The questions for Saturday’s Grade 1 Cigar Mile Handicap at Aqueduct make the final Grade 1 race of the year in New York one of the saltiest fields on Aqueduct’s stakes schedule.
Before we pose them for horseplayers, a history lesson is in order. Named after the 1994 champion of this race and the two-time Horse of the Year, the Cigar Mile is Aqueduct’s lone Grade 1 race. It brings out many of the best middle-distance runners in the country. And it boasts a winner’s roll featuring the likes of Congareee (2002, 2003), Discreet Cat (2006), Kodiak Kowboy (2009), Stay Thirsty (2012), Tonalist (2015) and Maximum Security (2019) in what was one of his greatest races.
This year’s field features eight horses at varying career points. Most of the names are recognizable, as you would imagine in a New York Grade 1. But even among the names with the high Q ratings, questions abound.
Take 5/2 morning-line favorite Americanrevolution and his sizzling speed figures. If you’re going by pure speed, look no further. Americanrevolution comes into the Cigar Mile on vapor trails that produced Equibase numbers of 117, 110 and 108 in his last three races. He won two of those: both stakes races reserved for New York-breds. He finished third in the other: the Grade 1 Pennsylvania Derby.
Americanrevolution needs to prove he’s no regional fluke
That Penn Derby third came by 6 ½ lengths to Hot Rod Charlie and Midnight Bourbon. It was the only time in the last four races that the 3-year-old son of Constitution didn’t cross the wire first. But the three times he did came only against his fellow New York-breds – albeit by a combined 24 lengths. Does his raw form translate into winning a Grade 1? And a Grade 1 against older horses?
Now, take fellow Constitution progeny Independence Hall (7/2). Adding blinkers helped him destroy the Grade 2 Fayette field in late October by 7 ¼ lengths. And his 107 Equibase from that race was his third best figure in six 2021 outings (1-1-2). But his questions concern the sloppy track he romped on in that Fayette, the fact it was his only win of the year and can he handle a one-turn mile? His better efforts came around two turns.
Then, we come to Ginobli (7/2). Actually, he comes to Aqueduct from the West Coast, where he’s coming off the best three races of his 14-race career. He finished second to the runaway Life Is Good in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile after beating a good field in the Grade 2 Pat O’Brien in August. That, in turn, came after he took apart an allowance optional claiming by 9 ¾ lengths.
Can Ginobili smoke the Cigar field away from home?
All three of those races have one thing in common: they were at Del Mar. The 4-year-old Munnings gelding missed the board once in six Del Mar outings (3-1-1). He has hit the board once in eight trips away from the suburban San Diego seaside track: a second in the 2020 Grade 2 San Vicente at Santa Anita. Is he a horse for one course?
Grade 1 Cigar Mile/Aqueduct
Morning Line (Jockey/Trainer)
- Following Sea, 5/1 (John Velazquez/Todd Pletcher)
- Plainsman, 12/1 (Manny Franco/Brad Cox)
- Americanrevolution, 5/2 (Luis Saez/Todd Pletcher)
- Code of Honor, 6/1 (Tyler Gaffalione/Shug McGaughey)
- Independence Hall, 7/2 (Javier Castellano/Mike McCarthy)
- Ginobili, 7/2 (Drayden Van Dyke/Richard Baltas)
- Olympiad, 10/1 (TBD/Bill Mott)
- Pipeline, 15/1 (Jose Ortiz/Chad Brown)
And is Code of Honor a horse for the memories? At 6/1, it may be worth finding out, but expect the Noble Mission horse to get overbet and go off nowhere near that price. This probably spares you from putting money on a 5-year-old who is competitive, but not the 3-year-old monster he was in 2019.
Instead, Code of Honor is 1-1-0 in four 2021 races. He finished fourth in the Woodward and a distant second to Independence Hall in the Fayette. He’s 2-for-his-last-9. His questions center around a lack of form and possibly, a lack of Lasix, which is forbidden in stakes races in most states.
Following Sea needs to navigate a mile
Then, there’s Following Sea (5/1). He gets the rail, which could help his quick turn of foot. He is one of the fastest horses in the field and he’s never missed the board in seven races (3-1-3).
Now, the question: can Following Sea be competitive at a mile? The only time he went a mile or more came in the Grade 1 Haskell – and it didn’t go well. Unless you consider a second by 18 1/4 lengths via disqualification “going well.” A mile may be out of Following Sea’s comfort zone. It’s definitely at his outer limits.
The pick: Ginobili. His namesake: former San Antonio Spurs sniper Manu Ginobili, was used to firing away from long distance. At 7/2, we’re going to take a shot that the equine version can do the same. Ginobili has the distance, the form and the value. At the same time, we’ll get Following Sea and Americanrevolution on the tickets somewhere.