Updated on 09/27/2011 5:34PM

Parx: To Honor and Serve a powerful Pennsylvania Derby winner

Email
Bill Denver/Equi-Photo
To Honor and Serve, with Jose Lezcano riding, captures the Pennsylvania Derby.

BENSALEM, Pa. - To Honor and Serve provided a not-so-subtle reminder why he entered the year ranked so high on many handicappers' Kentucky Derby lists with an authoritative victory, running stakes-record time, in Saturday's $1 million Pennsylvania Derby at Parx Racing.

Taking over from pacesetting Rush Now with three furlongs remaining, To Honor and Serve, under Jose Lezcano, scored a 2 1/4-length victory over Belmont Stakes winner Ruler On Ice. It was 3 1/2 lengths back to Rattlesnake Bridge in third.

To Honor and Serve ($5.20) ran 1 1/8 miles over a fast track in 1:47.34, the fastest clocking for the Pennsylvania Derby in 32 runnings. The previous stakes record was 1:47.60 established by Western Playboy in 1989, though times were not recorded in hundredths back then. Timber Reserve ran 1 1/8 miles in 1:47.67 in 2007.

The win was the fifth from nine career starts for To Honor and Serve, a son of Bernardini owned by Charlotte Weber's Live Oak Plantation, and the $556,000-first place purse pushed his career earnings to $996,340.

The win also likely earned To Honor and Serve a spot in the Breeders' Cup Classic at Churchill Downs on Nov. 5.

"The timing would be right - the horse seems like he's doing well. I'll discuss that with Ms. Weber and the Live Oak team and we'll come to a decision on it, but I'm sure we'd all like to give that a chance if the horse is up to it," Mott said.

Though he was a multiple graded stakes winner at 2, To Honor and Serve wasn't up to the rigors of the Triple Crown trail. After finishing third in the Fountain of Youth and Florida Derby, To Honor and Serve was sidelined with a suspensory ligament injury to his left foreleg that knocked him off the Triple Crown trail.

He returned in August with a sixth-place finish in the Grade 2 Amsterdam Stakes sprinting at Saratoga, before winning an allowance race at Saratoga by 8 1/4 lengths.

"He's finally rounding into some form of maturity," said Mott, who noted To Honor and Serve was a bit anxious earlier in his career. "I think that's helped him. I don't think it's anything but the time we gave him. We had a little issue with him after the Florida Derby, and Ms. Weber was more than willing to give him the time he needed rather than push him into the Triple Crown, and I have to say today it paid off."

Under Lezcano, To Honor and Serve stalked Rush Now through a quarter-mile in 23.29 seconds, a half-mile in 46.62 seconds and six furlongs in 1:10.22. He took the lead leaving the three-furlong pole, and though he appeared to wait on horses in upper stretch, he was an easy winner over a late-running Ruler On Ice, who had just two horses beaten down the backside.

"It's the way we thought it would set up," Mott said.  "I was a little anxious [because] it took him until he got down into the turn until he started to clear a couple of those horses to the inside. I thought he was going to be five wide. By the time he got to the middle of the turn, he was set up outside of one horse. At this track everybody knows maybe it's not a bad thing to be out off the rail a bit anyway."

Though Ruler On Ice won the Belmont Stakes attending the pace, he was about 10 lengths out of it down the backside Saturday under Garrett Gomez. He made a move into contention around the far turn and then came with a late rally to get second.

Gomez said the field outran him into the first turn, and he didn't want to use horse early chasing the field.

"I thought, let me find him a spot and go from there and play it by the way he's handing the situation," Gomez said. "When he split horses at the three-eighths pole he took off. Turning for home I thought I was going to run down that horse. They were just not coming back."

Ruler On Ice did finish 3 1/2 lengths ahead of Rattlesnake Bridge, who jockey John Velazquez said he had to move earlier than he wanted to stay in proximity with To Honor and Serve. Rattlesnake Bridge was followed in the order of finish by Arthur's Tale, J W Blue, Norman Asbjornson, Rush Now, Pender Harbour, and Isn't He Perfect.