Updated on 09/04/2012 1:52PM

Saratoga: To Honor and Serve holds off Mucho Macho Man in Woodward

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Barbara D. Livingston
To Honor and Serve (right) battles with Mucho Macho Man in deep stretch of the Woodward.

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - It was horses like the champion Royal Delta and To Honor and Serve that inspired Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott to go to the barn each morning this past winter in south Florida.

 But as the year went along, To Honor and Serve had put in a couple of uninspiring performances, most recently in the Grade 2 Suburban at Belmont Park.

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“I believed he could come back on the right day,” Mott said. “Today was a great day for him to come back.”

 The day was Saturday and the race was the Grade 1, $750,000 Woodward Stakes at Saratoga. After getting a perfect trip under John Velazquez, To Honor and Serve fended off a stretch challenge from Mucho Macho Man, the 4-5 favorite, to win the Woodward by a neck. Mucho Macho Man, who beat To Honor and Serve by 7 1/2 lengths in the Suburban on July 7, finished second by 2 3/4 lengths over Cease. He was followed in the order of finish by Trickmeister, Stay Thirsty, Rule, and Gourmet Dinner.

 The win was the eighth from 15 starts for To Honor and Serve, a 4-year-old son of Bernardini owned by Charlotte Weber’s Live Oak Plantation. It was To Honor and Serve’s fifth graded stakes victory, and his second Grade 1. His first Grade 1 came in last year’s Cigar Mile at Aqueduct, his final start at age 3.

 “After he won the Cigar Mile, I thought ‘Boy, we’re going to have some fun with him this year,’ ” Mott said.

 To Honor and Serve won the Grade 3 Westchester to begin the year, but finished third as the favorite in the Metropolitan Handicap and fifth, also as the favorite, in the Suburban. Mott blamed traffic trouble in the Met Mile and 97-degree heat in the Suburban.

 “We had our tails between our legs after the Suburban,” Mott said.

 In the Woodward, Mott reunited To Honor and Serve with John Velazquez, who hadn’t ridden the horse in a year. Breaking well from post 6, To Honor and Serve took up a stalking position on the outside about 1 1/2 lengths off Rule, who was being pressed by Trickmeister through a half-mile in 47.45 seconds and six furlongs in 1:10.83.

 Meanwhile, Mucho Macho Man, who was bumped out of the gate by 60-1 longshot Gourmet Dinner, was in fourth position under Mike Smith, inside of Stay Thirsty.

Approaching the quarter pole, Velazquez guided To Honor and Serve alongside Rule and they took the lead straightening away in the stretch. As he has been known to do, To Honor and Serve began to idle.

Turning for home, Smith guided Mucho Macho Macho outside of To Honor and Serve and the two were head-and-head from the eighth pole to the wire. Velazquez allowed To Honor and Serve to drift outward toward Mucho Macho Man, but the two never brushed.

To Honor and Serve covered the 1 1/8 miles in 1:48.56 and returned $9.30 as the second betting choice.

 “I got to the quarter pole without asking him to do anything,” Velazquez said. “He started waiting. When Mike came to the outside, he dug in really well. I was very proud of him that he put up a good fight.”

Smith said Gourmet Dinner kicked the starting gate before it opened and “it really messed my horse up.”

 Smith said had he Mucho Macho Man not gotten bumped by Gourmet Dinner coming out of the gate he felt, he would have been where To Honor and Serve was early on.

 “He had my trip,” Smith said of Velazquez.

 Kathy Ritvo, the trainer of Mucho Macho Man, felt the start cost her horse the race.

 “I just didn’t want to break that bad and give all the horses a couple of lengths,” Ritvo said. “But he ran a good race.”

 Now that To Honor and Serve is back in form, Mott and Weber must decide whether to point for the Breeders’ Cup Classic or the Dirt Mile. To Honor and Serve finished seventh, beaten 3 1/2 lengths in last year’s Classic. He is expected to be retired at year’s end and will stand at Gainesway Farm in Kentucky.

“I’ve always said this horse is a terrific miler, whether we want to reach out and try the Classic - he got beat 3 1/2 lengths last year in the Classic basically as an immature 3-year-old - we’ll have to make that decision when the time comes.”