He only defeated three horses in a scratched-filled edition of the $142,500 Westchester Stakes (gr. III), but To Honor and Serve could not have looked any better in his season debut April 28 at Belmont Park. (VIDEO)
Sent off as the 3-5 favorite after an original field of seven was scratched down to four, To Honor and Serve rated well behind pacesetter Bold Deed for a half-mile. He inched closer to the lead before taking over at the quarter pole and cruised to a 5 1/4-length victory in the one-mile race. With Jose Lezcano aboard, the 4-year-old Bernardini colt covered the distance on the fast main track in a swift 1:34.84, and did it as easy as could be.
Owned by Live Oak Plantation and trained by Bill Mott, To Honor and Serve was making his season debut after ending 2011 with a victory in the Cigar Mile Handicap (gr. I) at Aqueduct. He will now be pointed to the Metropolitan Handicap (gr. I) at Belmont on May 28.
The bay colt was bred in Kentucky by Twin Creeks Farm, Larry Byer, and Rancho San Miguel, and is out of the Deputy Minister mare Pilfer.
To Honor and Serve was in no hurry in the early going of the Westchester, especially after Bold Deed and Javier Castellano sped through quick fractions of :22.95 and :45.05, in the process taking an eight-length lead over the rest of the field. To Honor and Serve was a distant second for the opening half-mile, followed by Goombada Guska, and Boys At Tosconova , who broke a step slow.
As they continued on the turn all three rivals gained ground on Bold Deed, but it was To Honor and Serve who was going best. He easily cruised by the pacesetter while running six furlongs in 1:09.79, and hit the eighth pole with a 4 1/2-length lead over Boys At Tosconova. Lezcano took a quick peak back in upper stretch to see if there was any threat, but there was none and he hand-rode his mount to the wire a convincing winner.
Boys At Tosconova was a clear second under Ramon Dominguez, five lengths in front of Bold Deed. Goombada Guska trailed.
"He broke good and (Bold Deed went to the lead)," Lezcano said. "He settled good, he was relaxed. When I asked him—I didn’t even ask him—I let him do it himself. At the quarter pole he changed leads and he galloped. Very easy."
To Honor and Serve claimed his fifth graded stakes win. He scored the Nashua and Remsen (both gr. II) as a juvenile, and took the Pennsylvania Derby (gr. II) two starts prior to winning the Cigar Mile last September. He upped his record to 7-1-2 from 12 starts and has now earned $1,236,340.
"He ran well," Mott said. "We’re always happy to see him come back off that long a layoff and run well. You never know what to expect, sometimes. He’s been training well and we thought with a good effort he’d win the race, and he did. He looked good.
"He’s obviously one of the leaders right there (in the handicap division). We’re fortunate. Our early season goal is the Met Mile. That would be a goal for anybody, I suppose, for any part of the season. He’s matured, and that’s what I was hoping he would do from the time he was a 2-year-old. You could tell he might be one of those horses who was going to be better as he got older."
The winner paid $3.20 and $2.10 while carrying top weight of 121 pounds. Boys At Tosconova was $2.40 to place. The exacta (6-1) was worth $5.40. There was no show wagering.