Cutting back in distance in search of his first grade I win, To Honor and Serve put away Calibrachoa in upper stretch and held off Hymn Book by 1 3/4 lengths to take the Cigar Mile Handicap (VIDEO) Nov. 26 at Aqueduct.
A three-time grade II winner, To Honor and Serve bagged his coveted grade I score while also defeating older horses and becoming a millionaire. He entered the prestigious race off a seventh-place finish in the 1 1/4-mile Breeders’ Cup Classic (gr. I) Nov. 5 at Churchill Downs. Jose Lezcano guided the 3-year-old son of Bernardini for trainer Bill Mott, who won the race for the first time since legendary Cigar captured it in 1994 when it was called the NYRA Mile. It was later renamed for Cigar in 1997.
"Had we won the Classic, maybe we wouldn’t have come here, but I looked at it and hung around Churchill for a couple of days and watched him and he looked like he came out of it good," Mott said. "He’s been really eating up good and it didn’t look like we hurt his feelings too much in the Classic. I thought he ran well in there and he came back very sound and feeling good."
To Honor and Serve, the even-money favorite, is owned by Live Oak Plantation. Out of the Deputy Minister mare Pilfer, he was bred in Kentucky by Twin Creeks Farm, Larry Byer, and Rancho San Miguel. Live Oak bought him for $575,000 at the Keeneland September 2009 yearling sale. Taylor Made Sales Agency, agent, consigned him.
It was in impressive season-ending victory for the bay colt, who led through an opening quarter-mile of :23.05, then let Calibrachoa and Cornelio Velasquez have the front. To Honor and Serve raced just behind Calibrachoa through a :45.61 half-mile, while Haynesfield
were in the next group, not far off the pace.
To Honor and Serve and Calibrachoa were side-by-side from the quarter-pole until reaching the top of the stretch, but it was at that point that To Honor and Serve easily put away his rival until he had a commanding advantage at the sixteenth-pole. Hymn Book, racing in last in the field of six for much of the way, made a strong late run from the outside but was never going to get to the winner.
The final time for a mile on the fast main track was 1:33.89. Hymn Book and Alan Garcia were 2 1/4 lengths in front of Calibrachoa. Haynesfield was fourth, followed by Caixa Eletronica
"He broke well and I was able to make him relax," Lezcano said. "The half was 45; he was going easy. I had plenty of horse turning for home, I tapped him on the shoulder, and he changed leads and took off. I’m very happy with the way he finished.”
To Honor and Serve won for the third time at Aqueduct. Last year as a juvenile he scored the Nashua and Remsen stakes (both gr. II) as part of a three-race win streak. In the second half of 2011, after recovering from a leg injury and a four-month layoff, he has won three times including an optional claimer at Saratoga and the Pennsylvania Derby (gr. II) at Parx Racing.
'I think (one mile) is an ideal distance for him; I think he’s a very fast horse as the 1:33 and change would indicate," Mott said. "He came up here, and he worked well and did everything right. Actually I think he’s put on a little bit of flesh since the Classic, if you could imagine that.
“Interesting enough, this is a three-and-up race, so maybe he can come back again and win it next year, you never know. We knew he ran at the distance, and over the track, so what a good note to finish up the year on.”
Overall, To Honor and Serve improved to 6-1-2 from 11 starts and earnings of $1,146,340.
He paid $4.10, $3, and $2.10. The exacta (5-4) returned $27.60 and the trifecta (5-4-1) was worth $71.50.