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Aug 31, 2012

Up the Backstretch: Heavyweights clash in Woodward

By: By Don Agriss, Horse Racing Editor

(Sports Network) - Unlike last Sunday's Pacific Classic when a 3-year-old stole the thunder from nine older thoroughbreds, Saturday's Woodward Stakes has no starter under the age of 4 competing in the 1 1/8-mile race.

The surprise in the Pacific Classic at Del Mar wasn't that Dullahan won, it was his beating the favorite Game On Dude in a stretch drive on the track's Polytrack surface.

No surprises expected in the Woodward.

Seven have been entered for the Saratoga race and all will carry 126 pounds. Mucho Macho Man, third in the current NTRA Poll, is the 8-5 morning line favorite, just ahead of 2-1 second choice To Honor and Serve.

It's been eight weeks since Mucho Macho Man last raced. The 4-year-old colt, trained by Kathy Ritvo, powered to victory in the Suburban Handicap at Belmont Park on July 7.

"He likes the time to recover between his races, and he really loves to train. I know it sounds funny, but it works for him," Ritvo said.

Owned by Reeves Thoroughbreds, Mucho Macho Man has won three of four starts this year while racing alternate months on the calendar.

"What we did last year was we went backwards from our goal and we made a racing schedule for him, and it's worked perfectly so we've just stuck to it. And it works -- it just worked out," Ritvo noted.

"He's been running good with the space, so we're just going to have to play it by ear and see how he comes back," she added on going to the Breeders' Cup, "and, hopefully, he runs another great race, and I'm just looking forward to Saturday."

Mucho Macho Man will start from post three with Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith in the saddle, as he was for the Suburban.

"I think he gets along with the horse great," Ritvo said on using Smith as the rider. "I think he has nice patience and he's used to, you know, he's ridden those big horses like Macho Man, and I think he's a great horseman and he has unbelievable hands, and I think he fit him perfectly."

To Honor and Serve finished fourth to Mucho Macho Man in the Suburban as the 7-5 favorite. In that race, Jose Lezcano had the mount, but newly inducted Hall of Fame rider John Velazquez will be aboard for the Woodward.

"I rode him here last year when he came back," Velazquez said about To Honor and Serve. "I think this horse came out really well this year."

Velazquez will guide To Honor and Serve from post six.

Also coming out of the Suburban is fifth-place finisher Stay Thirsty. The 4- year-old is winless in two starts this year, but loves Saratoga, where he won last year's Jim Dandy and Travers.

"He is rounding back into his best form," said trainer Todd Pletcher of the 5-1 third choice. "I think he is training as well as he ever has. We're expecting a good effort from him. Everybody's making a big deal about his so- called losing streak, but he's only run four times since the Travers last year."

Stay Thirsty followed winning the "Mid-Summer Derby" with a third in the Jockey Club Gold Cup as the 13-10 favorite and was 11th in the Breeders' Cup Classic.

"One of those was the first time against older horses in the Jockey Club, in which he ran a respectable third," Pletcher said. "He ran poorly in the Breeders' Cup Classic over a Churchill surface he hates and a number of horses hated that day.

"Since then, by design, he's had a freshening pointing him toward a late- summer and fall campaign. He ran very well first time back and got out-footed by a quicker horse and then, unfortunately, the Suburban fell on a very hot day he and a number of horses didn't really respond very favorably to. So, we've regrouped and freshened for this, and I like the way everything's coming together. I think Stay Thirsty is one of, if not the horse to beat based on his form here at Saratoga and the way he is training currently."

Stay Thirsty will be ridden by Javier Castellano from post five.

Rounding out the field are Rule, Ramon Dominguez, 12-1; Gourmet Dinner, Alan Garcia, 30-1; Trickmeister, Irad Ortiz Jr., 6-1; and Crease, Joel Rosario, 10-1.

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