01/04/2011 3:13PM

To Honor and Serve may be ready for the Feb. 26 Fountain of Youth

Barbara D. Livingston
To Honor and Serve is back in training following a brief vacation.

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - Trainer Bill Mott said he is cautiously optimistic of making the Feb. 26 Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream with To Honor and Serve, one of the top early contenders for the 137th Kentucky Derby. To Honor and Serve, an odds-on winner of both the Grade 2 Nashua and Grade 2 Remsen, “has been jogging and galloping every day since the middle of December,” said Mott.

To Honor and Serve actually was sent for a few days “for a little holiday” to the Live Oak Farm of his owner, Charlotte Weber, a few hours north in Ocala, and was scheduled to return Wednesday, said Mott.

“I actually wish the timing of the Fountain of Youth was a week or two later, but we’ll see how the training goes,” said Mott. “Both that race and the [April 3] Florida Derby would be possibilities, but of course he’ll be nominated to every type of those stakes. Everything would be an option at this point. The good thing is we’re not under the gun to get earnings. We just need to get him back and get a couple races in him.”

Hess based at gulfstream for first time

Bob Hess Jr. has been closely identified with Southern California racing for more than two decades. But the various problems that plague that circuit led the 45-year-old trainer to branch out early last year, and for the first time, Hess is at Gulfstream Park for the winter.

“I’ve still got 35 head back home,” said Hess. “But I’ve got a dozen here and I’m actually trying to hustle a couple more stalls.”

Hess said a major factor in luring him east was his association with a major client, Amanda Pope of Whisper Hill Farm in Ocala. Hess ran a handful of horses in the spring at Keeneland and Churchill Downs, then had a string at Monmouth Park for the summer before moving that division back to Kentucky for the fall meets.

“Amanda has a lot of really nice young horses,” Hess said. “This is something I’m serious about. I’ll go back home some, but I’ll be spending the bulk of the winter here in Florida.”

Since he began his career in 1987, Hess has won 966 races and has stable earnings of more than $30.7 million. His father, Bob Sr., is a lifelong horseman who remains active on the Northern California circuit.

*  Jockey agent Steve Adika, who worked for Hall of Famer Mike Smith and other top jockeys in years past, is back in the game after a couple of years away. He is peddling the services of Ryan Curatolo, an 18-year-old apprentice who hails from France and has worked as an exercise rider for his countryman, trainer Patrick Biancone.

Curatolo has won seven races since he began his career Oct. 24 at Calder. He is one of eight apprentices listed in the Gulfstream condition book as being active for this meet.
– additional reporting by Mike Welsch