Being based in Chicago, we were obviously going to preview Saturday's Pat Whitworth Illinois Debutante at Hawthorne.
But, with huge racing going on elsewhere, we couldn't stop there. For the first time ever, we did a Twitter poll, asking readers what else to look at. There was plenty of support for both options, Cigar Mile Day at Aqueduct and Claiming Crown Day at Gulfstream, but there was just a bit more love for New York.
So, here, we do a full preview of the Cigar Mile (G1), as well as selections for the three other stakes races on Saturday's card at the Big A: the Go For Wand (G3), Remsen (G2), and Demoiselle (G2), which appear in a chart below.
Saturday, December 1 - Aqueduct Racetrack
Race 9: Cigar Mile Handicap Presented by NYRA Bets (G1), three-year-olds and up, one mile on the dirt, 3:45pm EST
This year marks the 30th running of a race originally inaugurated in 1988 as the NYRA Mile. The race has always been contested at the one-turn mile over the Aqueduct course, though it was not run in 1993. This year's renewal offers a $750,000 purse, and drew a field of eight to contest for it.
The race was renamed in 1997 to honour the incomparable, invincible, unbeatable Cigar. The 1994 edition of this race was Cigar's first graded stakes win, and his second race in a streak of 16 victories that unfolded after trainer Bill Mott began running him regularly on dirt instead of turf. Let off at almost 9/1 against the likes of Devil His Due, Brunswick, Bertrando, and Harlan, Cigar turned in a tour-de-force performance. He stalked just off the early pace, took the lead with a four-wide move on the turn, and powered away to win by seven lengths. He won his next fourteen races after that, races that included the Jockey Club Gold Cup, the Breeders' Cup Classic, and the Dubai World Cup.
MENDELSSOHN is the most frustrating kind of chalk: the kind who is less than appealing at a short price, but unable to be dismissed completely. MENDELSSOHN has plenty of strikes against him: he'll have company up front, he's coming to the end of an arduous season, and his one-turn mile try in the Dwyer earlier this year was not good. But? MENDELSSOHN did prove in the Jockey Club Gold Cup two starts ago that he can rate off a fast pace and keep going, something he may have to do since PATTERNRECOGNITION will certainly go, and STAN THE MAN, TRUE TIMBER, and possibly even COPPER TOWN will be interested in the front end. Furthermore, this is Aqueduct on a big race day, which can sometimes play very well for speed. (Make sure to watch the races earlier in the card.) If that's the case, MENDELSSOHN could well take the crown.
But, as for a horse we're actually excited about? SUNNY RIDGE has been nothing but guts his entire racing career, and this could be the day the plucky Jersey-bred gets his Grade 1. With so many in this field who are keen to be on or near the lead, SUNNY RIDGE is a trustworthy rating type who nonetheless doesn't need to come from the clouds. Though he has tables to turn on PATTERNRECOGNITION from the Kelso last time out, this is a completely different race. Instead of PATTERNRECOGNITION having an easy lead like he did in the Kelso, he'll have to tussle with MENDELSSOHN and company -- and SUNNY RIDGE will get more to run at in the lane. Even aside from the pace? He is fast enough at his best, has one-turn mile form, and shouldn't be knocked off his game if the rain in the forecast comes to fruition. All this adds up to SUNNY RIDGE being a solid contender at a square price.
COPPER TOWN tries stakes company for the first time in the Cigar Mile, but may just make the grade. He took an important step toward being the horse he needs to be on Saturday when he romped in a two-other-than at Keeneland on October 13. Both of COPPER TOWN's wins at three came on the front end -- but in that race, he raced off the pace, rallied, and drew away. As long as COPPER TOWN can reprise that kind of trip going six and a half furlongs at the one-turn mile, and avoid getting burned up in the front, he has a shot. And, from the perspective of human connections? It is a positive to see Javier Castellano aboard, as Castellano has been TIMELINE's regular rider, and yet he jumps ship to stick around with COPPER TOWN instead. He did ride COPPER TOWN to victory at Keeneland, and with a 25% win rate so far this Aqueduct meet, he should be ready to do his best.
#2 SUNNY RIDGE (9/2)
#5 COPPER TOWN (5/2)
#1 MENDELSSOHN (2/1)
Longshot: Trainer Chad Brown has a pair in this race. One, PATTERNRECOGNITION, hardly inspires. Yes, he beat several of his Cigar Mile foes in the Kelso (G3) last time out, but this is a completely different race. That day, he found enough late after having an easy trip up front. This time he may not even get the lead at all depending on what MENDELSSOHN does, and likely has to tussle with him and others no matter what. At a short price, no thanks. Instead, #7 TIMELINE (10/1) looks the more intriguing one from Brown's shedrow. Yes, he has tables to turn on his stablemate as well as on SUNNY RIDGE. But, his late pace is solid, and with more pace to chase this time a reprise of his running style from the Kelso should pay better dividends this time. And, if the rain in the forecast bears out? He is a perfect two-for-two on an off track.
Below is a spreadsheet with all of Nicolle Neulist's picks for Saturday's graded stakes at Aqueduct; for any browsers that have difficulty with embedded Google spreadsheets, a web link is available here.
This will be updated as they finish handicapping the card. If you have questions about the logic behind any of these picks, please leave a comment, or tweet us at @picksponderings!
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