08/30/2012 1:53PM

Saratoga: Woodward cast shows reversal of fortunes

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Tom Keyser
Mucho Macho Man, with Mike Smith riding, delivered a career-best performance winning the Suburban last time out.

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. – In late summer and early fall of 2011, Stay Thirsty and To Honor and Serve were the toast of the 3-year-old division. Stay Thirsty had just won the Jim Dandy and Travers at Saratoga, while To Honor and Serve won the Pennsylvania Derby after romping in a Saratoga allowance.

Mucho Macho Man, meanwhile, was out of sight and out of mind, vacationing after a grueling and unsuccessful bid in all three Triple Crown races.

As this year’s calendar turns from August to September, roles have been reversed. Mucho Macho Man has risen to prominence in the handicap division while Stay Thirsty and To Honor and Serve have drifted out of consciousness.

On Saturday, at Saratoga, Mucho Macho Man tries to retain his lofty status while Stay Thirsty and To Honor and Serve try to regain theirs in the Grade 1, $750,000 Woodward as their connections determine what, if any, factor their horses will be in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, to be run in a mere nine weeks at Santa Anita.

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Mucho Macho Man has won 3 of 4 races this year, including the Sunshine Millions Classic, Grade 2 Gulfstream Park Handicap and Grade 2 Suburban at Belmont Park. The Suburban was a career-best performance, one in which he defeated Hymn Book by 2 1/2 lengths while To Honor and Serve and Stay Thirsty were fourth and fifth, respectively.

“You know what was great about that?” Kathy Ritvo, the trainer of Mucho Macho Man, said. “He looked like he did it effortlessly.”

Mucho Macho Man’s first two works following the Suburban were eye-catching for their swiftness and the ease in which they were accomplished. His last breeze, a five-furlong move in 1:02.84 on Sunday, was not as impressive, as the horse came home slowly while appearing to drift out under exercise rider Nick Petro.

“We tried to keep him off the rail the other day,” Ritvo said. “The exercise rider said he felt like he hit the ground seven times the whole stretch – he said he just floated. As far as getting tired, there’s no way he got tired the other day. He might have misjudged how fast he was going, but he went amazing. He came off the track bucking and squealing. We could hardly get him back to the barn. He’s doing really good.”

If Mucho Macho Man runs as well as he did in the Suburban, he will win the Woodward, run at 1 1/8 miles. Under Mike Smith, Mucho Macho Man attended a strong early pace set by Trickmeister – also in this field – before finishing very rapidly without feeling the leather of Smith’s whip.

Mucho Macho Man will break from post 3 under Smith on Saturday.

The Suburban was run on an extremely hot day at Belmont Park. The connections of To Honor and Serve and Stay Thirsty both believe the heat adversely impacted their horses.

It has gotten a bit cooler in upstate New York, and the forecast for Saturday is for dry conditions and a high near 80 degrees.

Bill Mott, the trainer of To Honor and Serve, believes he has seen a change in his colt since the weather broke. He also noted that To Honor and Serve was successful in the fall of both his 2- and 3-year-old seasons.

“We’re not into the fall yet, but sometimes those things kind of repeat themselves,” Mott said.

Stay Thirsty is 3 for 4 at Saratoga, and his owner, Mike Repole, and trainer Todd Pletcher, were hopeful of making both the Whitney and the Woodward this summer. But Stay Thirsty took some time to recover from the Suburban and thus skipped the Whitney. Pletcher believes the horse’s last two works have shown he is rounding back into form.

“We feel good about the way he’s training. He behaves as though he’s coming up to his best race,” Pletcher said. “So, hopefully it all works out and he finishes out the year strong.”

Cease has a proven affinity for Saratoga, winning all three of his starts over the main track. He is seeking his first graded stakes success.

“He seems to like Saratoga so much and it fits the schedule,” trainer Al Stall said. “When it’s over with we’ll have a much better line on him, that’s for sure. I don’t think we’d do a whole lot different with him after the race anyway, the Breeders’ Cup isn’t anything we’re thinking about. If he’d freak or something that might change things, but in general we’re thinking Hawthorne Gold Cup and Clark.”

Rule has done his best running on the front end. He finished last in the Whitney when he couldn’t make the lead. Trickmeister was the pace-setter in the Whitney and faded to fifth. Gourmet Dinner, winner of the Majestic Light Stakes two races back, completes the field.

The Woodward and Forego will both be shown live on NBC Sports in a one-hour telecast that begins at 5 p.m. Eastern.

Susan Huart More than 1 year ago
It was a match race at the stretch! Great work for THaS and MMM, in that order! Congrats! Bill Mott and Johnny V as well.
Vincent Gicola More than 1 year ago
mucho macho man will spaldine in this one...stay thirsty & to honor and serve are my exotic picks, throwing in cease for my trifecta. should be a decent race
D More than 1 year ago
THAS is one of the most over rated TB out there and that not saying much considering how many top horses have gone to the shelf this year already. I play against him every time he races against top company. MMM will prob run away with it, I have felt all along since his Donn Hand win he is the best older horse in the country and cant see these stopping him at this point.
D More than 1 year ago
My mistake meant the GPH not the Donn. lol anyhow he should win the race. Also bet all you want on Dominus he it the lone speed full of some of the slowest horses you will come across in a grade 2 event.
B More than 1 year ago
He might be the best horse in this race, but am very cautious of him at Saratoga. I do have to say though that if he is the best in this country, it only proves what a truly weak year this has been, but I guess most of us know that already.
Susan Huart More than 1 year ago
Dominus was dominant. Had him with DataLink. Emcee was brilliant in the Forego. Jackson Bend was not looking well. Don't think Nick should have put him in so soon after he was knocked out. Looking traumatized at the gate. MMM should take this at Woodward, yeah?
Mike Barker More than 1 year ago
Macho will beat them like a drum
Joe Palermo More than 1 year ago
like cease in this race with stay thirsty. had mucho macho in suburban but think he might be set to bounce. chance rule might get lead and wire this field if trickmeister tries to rate
Slew32A More than 1 year ago
Again no fans commenting about a real good race. I guess because it's not about an illness so then the people with 23 y.o. painted ponies can give informative advice because they spoke to the vet for 5 min when their horse was sick or because they can't try to suck up to Steve and tell him about their pick 4 ticket that cost $180 with all 50 cent combos.
Sarah Titus More than 1 year ago
Slew--that's because the Forego is the much more interesting race--duh. MMM is rounding into form and is much the best in the Woodward, Thirsty and Honor peaked long ago. Now, Jackson Bend coming back from being sprawled out on the track, S-ford wins the Met and then tanks in the mud at the Spa makes for much more interesting back stories. Even the Baruch with Queensplatekitten, Data Link, Dominus and Prince Will I Am will be interesting to see which warrior still has it...Rule? Thirsty? Goumet Dinner? THAS? Snore!
laura ban More than 1 year ago
I have to agree with that! Unbelievable that Jackson Bend was knocked out, I will be watching him with much interest. I wish MMM and his connections the best, great win with Mike Smith in the irons! It should be a good day of racing.
michael More than 1 year ago
What's to comment on.....Stay Thirsty is fresh and a lock with the cooler weather....