2014 Handicapping Feast: Cigar Mile Day

entranceThis weekend’s handicapping feast at Picks and Ponderings has taken us all over the country.  Thursday we visited Aqueduct and Del Mar, and Friday’s races sent us back out to both of those tracks, plus to Churchill for the Clark.  Saturday brings the Hawthorne Gold Cup in our backyard, the Hollywood Derby Day card out west…and Cigar Mile Day, the biggest day of the fall at Aqueduct.  The card, the last of Aqueduct’s HolidayFest, features four graded stakes races: all on dirt, but featuring a range of age groups.  The headline race is a one-turn mile, pitting a contentious and classy field of routers, sprinters, and milers against each other.  The Comely gives the three year old dirt route fillies one last chance to compete against their own age group before they turn one year older.  The Remsen and the Demoiselle give the two-year-old set a chance to try nine furlongs for the first time.  They have Kentucky Derby and Oaks points available to the top finishers, and could provide some clues as to who is going to be long-winded enough to get the distance come next May.

All races in this piece are scheduled for Saturday, November 29th.  Edited the afternoon of Friday, November 28 to reflect that Princess Violet is running in the Go For Wand (GIII) instead of the Comely (GIII).

Race 4: Comely Stakes (GIII), three-year-old fillies, one and one eighth miles over the dirt, post time 1:24pm EST

This year marks the 65th running of the Comely Stakes, named in honour of the precocious filly Comely.  Though this race is restricted to three-year-old fillies, this race’s namesake was at her most brilliant at the tender age of two.  In 1914, Comely won the inaugural edition of the Fall Highweight Handicap, beating older company.  This race was first run in 1945 at Jamaica Racetrack, moved to Empire City in 1952, and not run from 1954-1958 after the closure of Empire City Racetrack.  In 1959 it was resurrected at Jamaica, and then has been run at Aqueduct ever since except for four runnings at Belmont instead (1976, 1980, 1984-1985).  Though Comely herself did her best work at two, the only time it was restricted to two-year-olds was in 1959.  Since 1960, it has been limited to sophomore fillies.  Notable winners of the Comely Stakes have included two-time Champion and Aqueduct stakes namesake Bed o’ Roses (1951), two-time Fall Highweight winner Ta Wee (1969), precocious runner and Gulfstream graded stakes namesake Forward Gal (1971), and five-time Grade I winner Ruffian (1975).  The race had previously been run in the spring, but last year’s edition was moved to November, and given an enhanced $400,000 purse.  The purse remains at that level this year.

With the scratch of PRINCESS VIOLET (the original top selection in this space), let’s turn our attention to The Godolphin Show.  They send a three-pronged entry into this race: PENWITH, SNOWBELL, and DIVIDED ATTENTION.  It will probably be two of these runners, PENWITH and SNOWBELL, most likely to end up on the front end.  SNOWBELL is particularly interesting between those two, as her breeding (Tapit out of a Storm Cat mare) suggests nine furlongs should be right in her range.  She is clearly capable of enough speed to hang with this field, though her inconsistency to date makes her a bit questionable on her own given the likely short entry price.  Still, there is one horse in the entry who deserves particularly strong attention here: DIVIDED ATTENTION.  She takes a class drop from being well-beaten in the Raven Run (GII) last out, but this race seems a bit more her bag than that attempt at seven furlongs.  She is by A. P. Indy out of a Storm Cat mare: she should be able to run all day.  She has not stretched out past a mile yet, but it makes perfect sense to try.  Furthermore, the humans behind DIVIDED ATTENTION have been repeatedly live: trainer Kiaran McLaughlin is 24% with runners stretching from sprint to route, and with rider Irad Ortiz, McLaughlin has won seven of his last twelve starts — with ten of those twelve in the money.  This may be her breakthrough.  Finally, the lightly raced DAME DOROTHY deserves consideration.  She is second off the lay for 27% second-off trainer Todd Pletcher.  She has only raced four times to date, but has won all four starts.  What makes her attractive in addition to being undefeated is that she has won close decisions as well as runaway romps: we know she has some fight in her.  Last out, despite facing older for the first time and stumbling at the start, she fought on and prevailed by half a length.  That, like three of her four starts, has been at a mile and a sixteenth.  This will be her first attempt at nine furlongs, but she should be able to get there.  She is by Bernardini out of a Woodman mare, suggesting stamina all the way around.  Though her speed figures are slightly slow for the field, she has done everything she has needed to win in her last four starts.  Pacewise, DAME DOROTHY should be able to stay close to the pace if the relatively soft front-end comes to fruition, though she is able to come from farther back should she need to.  HOUSE RULES comes into this race second off a little freshening after a flop in the Cotillion.  She came back on the right foot, romping home against older in an allowance over the Aqueduct slop.  She has proven that she can get a mile and an eighth: in two attempts at the distance, she has an allowance win (also versus older) at the Spa, as well as a close second in the Gulfstream Park Oaks (GII) earlier this year.  She is working well at Belmont leading into this race, and new rider Jose Lezcano is striking at a respectable 18% this Aqueduct meet.  In terms of pace, she has shown the ability to stalk fairly close — something helpful, especially with the scratch of key pace factor PRINCESS VIOLET.  She won’t have much to chase, but she shouldn’t be far out of it if she is running her kind of race today.

