08/30/2012 4:06PM

Weekend Warrior for Sept. 1: To Honor and Serve due for good showing

Barbara D. Livingston
To Honor and Serve, exercising at Saratoga with Rodolphe Brisset riding, will have John Velazquez in the saddle for the Woodward.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – One would think that after the stakes-laden cards of last week at Saratoga and Del Mar, the two tracks might be running a bit thin this week on the stakes front.

Think again. Saratoga has two Grade 1’s Saturday – the $750,000 Woodward and the $500,000 Forego, plus the grade 2, $250,000 Bernard Baruch – and Del Mar hosts the first Grade 1 race for 2-year-olds of the year, the $300,000 Del Mar Debutante.

So a shout out goes to Mike Watchmaker, for kindly picking this week to take a vacation, leaving me deputized as the Weekend Warrior with a trio of Grade 1’s on the handicapping plate.

Woodward Stakes

Having won three of four races this year, all in major stakes, Mucho Macho Man is a deserving favorite.

His virtues are obvious. He’s is in top form, capable of winning on the lead or from off the pace, and is at his best at the Woodward’s 1 1/8-mile distance – which can’t be said of some of his opponents.

The only thing he has yet to do is win a Grade 1 race, but having run third in last year’s Kentucky Derby, there is no questioning his class.

He is the most likely winner, but at 8-5 on the morning line and with the potential to go off even shorter, there is simply not a lot of value available on him.

Those seeking alternatives with the potential for a larger payoff can make solid cases for Stay Thirsty, last year’s Travers and Jim Dandy winner, as a horse-for-course play; Rule, who draws the hot jock in Ramon Dominguez; or Trickmeister, who could jump up if able to clear on the lead.

Although that trio drew my attention in handicapping the race, ultimately I settled on To Honor and Serve as my selection. His qualifications stack up against others in the field, and though no match for Mucho Man when he ran fourth behind him in the Suburban at Belmont on July 7, there should be little doubt that he failed to fire in that race.

There were no excuses. He simply failed to show up.

The good news with To Honor and Serve is that he doesn’t often string poor races together. He has typically rebounded from lackluster performances, such as when he won the Cigar Mile last fall after running seventh in the Breeders’ Cup Classic.

Adding to his appeal is his draw. He is outside the other speed, including Mucho Macho Man, which should allow John Velazquez on To Honor and Serve to get in a steady rhythm in the clear, right in a pouncing position.

Provided he doesn’t dip below his 2-1 morning line, he looks playable in the Woodward.

The Forego

Shackleford, the 2012 Met Mile winner and 2011 Preakness winner, is the star of the seven-furlong Forego, and not surprisingly the favorite at 2-1 on the morning line.

Though one would make the case that his last race, an eighth-place finish in the Vanderbilt, can be dismissed since it came on a muddy Saratoga strip Aug. 5, I can’t be that forgiving.

The possibility also exists that he may not like Saratoga, no matter how much moisture is in the track. In addition to his Vanderbilt failure, Shackleford was eighth in the Travers last year, and a recent Aug. 27 workout at the Spa was slow – four furlongs in 50.80 seconds.

If Shackleford doesn’t run to his potential, I could see Jackson Bend, Pacific Ocean, or Emcee registering an upset.

All three are gifted middle-distance sprinters, and each horse brings something to the race. Jackson Bend is the defending champion, and winner of the Grade 1 Carter earlier this year; Pacific Ocean has won 5 of 8, including the Grade 3 James Marvin at Saratoga this meet; and the lightly raced Emcee, who is drawn much better in post 6 for the Forego than he was in the Vanderbilt when he dueled inside from post 2.

Emcee is my choice, having accomplished much in his six-race career, and who appears poised to get a favorable outside trip, likely sitting just off front-runners Shackleford and Pacific Ocean.

At 9-2 on the morning line, he is also an appealing price – though don’t be surprised to see him drop a notch or two by post time.

Del Mar Debutante

Out west, 2-year-old fillies are spotlighted in the Del Mar Debutante, with the unbeaten Executiveprivilege heavily favored at 4-5 to win.

As good as she is – winning all three of her races, including the Grade 3 Sorrento over the Del Mar strip – there is little mutuel upside to backing her.

She’s been 2-5 or less in her two stakes starts. As she is an unbeaten Bob Baffert-trained runner, bettors will just see too much blue sky.

Although not reflected in the morning line, the suspicion here is that the second favorite in the Del Mar Debutante will be Mechaya, who won a maiden race in fast time Aug. 10, running a race-best 93 Beyer Speed Figure.

She didn’t run that figure the way most freaky-figure horses do – by racing on the lead. She won by coming from just off the pace, boding well for her chances of handling the stretch from the 5 1/2-furlong distance of her debut to the seven furlongs of the Del Mar Debutante.

She gives up seasoning, however, and like every 2-year-old who runs a big Beyer Figure first time out, is a potential bounce candidate.

My value-based selection is Speedinthruthecity, second to Executiveprivilege in both the Landaluce at Betfair Hollywood Park and then once again in the Sorrento.

In an encouraging signal, she closed the gap in the Sorrento over Del Mar’s Polytrack, only losing by 1 1/4 lengths.

She has at least shown that she can be competitive with the favorite, and with just a little bit of improvement or regression on Executiveprivilege’s part, she has a fighting chance at a fat price in the Del Mar Debutante.