February 5, 2023

Though Cigar did not enter the national spotlight until he was 4, the race at Aqueduct Racetrack named after the two-time Horse of the Year has been quite kind to 3-year-olds.

Two of the last three winners of the $750,000 Cigar Mile Handicap (G1) were 3-year-olds, and three of the last six first-place finishers were in the midst of their sophomore season.

In the upcoming Dec. 3 edition of the one-turn mile at the Big A, 3-year-olds figure to once again be a center of attention with grade 1 winners Zandon  and White Abarrio  among a field of six that also includes the older grade 1 winners Mind Control  , who will be making his final start, and Get Her Number .

O Besos  was entered in an original field of seven, but will not run due to restrictions placed on horses like him who are stabled at Churchill Downs, where six horses tested positive for equine herpesvirus through Nov. 30. The New York York Racing Association announced Wednesday it will not accept shippers from Churchill Downs until further notice.

“Three-year-olds have a good record in the race and hopefully he can follow suit,” trainer Saffie Joseph Jr. said about White Abarrio.

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Jeff Drown’s Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (G1) victor Zandon enters his first test against older rivals as a gem of consistency. Running in four grade 1 stakes this year, he turned in nothing but one solid performance after another this year for trainer Chad Brown.

After finishing third in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve (G1), the son of Upstart   was second to Epicenter , the favorite for the 3-year-old championship, in the Jim Dandy Stakes (G2) and then third behind him in the Runhappy Travers Stakes (G1) while missing second by a nose to Cyberknife  .

Running for the third time in two months, he was then second in the Pennsylvania Derby (G1), finishing behind Taiba  but beating Cyberknife.

“He’s been tough every race. He has given it his all each time while coming out on the short end a few times, but he’s always right there. I think he’ll break through here,” Drown said. “We gave him some time after the Pennsylvania Derby to freshen him a little and get him ready for the upcoming campaign after a very good 3-year-old season. To knock heads with the top horses in your class every time you go out, and you come running like he did, you have every reason to hold your head up high.”

Given a break since then, the $1,440,000 earner, who was second by a nose to Mo Donegal   last year in the Remsen Stakes (G2) at Aqueduct, has been working forwardly for his return to the races.

“He had a fabulous work Saturday and he’s ready to go,” Brown said. ” I love the way he’s training.”

Out of the Creative Cause   mare Memories Prevail, Zandon’s 2023 itinerary will be shaped by Saturday’s race.

“There are some interesting races out there but it’s hard to say what’s next,” Drown said about the $170,000 purchase by Mike Ryan, agent, from the consignment of breeder Brereton C. Jones and Airdrie Stud at the Keeneland September Yearling Sale. “Some questions will be answered here and that will help us make some decisions. The Pegasus World Cup (Championship Invitational, G1) is in the discussion. If this race fits the bill, we’ll take it seriously. The (Hill ‘n’ Dale Metropolitan Handicap, G1) will also be a fantastic race to target.”

Given the large number of top 3-year-olds and older horses who have either been retired or are about to retire, New York’s final 2022 grade 1 stakes could stamp Zandon as one of the top horses to watch in 2023.

“What needs to happen now is that someone has to step forward and prove themselves. There are some very talented horses out there that have some question marks and the questions need to be answered in races like this to find out who will be in the top group next year,” Drown said.

Photo: Anne M. Eberhardt

White Abarrio and Saffie Joseph Jr. 

at Churchill Downs

C Two Racing Stable and Antonio Pagnano’s White Abarrio enjoyed a stellar winter and early spring, taking the Curlin Florida Derby Presented by Hill ‘n’ Dale Farms at Xalapa (G1) and Holy Bull Stakes (G3), but has been up and down since then, starting with a 16th in the Kentucky Derby.

“You can’t complain when a horse wins the Florida Derby and takes you to the Kentucky Derby,” Joseph said about the son of Race Day . “He obviously didn’t run the way we hoped in the Kentucky Derby, but just to get there was great for us.”

After the Run for the Roses, the grey colt bred by Spendthrift Farm was second in the Ohio Derby (G3) before finishing seventh in the TVG.com Haskell Stakes (G1) and fifth most recently in the Pennsylvania Derby.

“He was fifth in the Pennsylvania Derby and normally you’re not happy with that but I thought it was a stepping stone in the right direction,” Joseph said about the $972,550 earner who was bought for $40,000 by Carlos Perez from the Nice and Easy Thoroughbreds consignment at the OBS March 2-Year-Olds in Training Sale. “Beyer-wise it was one of his top figures. Taiba was third in the (Longines) Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1), Zandon will be favored in the Cigar, and Cyberknife was a good second in the (Big Ass Fans Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile, G1). It was a very productive race for White Abarrio and sets him up well for the Cigar.”

The Cigar will be the final race for the 6-year-old multiple grade 1-winning Mind Control, who is owned by breeder Red Oak Stable and Madaket Stables and trained by Todd Pletcher.

Mind Control #1 (Inside) with John Velazquez riding battles to the wire with Hot Rod Charlie #3 and Mike Smith to win the $150,000 Grade III Salvator Mile at Monmouth Park Racetrack in Oceanport, NJ on Saturday June 18, 2022.  Photo By Bill Denver/EQUI-PHOTO
Photo: Bill Denver/EQUI-PHOTO

Mind Control battles to the wire to win the Salvator Mile at Monmouth Park Racetrack

“This will be the last race for Mind Control,” said Rick Sacco, racing manager for Red Oak Stable. “We’ll make an announcement (Dec. 5 or 6) on a stallion farm.”

The Cigar will be the 29th start for the durable and consistent $1.7 million earner who holds the rare distinction of winning grade 1s at 2 and 3 and graded stakes at 4, 5, and 6. A winner of two of five starts this year, he has been freshened since winning the Sept. 24 Parx Dirt Mile Stakes for a second year in a row.

“He likes Aqueduct and tends to run well fresh, so we’ve been locked into this race for a while,” Pletcher said about the 122-pound highweight in the Cigar.

The field also includes trainer Norman Cash and Lola Cash’s duo of Double Crown , a Bourbon Courage   gelding who was claimed for $40,000 in June and won the Kelso Handicap (G2) at Aqueduct in his last start, and Outlier  (Not This Time  ), and Gary Barber’s 4-year-old Get Her Number  (Dialed In  ), who is searching for his first stakes win since taking the American Pharoah Stakes (G1) as a 2-year-old.

Entries: Cigar Mile H. Presented by NYRA Bets (G1)

Aqueduct Racetrack, Saturday, December 03, 2022, Race 9

  • Grade I
  • 1m
  • Dirt
  • $750,000
  • 3 yo’s & up
  • 3:43 PM (local)