PRINCESS VIOLET was cross-entered in Friday’s Go For Wand Handicap and Saturday’s Comely Stakes, but decided to race in the Go For Wand.

Selections:

#1X DIVIDED ATTENTION (4/1)

#3 DAME DOROTHY (5/2)

#4 HOUSE RULES (3/1)

Longshot: #6 CATCH MY DRIFT (5/1) comes in from the Turnback the Alarm (GIII) at Belmont, the same race against older from which DAME DOROTHY enters.  She was off the pace and wide, but closed sharply late to miss by just half a length.  That was not her only start against older; in fact, four of her five starts have been against the three-and-up set.  She did falter in the ten-furlong Alabama (GI) over the summer, but this is a furlong shorter, and she should be fitter and more experienced here.  That time, it was her first race in almost two months; here it is only a month since her last race.  She is working well at Belmont leading into this race, and has the team of trainer Chad Brown and rider John Velazquez behind her.  This pair has won four of their last seven (with six of their last seven in the money, and a +$2.16 ROI).  Furthermore, Velazquez rode her last out in the Turnback the Alarm, suggesting a good fit.  Though CATCH MY DRIFT won’t be the sort of price that blows up the tote board, she should still be a decent price, with several other more ballyhooed runners likely to take money here.

Race 8: Demoiselle Stakes (GII), two-year-old fillies, one and one eighth miles over the dirt, post time 3:19pm EST

The Demoiselle Stakes was first run in 1908, and is being run for the 93rd time this year.  Its name derives from a French term for a noble young female — quite fitting for a graded stakes race for classy two-year-old fillies.  Over his history it has been run at distances as short as five and a half furlongs, and as long as its current distance of a mile and an eighth.  It has been stable at a mile and an eighth since 1975.  It has also been run at Empire City, Belmont, and Jamaica during parts of its history, though has been run nowhere but Aqueduct since 1959.  Four winners of the Demoiselle have followed that up with a Kentucky Oaks win the following year: Nancy Lee (1920), Goodbye Halo (1987), Open Mind (1988), and Ashado (2003).  Genuine Risk (1979) went on to beat males in the Kentucky Derby the following year.   For the second year in a row, the race offers a $400,000 purse.  In addition to the purse, the spoils include Road to the Kentucky Oaks points available for the top four finishers of this race: 10, 4, 2, and 1 point(s), respectively.

