With the exception of one or possibly two more, this is the last blockbuster weekend in the sport of Horse Racing for the remainder of the year. There are a plethora of big races being run around the country today and tomorrow but will be focusing in on the 2013 Cigar Mile at Aqueduct Racetrack in Queens, New York. A field of 11 has been drawn with Champion filly Groupie Doll being installed as the 7/2 morning line favorite.
Before we look at the Cigar, let’s first take a look at what else is happening this weekend.
The biggest race (other than the Cigar) for the entire weekend is Friday’s Clark Handicap at Churchill Downs. The nine furlong, $500,000 Grade: 1 race will be spearheaded by top three year old Will Take Charge and top older horse Game On Dude who will both be coming into this off very different Breeders Cup Classic showings and both have something to prove.
Will Take Charge, who came rolling down the stretch in the BCC only to get beat a whisker by Mucho Macho Man, will likely wrap up the three year old championship with a win or another close finish while Game On Dude, who was the beaten favorite in the BCC after tiring down the lane, could re-ignite Horse of the Year talks after the now 6 year old gelding won five straight graded stakes races this season, including the Santa Anita Handicap, the Hollywood Gold Cup, and the $1 million Pacific Classic.
Other contenders for the Clark include 2012 Super Derby winner Bourbon Courage, 2012 Travers (dead heat) winner Golden Ticket, who is coming off a huge second to Goldencents in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile and Grade: 2 stakes winner Prayer for Relief, who, by the way, is cross-entered in the Hawthorne Gold Cup Handicap on Saturday.
Moving over to the Aqueduct card (also on Friday) the feature race will be the $300,000 Go for Wand Stakes at one mile for three year old fillies. Executiveprivilege, who had a sensational two year old season last year (won 5 of 7 and almost $1 million), clearly looks like the horse to beat in the race albeit missing most of this season with a knee issue.
Other contenders in the Go for Wand include Centring, who grant it is 0 for 7 this year, has placed in four graded stakes’ including a third behind Princess of Sylmar and Royal Delta in the Beldame Stakes and a third to Royal Delta (again) in the Personal Ensign Handicap. Fantasy of Flight, who finished second in the Vagrancy Handicap, Hurricane Bertie, and Bed o’ Roses, will be making her second start for new trainer Todd Pletcher and Willet, who won the Union Avenue at Saratoga and Princess Dixie at Belmont Park.
Moving on to Saturday’s big races, the $350,000 Hawthorne Gold Cup at Hawthorne Race Course has nine horses entered in the 10 furlong contest.
Last Gunfighter, who is 4 for 7 on the year including three Grade: 3 wins and very good late running fifth in the BC Classic in his last race, is the deserving 9-5 morning line favorite.
Between the inconsistent Alpha, who comes off an eighth place in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile, Suns Out Guns Out, who finished fourth in the Breeders Cup Marathon, Derby Kitten, who has hit the board in seven of eight starts this year and Grade: 2 stakes winner Prayer for Relief (should he run), some or several could make this an interesting race.
Also on Saturday you should probably pay attention to the under-card of the Cigar Mile as three more big races are set to be run.
It starts with race: 6, which is the Demoiselle for two year old fillies going a flat mile for $400,000. Only six fillies were entered (with half trained by Todd Pletcher) and clearly Stopchargingmaria, an almost 11 length winner of the Tempted Stakes in her last race, is the one to beat in that one.
Race: 7 is the Comely Stakes, a 9 furlong, $400,000 race for three year old fillies only. A total of 10 have been entered and it doesn’t look as cut and dry as the Demoiselle does. I think several fillies could either win or run well including Sky Girl who is the only graded stakes winner (the seven-furlong Dogwood Stakes at Churchill Downs) in the field, the talented and good looking My Happy Face, who won the Lotka Stakes at Belmont Park in June, and then fell just short to Princess of Sylmar in the Coaching Club American Oaks, Teen Pauline finally returns to what I think is her best surface (dirt) after three tries on the grass, Marathon Lady has to be respected based on the fact she placed in two Grade: 1 races this year and Street Hero, who was third in the Cotillion Stakes at Parx Park and then a came home a good fifth in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff earlier this month.
But probably the most intriguing filly in the Comely is Wedding Toast. The versatile filly is a half sister to the under-rated Congaree (go to youtube.com and watch the 2001 Kentucky Derby and the 2003 Breeders Cup Classic, he ran his guts out in both races) and has won three of her first four starts including a 14 ½ length pulverizing of an optional claimer field. She then won as the “much the best” in the $100,000 Belle Cherie Stakes at Belmont on Oct. 25. I look forward to seeing how she runs Saturday for sure.
