This Saturday brings the last hurrah for top-level horse racing action in New York this year, with a stack of Graded stakes headed by the Grade 1 Cigar Mile Stakes, featuring an intriguing match-up between Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile runner-up Ginobili and multiple G1 winner Code Of Honor, among other high-class contenders. On the undercard, up-and-coming juvenile colts and fillies stake their Churchill Downs claims in the Grade 2 Remsen and Demoiselle.

Cigar Mile Stakes

It’s the final Grade 1 of the year on the east coast, and there is a tight, fascinating field for the Cigar Mile Stakes, the feature event of Saturday’s card at Aqueduct. Nothing here, though, can hold a candle to the horse the race is named after – as Tom Durkin’s famous stretch call went: “the incomparable, the invincible, the unbeatable Cigar!”.

A few facts, away from the fact of his greatness. Cigar was not named after tobacco but after an aviation checkpoint, for owner Allen Paulson was an aeroplane magnate. He won 11 Grade 1s, his first coming in this race, then known as the NYRA Mile;he won a handful of change short of $10 million; also he won the inaugural Dubai World Cup; he won 16 races straight, matching the all-timer Citation. Yet perhaps his most enduring legacy was his perfect season of 1995, Cigar going ten-for-ten in a year of flawless brilliance.

Cigar was an allowance horse on turf who was transformed when trainer Bill Mott switched him to dirt in the fall of 1994, whereupon he began his winning streak, with Jerry Bailey in the saddle each time. He opened the following campaign with an allowance win and then began a harvest of Grade 1s that lasted all year, all the Parks, Hollywood, Gulfstream, Oaklawn, Belmont, only one of those wins gained by less than two lengths.

“Not only was he good, he was consistent,” said Bailey. “His style of running was the most you could ask for. He had great speed, acceleration, and there wasn’t a situation in a race that he couldn’t get you out of. There was no other horse like him.”

The son of Palace Music had the speed of a miler and he could stretch out, giving him the weapons to see off every foe. In 1995 he was five years old, at full maturity, a sweet-natured bull of a horse, and the Breeders’ Cup Classic was his finest hour, his tenth race that year, his tenth win. He pulled his way to the lead on the turn, Bailey unable to hold him any longer, and then barrelled through the stretch to win in stakes record time, Durkin’s call echoing around Belmont Park in tribute as he crossed the line. The title of Horse of the Year was a formality.

Cigar’s winning streak continued through 1996 until it snapped at 16 in the Pacific Classic when he was caught up in a speed duel and finished runner-up. He ended his career with defeat in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, and was given a police escort down Seventh Avenue in Manhattan as he made his way to his retirement party in Madison Square Garden.

At stud he was infertile – Cigar was really just a running machine – so he lived out his days at the Kentucky Horse Park until he died in October 2014 at the age of 24. At his best, he was the best there was, the perfect horse, everybody’s perfect ten.

2021 Cigar Mile Stakes contenders

Those bidding to follow in the footsteps of the invincible, unbeatable one are led by morning-line favourite Americanrevolution (5-2), whose claims rest not on what he has done but how he has done it. He was third in the Grade 1 Pennsylvania Derby behind Hot Rod Charlie and then blew a state-bred stakes race to bits at Belmont Park, crushing overmatched rivals by almost 12 lengths.

He’s clearly a Grade 1 runner but this will come much harder – the horses he beat last time out are nothing much – and it’s a surprise that he’s such a dominant favourite now he returns to a mile against speedier rivals.

Nothing could have caught Life Is Good in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile, but Ginobili (7-2) was a clear second best and, when that effort is added to his previous victory in the Grade 2 Pat O’Brien at Del Mar over seven furlongs, it puts him in here with a serious chance given his natural speed. The west-coast raider’s last three starts have been a considerable improvement on what came before, which trainer Richard Baltas attributes to the fitting of blinkers.

The headgear has also worked wonders for Independence Hall (7-2), the evidence there in his last two starts, when he was runner-up to Knicks Go in the Grade 3 Lukas Classic at Churchill Downs and then an authoritative winner of the Grade 2 Fayette over a mile-eighth at Keeneland, where he led at every call and cleared right away in the stretch to beat Code Of Honor (6-1) by seven and a quarter lengths. Independence Hall figures to be a pace factor despite coming back to a mile, and although he is zero-for-five in Grade 1s he is two-for-two at Aqueduct.

Code Of Honor is not the horse he was in 2019, when he was runner-up in the Kentucky Derby and won the Travers and Jockey Club Gold Cup, and although class is permanent it remains to be seen whether he can be as effective back at a mile against younger, sharper rivals. He may nevertheless be capable of a final flourish before he goes to stud next year.

Americanrevolution’s barnmate Following Sea (5-1) appeared to have been reinvented as a sprinter when wiring a short field in the Grade 2 Vosburgh at Belmont Park, and then posting a possibly unlucky third in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint, when a gap closed as he was ready to make his move. He has never won over further than six and a half furlongs and the return to a mile may not bring out his best.

