09/25/2011 1:21PM

Talking About To Honor and Serve, and Hansen


It says a lot about the unsettled nature of the 2011 racing season that, after trouncing a moderate group of fellow 3-year-olds in Saturday’s Pennsylvania Derby at Parx Racing for his first stakes win of the year, To Honor and Serve has overnight become a popular wise guy horse for the Breeders’ Cup Classic. And almost all of what it has to say is not complimentary.

However, it also has a lot to say about To Honor and Serve himself, and much of that is complimentary. Everyone remembers how To Honor and Serve entered 2011 as a top candidate for the Kentucky Derby on the basis of very impressive victories last fall in the Remsen and Nashua Stakes. I was as big a believer in him as anyone because, not only was it obvious that To Honor and Serve had an abundance of talent, he also seemed more likely to get a classic distance than last year’s 2-year-old male champ, Uncle Mo. But To Honor and Serve was profoundly disappointing finishing a distant third in both the Fountain of Youth and Florida Derby in his first two starts this year, and while he had a license to be short when he returned early last month from a suspensory issue that knocked him off the Triple Crown trail, the way he chucked it in the stretch of the Amsterdam to finish sixth was also not inspiring.

But To Honor and Serve took a step in the right direction with a Saratoga allowance romp late last month, and he took an even bigger step forward Saturday. Although the field To Honor and Serve mastered in the Pennsylvania Derby was at best good and certainly not great, it was far better than the bunch he beat at Saratoga. What was especially encouraging, however, was the way To Honor and Serve won. One of the knocks on him – and a fair one at that – concerned whether To Honor and Serve was capable of winning a meaningful race without controlling the early pace. That’s how he won the Remsen and Nashua. In his subsequent three stakes losses, he had neither control early, nor the lead. But in the Pennsylvania Derby, To Honor and Serve willingly conceded the early lead, and it did not diminish his effectiveness one bit. That is an undeniable sign of maturity.

The Pennsylvania Derby also had something to say about the form of last month’s Travers, specifically that it is now open to question. The Pennsylvania Derby attracted the two-three-four finishers in the Travers behind Stay Thirsty in Rattlesnake Bridge, J W Blue, and Ruler On Ice. Rattlesnake Bridge raced in close attendance to To Honor and Serve in the early running, but had absolutely no answer when the winner moved to break the race open on the far turn. J W Blue never threatened for so much as a moment. Only Ruler On Ice performed creditably, finishing gamely after being surprisingly far back early to be second. But the 2 ¾ lengths Ruler On Ice gained in the final furlong shouldn’t be blown out of proportion. It was not unlike a football team getting a couple of touchdowns in the last 10 minutes when they were down by 28 points.

I also want to say a brief word about Hansen, the flashy grey, Mike Maker-trained Tapit colt who won his debut at Turfway Park early this month by just over 12 lengths, and who came back to win Saturday’s Kentucky Cup Juvenile at Turfway by just over 13 lengths.

Now, before anyone goes too overboard on Hansen, keep in mind these three things: He has yet to race on dirt, the field he beat Saturday was weak, and despite the fact that he ran away from his opposition through the stretch Saturday, he was actually a tired horse. Just look at the late fractions. But Hansen had a right to be tired late in the Kentucky Cup Juvenile, and that is part of the reason why he is intriguing.

Hansen set the pace again Saturday, posting fractions of 23.83, 46.91, and 1:11.48. His pace was much faster than the Kentucky Cup Juvenile Fillies pace (24.12, 48.30, and 1:14.10), or what older females went in the Distaff (24.48, 48.43, and 1:12.73). Hansen’s pace was even faster than what older males went in the ostensible feature, the WinStar Kentucky Cup (24.47, 47.97, and 1:11.82). That Hansen, off of only one sprint race, can set that kind of pace going two turns and still win by a double digit margin regardless of what he was up against makes him, for now, at least, one to keep an eye on.

Bill Daly More than 1 year ago
You can say that THAS took advantage of a speed bias at PARX and perhaps he didn't beat much, but the way the horse won was quite impressive. He pretty much was on cruise control most of the race and seemingly may have lost focus in the stretch when well in front. I wouldn't place much stock in ROI's late charge. THAS will be a force in the BC Classic. Bet on it.
Aaron from Louisville More than 1 year ago
I lost a lot of dough betting on To Honor And Serve as a future Derby prospect. Bernadini finished 2nd at the Breeders Cup Classic in Louisville. I lost dough on that finish too. An American three year old hasn't won the Classic since Curlin. In a year when the older male handicap division looks soft and the American three year old division is starting to take shape, perhaps To Honor and Serve and Stay Thirsty can break through and make their father proud. I don't wanna give up on John Sadler and Twirling Candy just yet. That horse and trainer combo have been hard luck losers all season and might be ready at the right time come Breeders Cup Day. Maybe the American crop of contenders is just too weak. The Euros might really have an edge at this juncture. I'm waiting to see which Euro contender ships in for the Classic.
Captain Bodgit More than 1 year ago
Instead of trying to rush Hansen into the Breeders Cup after 2 races at Turfway, I'd put him in the Iroquois at a mile at Churchill then the KY Jockey Club at Churchill. Then I'd bring him back in the Spiral then Bluegrass Stakes before the Derby. I love To Honor and Serve in the Dirt Mile if he goes. The Classic? Not so much.
Dennis More than 1 year ago
To Honor and Serve had legitimate excuses for his poor performances in Florida when the weather was hot and nobody but Dialed In and Shackleford ran well. Later, his trainer takes him off the Derby trail because of the suspensory injury to his left foreleg. Bill Mott wanted 2 preps for To Honor before the Derby; he got his 2 preps now before the Classic. If To Honor trains well at Churchill (no reason why he shouldn't, he's won at multiple tracks) he will be the value horse to bet on.
peter kreutzer More than 1 year ago
The fractional comparison for Hansen is apreciated and quite telling . Certainly must consider going forward
Ron f More than 1 year ago
Ruler On Ice carrying 124 to Honor And Serve's 114 has to mean something.
Penn National Rick More than 1 year ago
Hey Mike, Has the connections talked about exploring the BC Marathon for Ruler on Ice?? Seems like the mile and half is more to his liking. Nice to see Honor back running like he should be. May be a force going to Classic??
Harlan Abbey More than 1 year ago
Hansen is impressive, but he sure looks white, not gray. Grays get lighter with age, Hansen can't get any whiter. Is he related to White Beauty???
StonewallJackson More than 1 year ago
Mike, I have to disagree with your comments regarding Ruler on Ice. You are missing the fact that he ran deceptively well against the track bias (see all other 2 turn races on the day at Parx on Saturday, no one other than Voodoo Storm [R9] was that far out of it and came running late). To Honor and Server and Rattlesnake Bridge got hammered at the windows because the bettors realized this track bias and assumed these two would be closest to the pace. I see Ruler on Ice run just as impressive of a race as the winner. Given that Ruler on Ice prefers more distance and is proven at it, I would rather wager on him that the THAS in the Classic. My humble opinion doesn't mean squat, but I felt like offering my two pennies since you seemed to completely ignore the effort and write it off as picking off scraps. He went six wide against the bias, I think that counts for something, no?
bigjcc526 More than 1 year ago
Cape Blanco could be HOY if he wins Turf Inv. and BC Turf,unless Havre de grace wins Classic,or Acclamation(who I don't think can win out of Cal. ala Lava Man) wins BC Turf. To Honor and serve can still take 3yo honors w/ a Classic win