There’s a saying in racing that goes something like this: “Great milers make great stallions.”
When it comes to the Cigar Mile Handicap (GI) at Aqueduct, it’s ironic that one of the most important one-mile dirt events in the country is named after a horse who, despite a legendary career, did not make a great stallion (although he did become one of the industry’s greatest ambassadors in his retirement years).
The late, great Hall of Famer Cigar won his first graded stakes in the race now named for him in 1994, when it was known as the NYRA Mile. It was also the second race in a win streak that captivated America in the mid-90s, as the flashy bay chased the fabled Citation’s record of 16 consecutive victories.
But long before then and in the two decades since, many other talented horses list the NYRA/Cigar Mile on their amazing resumes, including Forty Niner, Quiet American, Rubiano, Congaree, Flat Out and Private Zone.
This year, ten will head postward in the last Grade 1 of the year in New York, which has been carded as Saturday’s 10th race at Aqueduct with a post time of 4:16 p.m. ET. Saturday’s weather in New York is expected to be sunny, but chilly, with highs only reaching into the upper 40s. A fast track is expected all day.
Sharp Azteca and Practical Joke, who finished second and fourth, respectively, behind Battle of Midway in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (GI) are back on the East Coast in search of a coveted Grade 1.
Sharp Azteca looks for his first Grade 1 win after three runner-up finishes, including the Dirt Mile, where he led at every call, but was unable to hold off the late charge from Battle of Midway and finished a half-length back. The 4-year-old Jorge Navarro-trained son of Freud has hit the board in every one of his six starts this year, including the one-turn Kelso at Belmont Park on Sept. 23. He regularly posts enormous triple-digit BRISnet speed and pace figures and has (successfully) faced much tougher than these in the past. Hall of Fame jockey Javier Castellano will ride from post position six and the pair will carry highweight of 125 pounds. Sharp Azteca will be gunning for the lead early on Saturday and will likely prove tough to run down in the stretch.
Practical Joke, already a three-time Grade 1 winner, will make a last-ditch attempt at another Grade I score before heading to stallion duty at Ashford Stud next year. The Chad Brown-trained son of Into Mischief won the Hopeful Stakes (GI) and Champagne Stakes (GI) as a 2-year-old and also the H. Allen Jerkens Memorial (GI) earlier this year after a failed shot at making a statement on the Triple Crown trail, though his fifth in the Kentucky Derby (GI) wasn’t too shabby.
He’s never won beyond a mile and the distance may actually be his best (he’s won two of three). Though he’s a bit inconsistent, his best makes him dangerous from well off what will no doubt be a hot early pace. Joel Rosario, who chooses to ride him rather than Mind Your Biscuits, makes up most of the 120 pounds he will carry from post position eight.
Last year’s New York-bred Horse of the Year Mind Your Biscuits returns to the one-mile distance after finishing a strong third in the Nov. 4 Breeders’ Cup Sprint (GI) at Del Mar. The Chad Summers-trained son of Posse, who has never won at this distance, will try to add to his career record that’s seen him finish off the board only three times in 18 starts.
The 4-year-old colt, who won the March 24 Dubai Golden Shaheen (GI) seems to prefer about a furlong shorter, but has the capability of posting big numbers and will be another to love the quick early pace in front of him. He will lead the field to post under new jockey Irad Ortiz, Jr. and tote 122 pounds.
Irish Smith Stable’s Seymourdini makes his second start off a brief layoff since a fourth-place finish in the Oct. 28 Bold Ruler Handicap (GIII) at Belmont, but before that, had strung together three wins by open lengths in restricted stakes and optional claiming events. The Linda Rice-trained ridgling by Bernardini is talented and may have found a good spot to pick up a Grade 1-placing.
G M B Racing’s Tom’s Ready is another making his final start before a stud career, as he’s headed to Spendthrift Farm in Kentucky after the New Year. The Dallas Stewart-trained Bold Ruler winner, who is a deep closer, will carry Hall of Famer Mike Smith from post position four.
Americanize looked good winning the Damascus Stakes at Del Mar on Breeders’ Cup Friday and is improving with each start, carrying a two-race win streak into this race. The Southern California shipper, who has never won at this distance, has his hands full but has been training well. Rafael Bejarano is in town for the mount.
Vulcan’s Forge is carrying a three-race streak of triple digit BRISnet Speed Ratings into this race, all in allowance/optional claiming company. The Todd Pletcher trainee seems to have the talent to earn a larger piece of the pie, but will need a perfect trip and his best effort.
Local runner Summer Revolution is coming off a nice allowance win, but this is his stiffest test and may be in a bit over his head. Beasley is also a lightly raced local who has some talent, but appears in too tough. Iselin winner Just Call Kenny is a talented runner who may be overmatched.