Every runner in this field is trying nine furlongs for the first time, so the question of the day is who can get this distance.  The original top choice in this spot was JACARANDA, who seemed the best bred of the bunch to go a longer route of ground.  With JACARANDA out, it looks unlikely that anyone will be fast enough to go with CONDO COMMANDO early.  She broke her maiden by a mile, and then was splashtastic when destroying a nice field in a sloppy renewal of the Spinaway (GI).  Last out, she faltered in the slop in the Frizette (GI).  She has taken a break since then, giving her almost two months off.  She has been working regularly through that time, with some strong ones and some long ones along the way.  This, plus trainer Rudy Rodriguez’s 22% tally with runners off similar-length lays, should suggest she will be fit to run.  She gets a rider change here; Joel Rosario rides her for the first time.  Rosario wins at 21% with early speed types, which CONDO COMMANDO definitely is.  CONDO COMMANDO is fast enough to have things her own way on the early pace — and is proven already to be very dangerous if she gets that.  The biggest question is her pedigree for the distance, since all of her siblings who have run on the flat have won sprints.  For what it’s worth, though, she has a half-brother who has won going a route over jumps.  She will likely need some pace help to get all the way done here, but it looks like she got all the help she needed with the scratch of JACARANDA.  ANGELA RENEE comes in here off of a tenth-place bust in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (GI) on November 1.  She drops a bit in class here, and stretches out.  She seems to be working better into this race that she was into the Breeders’ Cup, and has a bit of a yo-yo form cycle going that appears to be on the upswing for this race.  ANGELA RENEE was impressive at a mile and a sixteenth two starts back, winning the Chandelier (GI) at Santa Anita back in September.  She also has sharp pedigree credentials for getting nine panels or more: she is by Bernardini out of the Deputy Minister mare Pilfer.  This suggests stamina: and makes her a full sister to To Honor and Serve, a multiple graded stakes winner proven at Classic distances.  Pacewise, she should be able to stalk and have a chance of staying in touch with CONDO COMMANDO.  Finally, QUEZON has a shot based on running style, given that she has shown an ability to stalk the pace without getting too far back.  With a strong possibility of lone speed by CONDO COMMANDO, that may be the only hope.  Her pedigree is not the greatest for a mile and an eighth, but she has won both of her starts by open lengths.  Her maiden race was a six-furlong affair against NY-breds; next out, she won the Maid of the Mist Stakes over a mile at Belmont.  The win last out was particularly notable, since she had some trouble at the start, went wide, and still finished much the best.  Her speeds are right in range, and she adds Lasix here for the first time.

Selections:

#6 CONDO COMMANDO (5/1)

#7 ANGELA RENEE (2/1)

#3 QUEZON (5/1)

Longshot: This does say long shot, and today we’re going to try a real bomb: #1 MY CARA MIA (30/1).  She broke her maiden in a turf sprint at Belmont back in September, overtaking the field late after being near the back for most of the race.  She was overmatched in the Miss Grillo (GIII) and the Chelsea Flower in her next two starts.  Though this seems a stiff place for her to try dirt, there’s enough to suggest her here at the inevitably long price at which she will go off.  She has not gone nine furlongs yet, but she does have a half-sibling (Carameaway) who is a stakes winner at this very distance.  This suggests her dam can provide a certain bit of stamina.  She is working very well over dirt after her last race, giving her a shot to handle the surface here.  She also gets a rider change; it could be that she and Cornelio Velasquez (her rider in her last two starts) may not have been a good fit, so perhaps she and Luis Saez will be.  If either the pace gets unexpectedly hot early or the favourites can’t get nine furlongs as well as their connections think they might, MY CARA MIA could be in for at least a share late for a very long price.

Race 9: Remsen Stakes (GII), two-year-olds, one and one eighth miles over the dirt, post time 3:48pm EST

The Remsen Stakes is named after Colonel Joremus Remsen.  Remsen came from a prominent Long Island family, and fought in the Revolutionary War.  Colonel Remsen was part of the American forces defeated by the British in the Battle of Long Island in 1776.  In that battle, he had charge of a 200-man unit of the Long Island Militia, a unit of men from Queens County and Kings County.  The Remsen Stakes was first run in 1904, though with a few gaps in its history, this year marks the 100th running of the race.  The race has been run at distances as short as five furlongs, but has been at its current 1 1/8 mile distance since 1973.  It serves as an early litmus test for who will be able to get a Classic distance in May, and over its history six Remsen Stakes winners have parlayed that victory into a Kentucky Derby win: Johnstown (1938), Carry Back (1960), Northern Dancer (1963), Pleasant Colony (1980), Go for Gin (1993), and Thunder Gulch (1994).  Since last year, this race has offered a purse of $400,000.  In addition to the purse, there are Road to the Kentucky Derby points available for the top four finishers of this race: 10, 4, 2, and 1 point(s), respectively.