Trainer Bill Mott, as he did with Cigar all those years ago, brings an allowance winner to the party in the shape of the lightly raced Olympiad (10-1), who took his record to two-for-four when leading all the way at Keeneland over seven furlongs. He makes his stakes debut at the top level and obviously needs to find considerable improvement, but has the scope to do so after such a light campaign.

The old man of the party Plainsman (12-1) is four-for-eight in 2021 and unbeaten in two at Aqueduct, but the form of his victory in the Grade 3 Ack Ack at Churchill Downs over a mile doesn’t play strongly here, while Pipeline (15-1) has only a maiden victory to his name, was beaten in a run-of-the-mill stakes contest over seven furlongs at Keeneland last time, and could be out of his depth among these Grade 1 types.

Horse Racing Odds & Prediction 

The answer to the Cigar Mile may be found in the blinkers now worn by INDEPENDENCE HALL, whose recent improvement can take him to his first Grade 1 win.

HorseJockeyOdds courtesy of JazzSports
Following SeaJohn R. Velazquez+500
PlainsmanManuel Franco+1200
AmericanrevolutionLuis Saez+250
Code of HonorTyler Gaffalione+600
Independence HallJavier Castellano+350
GinobiliDrayden Van Dyke+350
OlympiadJoel Rosario+1000
PipelineJose L. Ortiz+1500

Remsen Stakes

Two colts prominent in the market for next year’s Kentucky Derby bid to confirm their credentials in the Remsen, another stop on the ‘Road to the Kentucky Derby’ and a race won once upon a time by future Derby winners Thunder Gulch, Go For Gin and Pleasant Colony.

The better fancied of the pair is Mo Donegal (8-5), available at 35-1 for the Derby on the Kentucky Derby future book. He earned those odds by winning a Belmont Park maiden over a mile-sixteenth in impressive fashion, doing all his best work deep in the lane, not reeling in the leader until the sixteenth pole but then keeping on strongly to win going away by a length and a half.

Trainer Todd Pletcher reckons the further Mo Donegal goes the better he’ll be, after the son of Uncle Mo had stepped up from six and a half furlongs on his debut. The runner-up at Belmont was Fromanothamutha (6-1), who set steady fractions and had the rest of the field well beaten, but had no answer to Mo Donegal’s late rally. He’s a four-race maiden who had earlier been runner-up to Judge Davis (5-1) in another Belmont mile-sixteenth maiden, beaten three-quarters of a length, and looks to need an easier spot.

Judge Davis, 135-1 on the Kentucky Derby future book, then moved up in class for the Grade 3 Nashua over a mile at Belmont, where he finished third behind Rockefeller after weakening in the closing stages, beaten five and a half lengths; trainer Shug McGaughey has won the Remsen a record four times.

The second of the serious Derby contenders is Zandon (5-2), priced at 60-1 on the Kentucky Derby future book after getting the job done first time over six furlongs at Belmont. The style of his victory, coming along steadily and then stretching away at the wire to win by a length and a half, indicates that he’ll improve for the extra distance, an opinion held by trainer Chad Brown.

Another Belmont Park maiden winner is Who Hoo Thats Me (6-1), who then tried stakes company over a mile at the same track and ran well for third, beaten two lengths. He will find this a much tougher assignment, which also goes for Eloquist (12-1), well beaten in two maidens before third time lucky over a mile at Parx Racing, where the longer distance appeared to bring some improvement.

Race conditions dictate that two-time winner Mr Jefferson (20-1) has to spot more promising rivals 2lb. After a dull effort on turf at Laurel Park, when he finished two lengths behind third-placed Midnight Chrome (30-1), whose last three starts have been on the weeds, Mr Jefferson returned to the main track at the same venue to post a much better performance over a mile-sixteenth, although that was only a short-field allowance optional claimer.

Horse Racing Odds & Prediction 

The Remsen has drawn several promising sorts, but ZANDON can be expected to move up both from his winning debut and for the longer distance, and is a solid choice.

HorseJockeyOdds courtesy of JazzSports
Mo DonegalIrad Ortiz, Jr.+160
Who Hoo Thats MeTrevor McCarthy+600
Judge DavisJose L. Ortiz+500
FromanothamuthaManuel Franco+600
Midnight ChromeLuis Saez+3000
EloquistDylan Davis+1200
ZandonJoel Rosario+250
Mr JeffersonKendrick Carmouche+2000

Demoiselle Stakes

Trainer Todd Pletcher, represented in the Remsen by morning-line favourite Mo Donegal, has won distaff equivalent the Demoiselle a record six times and sends two to the gate in a bid to follow up his success 12 months ago with the brilliant Malathaat.

