02/24/2011 4:38PM

To Honor and Serve makes first of two Derby preps in Fountain of Youth

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HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. – When it comes to winning the Kentucky Derby, suddenly less has become more. Three of the last four winners, Street Sense in 2007, Big Brown in 2008, and Super Saver last year came into the Derby with only two preps as 3-year-olds under their belts. And if all goes according to plan, the two current favorites for the 2011 Derby, Uncle Mo and To Honor and Serve, will take the same route with only two starts on their itineraries between now and May 7.

To Honor and Serve will have the first of his two Derby preps Saturday at Gulfstream Park, where he is the likely favorite among a field of eight 3-year-olds in the $400,000 Fountain of Youth. The 1 1/8-mile Fountain of Youth is one of three Grade 2 stakes, all for 3-year-olds, on Saturday’s outstanding 11-race card, along with the $150,000 Hutcheson and $250,000 Davona Dale.

To Honor and Serve was a dominant winner of his last three starts at 2 after dropping his career debut to the well-regarded Astrology at Saratoga. He closed out his carefully crafted juvenile campaign with easy victories over last week’s Risen Star winner Mucho Macho Man in both the Grade 2 Nashua at a mile and Grade 2 Remsen going nine furlongs.

“Two starts at 3 is quite a bit lighter than what they were used to 20 years ago, but, hey, it worked for Elliott last year,” said Bill Mott referring to WinStar’s racing manager Elliott Walden, who helped plot Super Saver’s course into the Kentucky Derby winner’s circle in 2010.

Mott, who trains To Honor and Serve for Charlotte Weber’s Live Oak Plantation, actually began plotting a course to the Derby for his horse last fall when opting to pass the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile in lieu of running in both the Nashua and Remsen.

“He’s already been two turns and been a mile and one-eighth, and I feel real good about that,” said Mott. “The plan was to get those two things under our belt. I also wanted to get an extra race for him as a 2-year-old, which is why we skipped the Breeders’ Cup, and I was very pleased with the outcome.”

Mott has prepared To Honor and Serve for his 3-year-old debut at his winter base at Payson Park, where he turned in a half-dozen recorded works capped by a bullet half-mile in 48.20 seconds last Sunday morning.

“He’s going into this race with only six works, which is not an overabundance, but this is by no means supposed to be his best race,” said Mott. “But we’ve got to get started and I’m hoping and expecting to see a good effort on Saturday.”

The $1 million Florida Derby on April 3 would be the most logical spot for the second of To Honor and Serve’s two Kentucky Derby preps, but Mott said that is not etched in stone at this point.

“The plans we make initially are based on the horse running well the first time,” said Mott. “We’ll keep the door open for any scenario and nominate him for everything else if we miss the Florida Derby or if we should decide we might want to buy ourselves another week or two after this one.”

To Honor and Serve will be at somewhat of a disadvantage as the only member of the Fountain of Youth field not to have already started at least once this winter.

Soldat made the most spectacular 3-year-old debut of the seven others in the field, drawing off to a 10 3/4-length entry-level allowance victory over a sloppy track going 1 1/8 miles on Jan. 21, earning a 103 Beyer Speed Figure. The victory was the first on dirt for Soldat, who closed out his 2-year-old campaign finishing second in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf.

Gourmet Dinner was also impressive in his first start at 3, finishing third, 1 1/2 lengths behind Dialed In in the Grade 3 Holy Bull on Jan. 30. Gourmet Dinner, like to Honor and Serve and Soldat, already has enough graded earnings to get into the Derby field by virtue of his victory in the Grade 3 Delta Jackpot at 2.

Eclipse Award winner Ramon Dominguez will be aboard Gourmet Dinner for the first time.

Shackleford, Casper’s Touch, and El Grayling finished one-two-three in a nine-furlong first-level allowance race here on Feb. 5.

Shackleford forced all the pace before edging away to a 2 1/4-length triumph for his second win in three starts in a race his trainer Dale Romans thought his horse needed badly coming off a 10-week layoff.

Casper’s Touch had an eventful trip, racing rankly while steadied along behind the leaders during the early running before being slammed into by another rival while attempting to rally in early stretch.

Racing Aptitude, a stakes winner on grass, completes the lineup.