Two runners seem to stand out in this field: FROSTED and OSTROLENKA.  FROSTED is another Godolphin/Kieran McLaughlin/Irad Ortiz production, a recurring theme this weekend at The Big A.  Frosted took three tries to break his maiden, finishing second twice in sprints before graduating on the stretch to a mile.  That ride was the first that Irad Ortiz had on FROSTED, and he returns.  He survived a contested lead early, and drew away to win by daylight.  That was a wire job, but he showed in his second maiden attempt (a 3/4 length miss at six and a half furlongs) that he could run well and be interested from off the pace as well.  His speeds in his last two have been right where they need to be to contend with this field, and he has turned in two very sharp (in fact, bullet) works since his maiden win on October 30.  He also adds Lasix for the first time, a move with which Kiaran McLaughlin wins at a sharp 28%, with positive ROI.  This will be his first time stretching to nine furlongs, but he should be able to do it.  Nine furlongs tends to be just fine for Tapit babies with some stamina below, and he is half to With Sugar On Top — a horse who won at nine furlongs for McLaughlin.  OSTROLENKA has also raced three times, though he has two wins under his belt to date.  He faltered in the Saratoga slop first out, but stretched to a mile in September and annihilated a field of NY-breds at Belmont.  He returned to a mile a Belmont for the Sleepy Hollow on October 18, pressing the pace early and holding control down the stretch.  His speeds are strong for the field, he gets rider John Velazquez back, and he is trained by Mr. East Coast Juvenile Stakes Races himself, Todd Pletcher.  He should be forwardly placed, but has shown enough to suggest he could either outgun or outpress others who go to the front.  His raw talent put him right on par with FROSTED, but FROSTED gets the slight nod given that OSTROLENKA does not have a half-sibling who has won past 1 1/16 miles to date.  It is splitting hairs, though.  FLASHAWAY originally occupied this third spot.  In light of that scratch, the only other interesting horses that should provide proper value are longer shots, so let’s promote the original longshot: EH CUMPARI.  He has only raced once, and in that race, he was truly a long shot.  He lit up the tote at 45/1 on November 8, winning a maiden special at Aqueduct going away.  That was a wash off from the turf, but the way in which he won it was strong.  He was far off the pace, caught wide, and came barreling down the stretch like a freight train.  It showed a certain maturity that first timers often don’t have.  He will need to take a step forward from that race to win here, but why can’t he?  We know he can handle the track, since he won over it last time.  Trainer Michael Dilger is sharp with last-out maiden winners, and the bottom side of his pedigree (a Sadler’s Wells mare) should inject more than enough stamina to get nine panels.  If the speedier types get frisky on the front end, a possibility given that none of them are yet accustomed to racing distances this long, EH CUMPARI could be barreling down the stretch to mow them down late.

Selections:

#12 FROSTED (3/1)

#11 OSTROLENKA (4/1)

#7 EH CUMPARI (15/1)

Longshot: #9 KEEN ICE (20/1) comes in here off a freshening of almost two months.  Last out, he was fifth in the Breeders’ Futurity (GI).  He stood no chance against Carpe Diem that day, but he came dodging and ducking through horses late to gut out that fifth-place finish.  That was not the first time he showed something sharp late.  In his maiden win at Churchill, he looked absolutely dead turning for home, but made up the ground and got up just in time to win by a head.  He will need to improve over his last races here, as his speeds are still a bit slow for the field.  However, his pedigree (by Curlin out of an Awesome Again mare) suggests nine furlongs is only the beginning for KEEN ICE’s best, and the #CurlinBabies do tend to get better with age and experience.  He has been working regularly and long leading into this race, and he gets back rider Corey Lanerie.  Lanerie rode him last out in the Kentucky Jockey Club, and wins at 23% (with 60% in the money) with trainer Dale Romans.  KEEN ICE is a dead closer, so he will need some pace to develop — but if it does, he is a gusty closing type who should have more than enough stamina and heart to be in the running late.

Race 10: Cigar Mile Handicap (GI), three-year-olds and up, one mile over the dirt, post time 4:17pm EST

This year marks the 26th running of a race originally inaugurated in 1988 as the NYRA Mile.  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.  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 $500,000 purse.

