Bill Mott is not normally one to give more information about his horses than he has to. But ask him about 2-year-old standout To Honor and Serve and he is not shy about talking openly about the future of his best Kentucky Derby (gr. I) prospect ever.
Mott is 0-for-7 in the Derby and won his first Triple Crown race earlier this year with Drosselmeyer. But the Hall of Famer who has more wins than any other trainer at Churchill Downs might be heading to Louisville with his best chance yet next May.
“I’d say this horse is the total package,” Mott said of To Honor and Serve. “There wasn’t a lot to get excited about in the past, but things have gotten better recently. Court Vision was a very good Derby prospect but he turned out to be a better grass horse. We thought Hold Me Back came into the Derby with a good chance, and Drosselmeyer we liked but he came up short on earnings. But this horse has a little different look.”
To Honor and Serve will try to finish off a strong juvenile season when he meets six rivals in the $200,000 Remsen (gr. II) Nov. 27 at Aqueduct. The son of Bernardini is the 6-5 morning-line favorite for the 1 1/8-mile race after easily disposing of the field in the one-mile Nashua Stakes (gr. II) Nov. 6, going wire-to-wire in his stakes debut.
Mott assigned John Velazquez to ride To Honor and Serve, who was a $575,000 yearling buy for Live Oak Plantation. They will break from post 5.
Mott could have gone to the Grey Goose Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (gr. I) with To Honor and Serve earlier in November but decided to play it safe and put his charge in a much easier spot in the Nashua. He thought the bay colt would have been up against it in Breeders' Cup, which would have been his stakes debut. He broke his maiden only a month before at Belmont Park, albeit by 8 3/4 impressive lengths.
“I thought he was a little tender for the Breeders’ Cup,” Mott said. “He lacked the experience that some of the other horses had. Long term, I thought the Nashua was the right route. It was an easier race; we wanted to build into things a little, not throw him to the wolves.”
To Honor and Serve has been on or right near the lead in all three of his starts (he was second in his debut at Saratoga). For now, Mott is not worried about having the horse prove he can rate. There is plenty of time to teach him that.
“The Nashua looked like it had some sprint-type horses in there; some had broken their maidens at 5 1/2 and six furlongs showing speed," he said. "But our horse has so much natural speed and placed himself on the lead without much effort. There was no reason to strangle him just to show he could rate. We’ll let him place himself again, wherever that may be.”
Mott will take To Honor and Serve to Payson Park in South Florida after the Remsen and began planning his 3-year-old campaign. He has not committed to any races so far and admits a win in the Remsen would make his road to Louisville simpler. Should he win this weekend, To Honor and Serve will have already racked up $210,000 in graded earnings.
“The plan is to nominate to all of the prep races. Obviously the Florida races will be on the agenda, but we’ll also look at Louisiana and Oaklawn,” Mott said. “If the Remsen goes well, I don’t think we’ll need four races (before the Derby). Two or three would be more like it.”
Mott will seek his second Remsen victory, the first coming with Court Vision in 2007. To Honor and Serve was bred in Kentucky by Twin Creeks Farm, Larry Byer, and Rancho San Miguel. He is out of the Deputy Minister mare Pilfer.
To Honor and Serve is not the only good-looking son of Bernardini in the Remsen. Darley Stable’s Buffum will be making his stakes debut after breaking his maiden at first asking going one mile at Belmont Oct. 30. Tom Albertrani trains Buffum, who was bought for a cool $1.2 million last year. Bred in Pennsylvania, he is out of the Storm Cat mare Storm Beauty and will be ridden by David Cohen. Buffum will be treated with Lasix for the first time.
“We’re hoping to see an improvement off the first race, which, naturally, we should see because he got a lot of experience from the race,” said Albertrani. “We’re looking for a big effort out of him this Saturday. We’ve always thought highly of him, and we were very pleased with his performance the day he broke his maiden. I think he’ll handle the jump up in class very well.”
