To Honor and Serve ran fast enough in his maiden win at Belmont Park on Oct. 2 to warrant consideration for a start in the Grey Goose Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. While his connections did give that race some thought, in the end owner Charlotte Weber of Live Oak Plantation and Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott opted for a more conservative route.
“I think his future is down the road, I don’t think the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile would have been the most important race that he’s ever going to run in,” Mott said in early November. “I think if we bring him along properly, we got a whole future and a whole campaign for him, not just one race. I hope we made the right decision.”
Judging by To Honor and Serve’s convincing victories in the Nashua and Remsen – both Grade 2 stakes run three weeks apart in November at Aqueduct – they certainly did. Those two wins not only helped To Honor and Serve rank among Eclipse Award voters as a finalist for North America’s outstanding 2-year-old male, but they also solidified his status as a top Kentucky Derby candidate in 2011.
To Honor and Serve, a son of the 2006 Preakness and Travers winner Bernardini, became the eighth horse to win the Nashua and Remsen. Though none of the previous seven were voted 2-year-old champion, five of them won graded stakes at 3, including Pine Bluff, who captured the 1992 Preakness, and Bluegrass Cat, who won the 2006 Haskell after running second in the Kentucky Derby and Belmont.
To Honor and Serve debuted in a seldom-seen 14-horse field at Saratoga on Sept. 4. Breaking from the rail, he got away slowly but quickly recovered and was part of a contested pace. He had the lead in the stretch but took up at the sixteenth pole and was beaten two lengths by Astrology, who became a Grade 3 winner.
To Honor and Serve came back four weeks later in a 1 1/16-mile off-the-turf race at Belmont and won by 8 3/4 lengths. On the same day that Uncle Mo won the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, To Honor and Serve won the Nashua by four lengths in gate-to-wire fashion.
Three weeks later, in the Remsen, To Honor and Serve was trying two turns and 1 1/8 miles for the first time. Again, To Honor and Serve broke on top, ran solid fractions of 47.69 seconds and 1:11.18, and, despite looking around in the stretch, covered 1 1/8 miles in 1:50.03.
“He’s still a big baby,” said John Velazquez, who rode To Honor and Serve in the Remsen. “He goes to the lead and gets to waiting, ears up, looking around. It feels there’s more there. He still hasn’t put everything together yet.”
Mott, who has never won a Kentucky Derby, believes he has plenty of horse with which to work as he prepares To Honor and Serve for his 3-year-old season.
“Being by Bernardini, he’s a horse that is bred to go on, he’s got the genes to go on and get a mile and an eighth, mile and a quarter,” Mott said. “Physically, he’s a big, tall, rangy horse; got a lot of scope to him, got a big, easy stride. He doesn’t seem to tire easily. He’s got a lot of things in his favor.”
To Honor and Serve, bred by Twin Creeks Farm, Larry Byer and Rancho San Miguel, will train at Payson Park in Florida for the winter, with his possible 3-year-old debut coming in the Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream Park on Feb. 26.
KEY RACE REPLAY: Remsen Stakes at Aqueduct >>