The most likely of the pair is Nest (2-1), a wide-margin winner of a Belmont Park maiden over a mile-sixteenth before stepping up to stakes level over a mile at the same track, where she did her best work late to be third, beaten just three-quarters of a length. The extra furlong here should be right down her alley and she has the benefit of coming off a solid effort, which is not the case for barnmate Miss Interpret (10-1).

That filly’s victory in a short-field Saratoga maiden over seven furlongs was then followed by heavy defeat in the Grade 1 Alcibiades at Keeneland, when she never got into the race at all. Miss Interpret is clearly better than that, and this represents a significant drop in class, but today’s distance is an unknown and that poor run is a concern.

A much better effort at the top level came from Magic Circle (7-2), who ran fourth behind Echo Zulu in the Grade 1 Frizette at Belmont over a mile. Next time out she finished a neck in front of Nest in that aforementioned Belmont stakes race, hanging on gamely to second place as that rallying rival closed in, and there is unlikely to be too much between those fillies here.

Quality maiden form comes from Tap The Faith (3-1), who made a successful debut over a mile at Belmont when upsetting heavy favourite A Mo Reay – previously third in the Frizette – by a head. The runner-up may not be as good as the Frizette form indicates, but it was still a fine performance from Tap The Faith, who should have no problem with the extra furlong.

Another winner-on-debut is Nostalgic (6-1), who drew clean away from her rivals over Belmont’s mile-sixteenth to win by almost eight lengths, and on that basis looks ready to move up in class, although it was a slow time. Her trainer Bill Mott has won the Demoiselle three times, most recently in 2019 with Lake Avenue, owned like Nostalgic by Godolphin.

Venti Valentine (5-1) is unbeaten in two, both at Belmont Park, and made a successful transition to stakes level in a state-bred contest over a mile, drawing off to win by three and three-quarter lengths from a longshot runner-up. Further improvement can be expected but is required.

Parx Racing maiden winner Golden Essence (30-1) has her first start away from the Pennsylvania venue and may find this a little hot, while Full Count Felicia (30-1) is a three-race maiden making her first start on the main track, and consequently has a few questions to answer.

Horse Racing Odds & Prediction 

There are several with previous stakes experience in the Demoiselle, but TAP THE FAITH left a big impression when winning her debut and could be ready to move up. 

HorseJockeyOdds courtesy of JazzSports
Miss InterpretLuis Saez+1000
Golden EssenceDexter Haddock+3000
Venti ValentineJohn R. Velazquez+500
NostalgicJose L. Ortiz+600
NestIrad Ortiz, Jr.+200
Tap the FaithJoel Rosario+300
Magic CircleManuel Franco+350
Full Count FeliciaTyler Gaffalione+3000

Go For Wand Handicap

The Go For Wand – also named after a champion, the seven-time Grade 1 winner whose tragic end on Breeders’ Cup day in 1990 is still resonant with those who witnessed it – begins Saturday’s run of four Graded stakes and features the return of last year’s winner Sharp Starr (7-2).

The four-year-old got home by a neck 12 months ago, the third horse a mile back, and returned to the winner’s circle for the first time since that day when springing a slight surprise in a Belmont Park stakes over a mile-sixteenth last time out. Last year’s Go For Wand is Sharp Starr’s only Graded success, and she has never missed the board in six at Aqueduct.

Lady Rocket (8-5) has only been off the board once in ten starts and arrives here in the form of her life, following up second place in the short-field Grade 2 Gallant Bloom at Belmont with a narrow score in a stakes at the same track over seven furlongs. She goes a mile for the first time today.

A record of zero-for-four at Aqueduct isn’t encouraging, but Miss Marissa (4-1) brings some strong form to the table, making all in the Grade 2 Delaware at Delaware Park in July and then finishing third in the Grade 2 Beldame at Belmont Park. However, she was some way below that level when fourth in the Grade 3 Turnback The Alarm at Belmont last month, ten lengths behind runner-up So Darn Hot (10-1), who hit the board there for the first time in a Graded stakes and has never won above allowance level.

A winner twice in stakes at Belmont Park either side of Graded defeats at Saratoga, Truth Hurts (5-1) had Honor Way (20-1) almost five lengths back in fourth on the most recent of those wins, over seven furlongs. Truth Hurts is two-for-three at Aqueduct and may appeal to exotics players, while west-coast raider Bella Vita (5-1) has won two stakes races sprinting this year but steps up to a mile for the first time since March 2020, and could be vulnerable at this distance.

Horse Racing Odds & Prediction 

Last year’s Go For Wand winner Sharp Starr has good claims for a repeat, but the in-form LADY ROCKET is on the upgrade and looks ready to go a mile for the first time.

HorseJockeyOdds courtesy of JazzSports
Miss MarissaJose Lezcano+400
Lady RocketIrad Ortiz, Jr.+160
Bella VitaJoel Rosario+500
So Darn HotManuel Franco+1000
Honor WayEric Cancel+2000
Truth HurtsTyler Gaffalione+500
Sharp StarrJose L. Ortiz+350

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