forego, Grade 1.

Parenthetically, not that anyone can remember, but there will be four jockey statues at the entrance of the clubhouse adorned in Godolphin Blue.

Of the four Grade 1s, all Alpha did was make history with his courageous late surge to dead heat with Golden Ticket. And all Questing did in the CCAO and Alabama, and Emcee in today’s Forego, was dominate the opposition.

The speedy Unbridled’s Song colt won the Forego the way you might draw it up in McLaughlin’s barn office:

Break sharply, stalk the speedy Pacific Ocean, pounce when ready, draw away in 1:21-flat for the seven-eighths and win by 4-1/2!

The smiling on Alan Garcia’s face in the winners’ circle said it all: “Thank you, boss.”

What he really said was: “All I wanted was for him to break good and take it from there. He did it the right way.”

Said McLaughlin: “It’s an honor to train for Godolphin. To have such quality horses makes my job easier. I have a great team behind me and it’s been an unbelievable meet. It’s hard to believe. It will take some time to sink in.”


Pace [Doesn't] Make This Race

There were a lot of pedigree wise guys waiting for Dominus to make his turf debut, being a classy son of Smart Strike, from a Lord At War mare.

But who needs pedigree when you can engineer a half mile in :48.63 and 1:12.26 going 1-1/16 miles on a super-firm course.

Sorry, it’s not exactly hard but it sure has been speed favoring most of the meet.

Anyway, after that halfhearted excuse for a pace, who needs a hard course? However, the sprint home was very, very strong.

Turf times are not always written in stone, but it’s certainly possible that a horse of Dominus’ stature could throw a :22.23 at you, forcing you to spin your wheels to catch up.

Then, just to seal the deal, a final sixteenth of :05.83 will get that job done with lengths to spare.

“I would have been disappointed if he’d gotten beat after the [:48 half],” said his trainer, Todd Pletcher.

And that was no equine tomato can; it was the gifted Data Link who made his customary late run but, given the fractions, couldn’t make a dent.