Two others to watch are New York-bred Bandbox and Champagne (gr. I) runner-up Mountain Town. Bandbox is undefeated in three sprint starts including the state-restricted Sleepy Hollow Stakes at Belmont on Oct. 23. He is based at Laurel Park for trainer Rodney Jenkins.
Mountain Town was no match for Uncle Mo in the Oct. 9 Champagne but was nearly 10 lengths in front of the third-place finisher. The Rick Dutrow Jr. trainee was claimed out of his maiden-breaking win in August at Saratoga by Paul Pompa Jr. He was previously in the barn of Nick Zito.
“In his training, Mountain Town is showing he’s going in the right direction; we’re very happy with him,” said Dutrow,, who trains the colt for Paul Pompa, Jr. “It should be a really good race. Bill Mott’s horse is a nice colt, the New York-bred (Bandbox) looks good, and our colt certainly hasn’t done anything wrong in two starts.”
The Demoiselle (gr. II) for juvenile fillies going 1 1/8 miles, is dominted by trainers Todd Pletcher and Tony Dutrow, who have two-thirds of the six-horse field.
Pletcher and Dutrow will send out the coupled entry of Summer Laugh and Dixie City, respectively, for Edward Evans. Summer Laugh, by Distorted Humor out of the Summer Squall mare Summer Colony, is undefeated in two starts including the Oct. 2 Blue Hen Stakes at Delaware Park. She will carry top weight of 119 pounds including jockey John Velazquez.
Dixie City, by Dixie Union out of the Carson City mare City Sister, was third earlier this month in the Tempted (gr. III) over the same Aqueduct strip, one start after taking an entry-level allowance race at Philly Park. Jose Lezcano will be aboard.
Pletcher will also saddle Tapit filly Tap for Luck, who was runner-up in the Tempted, 2 1/4 lengths in back of winner Full Moon Blues, who will also return for the Demoiselle. Dutrow’s other charge is Light Your World, an optional claiming winner at Delaware on Oct. 25 going two turns.
“This is a real test for 2-year-old fillies, going 1 1/8 miles,” said Pletcher. “It generally separates the fillies that just don’t want to go that far. It’s obviously late in the year but it’s pretty early in the game for all the 2-year-olds, especially the fillies. The ones that want to go that far have a big edge. With their pedigrees, we are hopeful that Tap for Luck and Summer Laugh will handle the distance.”
Jeffrey Nielson’s Full Moon Blues went wire-to-wire in her 11-1 upset in the Tempted, one start after breaking her maiden by more than 10 lengths at Laurel.
$200,000 Demoiselle (gr. II, Race 6, 2:14 p.m.), 2YO Fillies, 1 1/8 Miles (Dirt) PP. Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer 1 Dixie City (VA), J Lezcano, 115, A W Dutrow
2 Summer Laugh (VA), J R Velazquez, 119, T A Pletcher
3 Tap for Luck (KY), D Cohen, 115, T A Pletcher
4 Full Moon Blues (KY), M Franklin, 119, T J Tullock Jr.
5 Light Your World (KY), R Maragh, 115, A W Dutrow
6 Believe in A. P. (KY), R A Dominguez, 115, R E Dutrow Jr.
$200,000 Remsen (gr. II, Race 7, 2:42 p.m.), 2YO, 1 1/8 Miles (Dirt) PP. Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer 1. Buffum (PA), D Cohen, 116, T Albertrani
2. Pants On Fire (KY), J Castellano, 116, K J Breen
3. Mountain Town (KY), C H Velasquez, 116, R E Dutrow Jr.
4. Bandbox (NY), R A Dominguez, 118, R Jenkins
5. To Honor and Serve (KY), J R Velazquez, 120, W I Mott
6. Economic Summit (FL), R Maragh, 116, R A Violette Jr.
7. Mucho Macho Man (FL), E Coa, 116, K Ritvo