Saturday's card at Aqueduct features a stakes-laden card, anchored with the Grade I Cigar Mile -- the subject of this preview.
This year marks the 28th 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 $500,000 purse, constant from last year.
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.
Last year, 2014 Belmont winner Tonalist concluded his career with a neck victory in the Cigar Mile, prevailing by a neck over Red Vine -- a son of Illinois-bred Murky Waters. Two years ago, locally owned Private Zone posted a frontrunning tour-de-force.
Private Zone, owned by locally connected Good Friends Stable, rolls in the 2014 Cigar Mile.
In addition, do not miss our preview of Friday's Clark Handicap (GI), Friday's lone Grade I at Churchill Downs.
Saturday, November 26 - Aqueduct
Race 10: Cigar Mile (GI), three-year-olds and up, one mile on the dirt, post time 4:20 EST
DIVINING ROD chased Noble Bird around in the Fayette last out. But, with the blinkers on here, DIVINING ROD should be even sharper early this time out. Trainer Arnaud Delacour knows that he is doing with blinkers -- his horses win a quarter of time when going first-time blinkers, and hit the board over 60% of the time. He also gets a rider change back to Daniel Centeno, with whom he won a pair of allowance at Parx earlier this year. Though both of those allowance wins were two-turn miles, he has one-turn mile form earlier in his career. DIVINING ROD graduated going the one-turn mile at Laurel. This son of Tapit is fast enough, in strong form, and stands to appreciate the cutback -- and, with the East Coast usual suspects likely to take money, he should be a fair price to play here.
ANCHOR DOWN, the morning line favourite in the field of ten, should be the speed of the speed. He posted a confident victory in the Kelso at Belmont last time out, and has marked himself a solid contender in the East Coast dirt mile division this year. His form at the Big A has not been the best, part of why it make sense to take a price shot with DIVINING ROD. But, ANCHOR DOWN's one-turn mile form has been excellent, and he should be faster early than OCEAN KNIGHT, CONNECT, and even DIVINING ROD. And, if Aqueduct plays as well for speed as it has on some big race days (the 2014 Cigar Mile comes to mind...), ANCHOR DOWN could well win a game of catch-me-if-you-can.
CONNECT has something to prove here, with this being his first try against older horses in stakes company. But, he does have form against older horses earlier in the year, with a maiden special weight an an allowance win against the three-and-up set. He also has yet to prove himself at a one-turn mile, though his six and a half furlong maiden victory suggests some level of extended sprint ability lurking. CONNECT has not run since the Pennsylvania Derby two months ago, but the worktab is good, and trainer Chad Brown's charges tend to run well off of layoffs in this range. Though he has shown speed, he has also shown the ability to rally from off the pace, something he proved sharply in the Pennsylvania Derby -- and something that should come in handy given ANCHOR DOWN's sharp early speed.
#10 DIVINING ROD (8/1)
#1 ANCHOR DOWN (2/1)
#7 CONNECT (5/2)
Longshot: Though he needed a DQ to do it, trainer Barclay Tagg sprung an upset in the Cigar Mile with Tale of Ekati in 2008. He has another interesting dark horse this year in #3 REALM (20/1). REALM makes his stakes debut here, an ambitious spotting, but comes in off a decisive allowance victory over a one-turn mile trip at Aqueduct last time out. He also has a third-place finish over the course and distance back in the spring, rallying from farther off the pace than he prefers. REALM's connections have also been strong this meet: Barclay Tagg has won three of his ten starts on the meet, and rider Paco Lopez has a 17-5-3-2 line on the meet so far. One of those wins was the allowance victory on REALM. A run back to that effort could invade the exotics; a step forward makes the Virginia-bred son of Haynesfield a contender at a huge price.