SARATOGA SPRINGS -- To Honor and Serve was enjoying an ideal trip Saturday while Mucho Macho Man had traffic trouble in the 59th Woodward Stakes. Entering the stretch, the 4-5 favorite finally found racing room, and nearing the sixteenth pole he got within a neck of To Honor and Serve. The battle was on.
With a $450,000 winner's share and a Grade I trophy on the line, the huge Mucho Macho Man had every chance to go by, and he couldn't. As To Honor and Serve drifted out five or six paths under John Velazquez's lefthanded whip, Mucho Macho Man couldn't cut into the margin under Mike Smith and fell short by a neck.
"I knew he had it in him,'' trainer Bill Mott said. "He won the Cigar Mile last year and competed well at [ages] 2, 3 and 4. You always wonder how they're going to do in a dogfight, and that horse ran up to his neck and he held him.''
To Honor and Serve improved to 3-1 against Mucho Macho Man, whom he also beat in the Nashua Stakes and Remsen Stakes at Aqueduct in the fall of 2010, when they were 2-year-olds. Mucho Macho Man dominated To Honor and Serve by 7½ lengths July 7 in the Suburban Handicap at sultry Belmont Park.
"I thought the heat had him agitated,'' Mott said, "and he didn't do very well in the 97 degrees that day. I think he just threw in a real stinker, and he came back today and proved he's a pretty darn good horse.''
This time circumstances favored To Honor and Serve. He stalked in third behind a strong pace (47.45-second half-mile, 1:10.83 for 6 furlongs) set by 17-1 shot Rule (seventh) while being pressured by 16-1 Trickmeister. "The trip was perfect,'' Velazquez said, "but when he got by himself, he started waiting. When the other horse came to him, he started fighting.''
Mucho Macho Man's problems started before the race did. Gourmet Dinner, a 60-1 shot who finished last, acted up in the gate and broke outward from post 2 into Mucho Macho Man (post 3). "The break cost him the race,'' trainer Kathy Ritvo said, and Smith agreed. "We missed the break and didn't get good position,'' he said. "When the 2 horse started kicking, it really messed my horse up.''
Losing a few lengths immediately made it an uphill fight all the way. "I just didn't want to break that bad and give a couple of lengths,'' Ritvo said. "He ran a good race, and I thought he was going to catch him, but he's a tough horse to catch.''
To Honor and Serve paid $9.30 for his eighth victory, and second in a Grade I, in 15 career starts for Mott and Live Oak Plantation. Like Travers winner Alpha, he's a son of Bernardini, one of the world's leading stallions. To Honor and Serve ran 11/8 miles in 1:48.56 on a fast track. Cease ran third, 2¾ lengths farther back, with Trickmeister fourth. Stay Thirsty, also by Bernardini, was fifth, making him 0-for-5 since taking last year's Travers.
"The first two horses have been running against each other since they were 2-year-olds,'' Mott said. "They've traded win positions, and I figured it was our turn.''