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.