CIGAR MILE H. | PURSE: $250,000 | GRADE 1 | 3-YEAR-OLDS & UP | ONE MILE
OZONE PARK, N.Y. -- Trainer Bill Mott's November to remember concluded Saturday at Aqueduct with To Honor and Serve recording a 1 3/4-length victory over the late-running Hymn Book in the Grade 1, $250,000 Cigar Mile Handicap.
While To Honor and Serve was registering the first Grade 1 stakes victory of his career, he gave Mott his sixth graded stakes win this month, third in a Grade 1. Mott, who also won the Breeders' Cup Classic with Drosselmeyer and Ladies' Classic with Royal Delta, had won nine graded stakes from January through October and only two Grade 1's.
"What started out as a very slow year as I said before has ended up good," Mott said. "This is probably one of the last stakes we'll run for the year, and it's a great way to top it off."
Following a solid 2-year-old season that was capped by consecutive graded stakes wins at Aqueduct, To Honor and Serve was part of Mott's disappointing start to 2011 with non-threatening thirds in the Fountain of Youth and Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park. He suffered a sprained suspensory ligament that sidelined him until the summer. But beginning in late August, To Honor and Serve won an allowance race at Saratoga and the Grade 2 Pennsylvania Derby at Parx Racing. After a seventh-place finish behind stablemate Drosselmeyer in the Breeders' Cup Classic, To Honor and Serve came back in three weeks to post a pretty dominant victory in the Cigar Mile.
Under Jose Lezcano, To Honor and Serve broke on top and led through an opening quarter run in 23.05 seconds. Lezcano was content to sit chilly while Calibrachoa, under Cornelio Velasquez, took the lead and ran a half-mile in 45.61.
The two colts were head and head around the far turn and still together approaching the quarter pole. But turning into the stretch, Velasquez was scrubbing on Calibrachoa while Lezcano had yet to ask To Honor and Serve to run. Lezcano asked at the three-sixteenths pole, and To Honor and Serve drew clear from Calibrachoa and was never seriously challenged even as Hymn Book rallied furiously under Alan Garcia to get second by 2 1/4 lengths over Calibrachoa. Haynesfield, Caixa Eletronica, and Sangaree completed the order of finish.
To Honor and Serve, a son of Bernardini owned by Charlotte Weber's Live Oak Plantation, ran a mile in 1:33.89 and returned $4.10 as the even-money favorite.
"He broke pretty good, he stayed right there, he put himself in that position, and he had a second kick," Lezcano said. "The first quarter I was happy, the second quarter I didn't want to be too fast early, but he was comfortable."
The win came exactly 17 years to the date that Mott won this race -- then called the NYRA Mile – with Cigar, for whom the race is now named.
Mott said he thought back to Cigar when he heard fans in the crowd "ooh and aah" after the half-mile fraction of 45.61 was posted on the board.
"I looked up and I thought back and I thought about Cigar and I said, 'Well he did that, so why not?' " Mott said.
For the record, Cigar's half-mile time in the 1994 NYRA Mile was 45.98.
Cigar's NYRA Mile victory came at the end of his 4-year-old season and was the second of what would become 16 consecutive victories for that colt.
After a brief vacation at Live Oak Stud in Ocala, Fla., To Honor and Serve will come back to race as a 4-year-old, with possibly a start at Gulfstream Park toward the end of that meet.