Race: 8 is the Cigar and race 9 is the Remsen Stakes at 9 furlongs for colts and geldings for $400,000. (Believe it or not and aside from the “all others” category) 2014 Kentucky Derby favorite (more on that later) Honor Code, who skipped the Breeders Cup Juvenile in favor of this race, should be a solid favorite.
Trainer Shug McGaughey is back on the Derby trail (after winning it this year with Orb) and this impeccably bred colt (A.P. Indy- Serena’s Cat by Storm Cat) that looks to have the ability to be superstar after just two career starts.
In his debut (vs. maidens) on Aug 31, Honor Code was last and some 20 lengths behind after the first quarter mile of a seven furlong race before launching a tremendous stretch run to win going away by 4 1/2 lengths. The dark bay colt did something similar in his next (and last) race, the one mile Champagne Stakes at BelmontPark on Oct 5.
Once again, he was last and some 10 lengths behind early before he starting gathering momentum on the turn for home and exploded down the lane to just miss catching the speedy Havana by a quickly diminishing neck. He is another who I look forward to watching come Saturday evening.
Honor Code’s man foe in the Remsen appears to be the unbeaten Cairo Prince, who is 2 for 2. The son of Pioneerof the Nile is trained by Kiaran McLaughlin and comes into this with a 2 ¾ length maiden win and a 2 ½ length win in the Nashua Stakes on Nov 3. in tow.
Aqueduct – Saturday, November 30, 2013
Race 8 – 3:20 PM
Cigar Mile Handicap (Grade: 1)
|1||1||Praetereo||5/H||L||D Cohen||113||D Jacobson||
|2||2||Forty Tales||3/C||L||J Rosario||115||T A Pletcher||
|3||3||Clearly Now||3/C||L||J Lezcano||115||B A Lynch||
|4||4||Groupie Doll||5/M||L||R Maragh||118||W B Bradley||
|5||5||Laugh Track||4/C||L||M E Smith||116||M E Casse||
|6||6||Capo Bastone||3/C||L||I Ortiz, Jr.||115||T A Pletcher||
|7||7||Saratoga Snacks||4/R||L||J L Ortiz||114||G Sciacca||
|8||8||Goldencents||3/C||L||R Bejarano||120||D F O’Neill||
|9||9||Flat Out||7/H||L||J Alvarado||119||W I Mott||
|10||10||Verrazano||3/C||L||J Castellano||117||T A Pletcher||
|11||11||Private Zone||4/G||L||M A Pedroza||118||D F O’Neill||
1) Goldencents- displayed an absolute tour de force while running the 2013 Breeders Cup Dirt Mile field off their feet in his last race.
In the BC Mile, he was sent to the front immediately by now regular rider Raphael Bejarano and ripped off fractions of :22, :44.3 and 1:08.3 before finishing in 1:35 flat
This after running second three consecutive times leading up to the BC. You must also note his last two races show towering speed figures of 109 and 105 which, in turn, leads me to believe he’s in peak form.
That 5 furlong work (:59.2) at Santa Anita last week makes me think he’s holding that form and he like the one turn mile configuration for sure.
With plenty of early speed signed up in here (Saratoga Snacks, Private Zone and probably Verrazano) his best chance appears to be rating off the early pace and trying to catch them late, which is a race he is definitely capable of running.
2) Groupie Doll- geez, I hate to put her here as she could easily win this race.
After having nothing short of a spectacular (championship) year last year, she came back this year with a pair of inexplicable defeats as well as below (her) average speed figures.
That’s why she went off at 3-1 in the BC Filly and Mare Sprint, the highest odds she’s gone off at since May of 2012.
But lets’ talk about that BC F&M Race for a second…in that race, she was as far back as 7th early on but started gathering momentum at about the half mile pole. She took command of the race at the quarter pole and opened up two lengths on the field before clearly tiring in the final furlong.
From there, readers, this chestnut mare put on one of the most brilliant displays of guts and determination I’ve seen in quite some time.
With the talented (and a horse that defeated her one race earlier) Judy the Beauty coming hard and strong in deep stretch, this mare absolutely dug in and refused to be beaten. She held off Judy the Beauty’s late charge by a diminishing half length in racehorse time of 1:20.3.
Two more things….one, she was beaten a whisker in this race last year so you know she likes the track (an advantage she has over Goldencents by the way) and two, she’s now had not one, but two maintenance half mile works since that BC race, which signals readiness.
“It’s a tough field and she’s going to have to step up again, but we feel right now like she’s at peak level and happy as she can be,” trainer Buff Bradley said. “It’s an exciting time for us to be able to get her back and run her again. I think coming up here and knowing that she likes the track so much, knowing that we’ve had some support up here, helps a lot.”