BOURBON COURAGE had been repeatedly coming close, but not quite getting there, in route attempts over a period of two years.  Trainer Kellyn Gorder cut him back to a sprint two starts back, an allowance at Keeneland, which he won decisively.  He returned next out in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint (GI), was dead last coming into the stretch, and came on like a bullet to finish fourth beaten just two lengths by Work All Week.  He woke up on the cutback to sprints, but he has run well at route distances.  A one-turn mile seems like a brilliant place to try him, and Gorder does just that here.  He has the speed to stick with this field, and the stamina to get the distance.  He also comes into here third off the lay: a point at which Gorder wins at 24%.  He has a very fast work leading into this race, but that hardly seems a worry: a fast work right into the race is BOURBON COURAGE’s modus operandi, and seems to suggest that he is fit and ready to roll.  This field is classy, but the pace should set up quite well for him: with PRIVATE ZONE, NOBLE MOON, SECRET CIRCLE, and possibly BIG BUSINESS and REGALLY READY showing some affinity for the lead, the pace could get quite hot for this closer.  There are enough things suggesting BOURBON COURAGE is perfectly spotted to suggest he can spring the upset.  SECRET CIRCLE is another who comes in out of the Breeders’ Cup Sprint.  He stalked the pace and finished second beaten just half a length by Work All Week.  He has been a six-furlong specialist since his year and a half in the mothballs, but back in 2012, he showed his mettle going a route of ground.  He won the Southwest Stakes (GIII) at a flat mile, and the Rebel Stakes (GII) at 1 1/16.  It has been a long time since he has tried a route, but Bob Baffert’s 30% shipper record suggests he means business.  He would not be sending SECRET CIRCLE out for this race if he did not think he would get a flat mile.  His effort in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint was right in line speedwise with his typical races; nothing suggests it took so much out of him that he cannot return with a good effort here.  Pacewise, he tends to be close to the lead, though he has shown the ability to rate just a bit off: something helpful with one-way speed NOBLE MOON as well as several others in the field who might send.  The third slot was a tight choice between VYJACK and ITSMYLUCKYDAY.  VYJACK had been knocking heads with classy company all year and usually coming up short. However, he woke up last out in the Kelso (GII), going a one-turn mile.  He has been resting for the last two months, but working regularly and typically long.  This, along with trainer Rudy Rodriguez’s 22% record off similar-length lays, that VYJACK should be ready to go.  He keeps Irad Ortiz in the irons; Ortiz is winning at 23% this Aqueduct meet, and has won 10 of his last 30 (wth +$1.38 ROI) with Rodriguez.  Pacewise, he should be able to stay out of any fight for the lead that ensues, but stay close enough in touch to contend late.  Finally, this horse really like the Aqueduct dirt: in four starts over it, he is 4-3-0-1.  ITSMYLUCKYDAY was a disappointing third in the one turn Kelso (GII) mile two months ago, but otherwise had had a very strong year.  He has won graded stakes at both a mile and a mile and an eighth.  He has been working consistently towards his return, and trainer Eddie Plesa is also quite strong with runners returning from similar layoffs, 22%.  He can muster strong speed for the field, and should be near but not right on the lead given that he is keeping the blinkers on.  Both of these runners have a good chance here, but VYJACK gets the slight nod given his proven horse-for-course factor and the likely better odds.

Selections:

#9 BOURBON COURAGE (10/1)

#6 SECRET CIRCLE (2/1)

#4 VYJACK (8/1)

Longshot: #5 TRANSPARENT (6/1) has only raced twice this year, and comes in off of a a layoff of slightly over two months.  He took a swing in a 1 3/16 mile race at Meydan in January, in which he finished fourth, and did not return again until an allowance win in September.  He has been working quite sharply since, and races for trainer Kiaran McLaughlin, who wins at 24% with similar time off.  This will be his first attempt in graded company, but he does have some back class going for him.  He won the Curlin Stakes last year, and was fourth behind Will Take Charge in the Pennsylvania Derby (GII) last year.  If he improves upon his performance last out, he should be right in this crowd speedwise.  In terms of pace, he should be able to rate a few lengths off, and not let the speed types burn him out.  He also has a win over the Aqueduct course, and a win at a mile.  He is a bit speculative, but given the heavy hitters in the field, him going off at his 6/1 morning line seems doubtful.  If he drifts closer to 10/1, which looks a distinct possibility, he is intriguing.

Picture by Nicolle Neulist.

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