By Gene Kershner
The $250,000 Hill n’ Dale Cigar Mile Handicap will be run on Saturday at Aqueduct Racetrack in Ozone Park for the 22nd time. One of my favorite races of the year run traditionally during the holiday weekend, the Cigar Mile is named after Hall of Famer Cigar, who won the race in 1994 when it was known as the NYRA Mile.
Last year’s race was won by Kodiak Kowboy and returns two entrants from that race in three-time Cigar Mile winning trainer Todd Pletcher’s Bribon and Godolphin Stable’s Vineyard Haven. It is a solid field that will load in this year’s gate, including two horses, Haynesfield and Musket Man, that raced in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, one that ran in the Sprint (Girolamo) and one that ran in the Dirt Mile (Vineyard Haven). It wouldn’t surprise me to see the race record time of 1:32.46, set by Discreet Cat in 2006, fall on Saturday.
Here’s a look at the nine contenders trying to win the last Grade 1 race to be held in New York in 2010 (trainer, jockey and morning line odds in parentheses):
1 – Girolamo (bin Suroor, Garcia, 5-2): Godolphin’s talented colt drew the rail, but it won’t be as crowded as his inside draw in the Breeders’ Cup. The coupled entry with Vineyard Haven was named the morning line favorite and he should get a better trip in this one. He shows a nice workout after the Cup and as one of the few Grade 1 winners in the field should be contending for the win.
1A - Vineyard Haven (bin Suroor, Cohen, 5-2): The other part of the entry also struggled in the Breeders’ Cup, finishing sixth. “Vineyard Haven was drawn outside and stalked a very fast pace,” said assistant trainer Rick Mettee. “He’s another one who should pull a better trip.” The winner of the Grade 1 Champagne in 2008, he is a solid horse that along with his entry mate is a must use in the exotics.
2 – Soaring Empire (Gambolati, Prado, 20-1): This long shot, drawing Edgar Prado for the first time, has been working sharply, but I think that the competition in here is much too difficult for him to catch any more than a piece of the superfecta. He shows some nice works, but over his head in here.
3 - Bribon (FR) (Pletcher, Velazquez, 3-1): Nudged out of the winners’ circle for the past two years, he skipped the Cup to point towards this race. Trainer Todd Pletcher adds “It’s the last significant Grade 1 on the East Coast, and always attracts the best sprinters, the best middle-distance horses, and horses backing up as well. Given that, I think Bribon fits in very well.” Leave Bribon off your tickets at your own peril.
4 – Haynesfield (Asmussen, Castellano, 4-1): Finished a disappointing 11th in the Classic, won by the possible Horse of the Year, Blame, who he beat in the previous race when he got away from the field. Has the potential to go wire to wire, but I don’t think anyone will let him get away with it on Saturday. He has never faced Grade 1 company at this distance. Haynesfield is one of two New York-breds in the field. Dangerous, must respect.
5 – Jersey Town (Tagg, Velasquez, 12-1): Barclay Tagg’s promising colt will try to provide him his second Cigar Mile winner as Tale of Ekati won in 2008. A nice showing in the 7-furlong Bold Ruler behind Bribon gave his connections the confidence to give it a go against this field. We’ll be siding elsewhere as this one has to prove he belongs.
6 – Friend or Foe (Kimmel, Solis, 8-1): The other New York-bred in the race is 4 for 4 around one turn. “I wouldn’t trade places with anyone,” said Kimmel, who trains the 3-year-old colt for Chester and Mary Broman. “He’s doing great, we drew well with post position 7, and I think he deserves a shot.” He’s also gaining a 4- to 5-pound weight break on the top contenders in here. I have a feeling he’s ready for a break out race, so we’ll be using him in a big way.
7 – Musket Man (Ryan, Maragh, 5-1): Tough to leave this 4-year-old out of your trifecta, he’s only missed the board once in his career, earlier this month in the Classic. His last try at the mile distance was in this year’s Met Mile where he finished second to Pletcher’s Quality Road. He’s had a long year facing top competition so I’m going to pass on him in the Cigar Mile.
8 – Half Metal Jacket (Rodriguez, Jara, 12-1): This horse for the course (three wins and a place at Aqueduct lifetime) has a hot trainer, but is probably in too deep with these quality horses.
Post Time Selections: 1 – Haynesfield 2 – Friend or Foe; 3 – Godolphin Entry; 4 – Bribon (Fr)
Exotics: Box those four in exactas and trifectas.
Good luck and let’s go cash some tickets!
Gene Kershner is a Buffalo-based turf writer, handicapper and member of the Thoroughbred Bloggers Alliance who blogs at equispace.blogspot.comand tweets @EquiSpace.
Photo: Bribon wins the Bold Ruler (Courtesy of Ross Woodson/Horsephotos.com)