“She handles everything so well and everybody says we’ve done a great job with her, but these good ones are easy,(to train)” Bradley added. “She’s been all class “
3) Verrazano- it’s no secret that I like this good looking and talented colt by More Than Ready.
He was almost unbeatable from January thru July while regularly winning by 8 or 10 lengths but solid drubbings in his last two races (The Travers Aug 24 and the BC Mile Nov. 1) and declining speed figures (116, 97 and 90 in his last three races) makes it apparent to me that he simply peaked out in the first half of this year.
That being said I do expect him to run well Saturday, but this is one of the more talent laden Cigar fields I’ve seen in quite sometime and makes me think a win might be a bit of a stretch.
Clearly Now has never finished off the board in his entire career (10-4-3-3) in which 6 of those 10 races were in either Grade:2 or Grade:3 races. But what really catches my attention is his last race (Oct 26, The Bold Ruler Handicap at Belmont Park). With the addition of blinkers, he won the 7 furlong race in an eye popping 1:21.2 while registering far and away his best speed figure to date (109). If he runs back to that Bold Ruler race, he’ll be tough to beat. Forty Tales is batting .500 in his career (10 starts, 5 wins) and after 3 impressive come from behind wins in April, June and July, he too appears to have gone off form somewhat. In fact, in his last 3 races, he’s been beaten fair and square by three horses that are entered in this race as well (Capo Bastone, Private Zone and Clearly Now). I do like the fact that he’s showed a little more early speed in his last race but still, he’ll have to revert back to his summer form to be competitive vs. these. Laugh Track, at 12-1 on the morning line, is certainly a good value. I mean, he ran two big races leading up to the BC Sprint and in the BC Sprint he was 11th (of 12) after the first half mile before uncorking a tremendous late run to get beat a neck to Secret Circle. Albeit, he didn’t run the last quarter mile in a blazing time (:25 seconds), he still he almost pulled off the upset at 16-1. Regardless, if he runs back to that BC race and gets a fast pace in front of him, he could be a menace. Saratoga Snacks is a winning machine as he’s won 7 of 10 career starts (with 2 seconds and a third also). This bay ridgling is 6 for 6 in his career over fast surfaces but steps up in class big time…outside shot to run well again.
Record: 18-55 = 33%
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Little Bets and Pieces:
**** A great big thank you and job well dones to trainer Pat Quick, my friend Karl Groeger and my other partners in Mr. Woolman, who crushed the field (won by 6 ¾ lengths) in the ninth race at Aqueduct on Thanksgiving.
**** While on the subject of my (our) personal horses, we are looking for a clean sweep of the weekend as King Kongrats is entered in Sunday’s 6th race at Aqueduct. He drew post 11 and will go nine furlongs vs. Maiden Special Weights.
**** The earliest-ever Churchill Downs Kentucky Derby Future Wager round opened a four-day run on Wednesday., Nov. 27, and will close Saturday., Nov. 30.
A few things I noted:
*Honor Code, at 15-1, is the lowest on the board aside from “All Others” of course.
*2013 Breeders Cup Juvenile winner New Year’s Day is 20-1.
*Delta Downs Jackpot winner Rise Up is still high at 50-1
*Bobby’s Kitten, basically a grass horse, has the same 50-1 odds.
*Strong Mandate, who I think might bounce back after back to back bad races, is 30-1
1. Almost Famous-20-1
2. Bobby’s Kitten-50-1
4. Cairo Prince-30-1
7. Coup de Grace-50-1
8. Financial Mogul-50-1
10. Honor Code-15-1
11. In Trouble-50-1
12. Kobe’s Back-50-1
15. New Year’s Day- 20-1
16. Noble Moon-50-1
17. Pablo Del Monte-50-1
18. Ride On Curlin-50-1
19. Rise Up-50-1
20. Shared Belief-30-1
21. Strong Mandate-30-1
23. Tap It Rich-30-1
24. ALL OTHERS-2-5
**** Believe You Can, a 13-1 upset winner of the 2012 Kentucky Oaks, has been retired according to trainer Larry Jones.
The filly by Proud Citizen had an outstanding career record of 14-8-0-2 and earned $1,280,324.
“She galloped out a mile (in a work) and I was very pleased with it,” Jones said. “The next day she ate and did everything right, but she was knocked out. She wouldn’t hang her head out of the stall, but it was okay—there was no heat or anything. Then the next day I galloped her and she galloped okay, but boy, when (other) horses (training) would come by her she had nothing. She wouldn’t even try to go with them and that’s not her”.