December 1, 2021
In what will be the final big day of racing in New York this year, Aqueduct presents a 10-race card this Saturday topped by the Grade I Cigar Mile.
The $750,000 Cigar Mile is named in honor of the 1995-96 Horse of the Year and 2002 Hall of Fame inductee. This year’s renewal has attracted a field of eight.
The Cigar Mile is a handicap, a type of race that has become a racing rarity these days.
Of the 22 nominees, Happy Saver was assigned top weight of 124 pounds. But he was not entered. Happy Saver carried 121 pounds and, in a splendid try, finished second in last Friday’s Grade I, $750,000 Clark Stakes at Churchill Downs. Off at odds of 12-1, Happy Saver lost by only a half-length to Maxfield, who was appearing under silks for the final time before heading off to a new career as a sire.
Hall of Famer Todd Pletcher trains Happy Saver. Pletcher told me that the Grade I winner will continue racing in 2022.
Aloha West was handed 123 pounds for the Cigar Mile. The 4-year-old Maryland-bred Hard Spun colt won the Grade I Breeders’ Cup Sprint at Del Mar on Nov. 6 for owner Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners and trainer Wayne Catalano.
On Nov. 24, Aloha West worked four furlongs in :49.40 at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots. However, Aloha West, like Happy Saver, was not entered in the Cigar Mile. Aloha West will focus instead on a 2022 campaign, BloodHorse’s Bob Ehalt reported.
Eclipse president and founder Aron Wellman said that he is not interested in shipping and running Aloha West so soon after his Breeders’ Cup victory, according to Ehalt.
“The horse always comes first and we don’t want to ask too much of him,” Wellman said. “We don’t want to compromise what we anticipate being a huge season in 2022 by traveling and running again in such close proximity. We have no plans at this time other to hopefully work our way backwards from next year’s Breeders’ Cup.”
Ginobili is being sent to New York from Southern California to accept the 122 pounds he is being asked to carry in the Cigar Mile.
Below are my Cigar Mile selections:
1. Independence Hall
4. Following Sea
To be perfectly frank, I have never been an Independence Hall fan. He generated much hype after recording a 101 Beyer Speed Figure when he won the Grade III Nashua Stakes by 12 1/4 lengths as a 2-year-old at Aqueduct in 2019.
Ever since the Nashua, I have always looked at Independence Hall as being overrated. I’d say that the record indicates I was correct to have that view of him in that he’s lost eight of 11 starts since the Nashua.
But a primary reason Independence Hall is my top selection in the Cigar Mile is it appears to me that trainer Michael McCarthy has him primed for a big performance that could land him in the winner’s circle.
I am not going to hold Independence Hall’s defeat in Del Mar’s Grade I Pacific Classic on Aug. 21 against him. It was asking a lot of him to run in that 1 1/4-mile affair when he had not raced since April 17. Independence Hall finished fifth at odds of 11-1 and logged a 95 Beyer Speed Figure.
In his next start, Independence Hall encountered an equine buzzsaw in the form of Knicks Go in the Grade III Lukas Classic at Churchill Downs on Oct. 2. A two-turn win machine, Knicks Go won that 1 1/8-mile race by four lengths. Independence Hall finished second and came away with a 98 Beyer, an improvement off his 95 in the Pacific Classic.
After the Lukas Classic, Independence Hall ran what I believe might well have been the best race of his career to date. Competing on a sloppy track, the 4-year-old Kentucky-bred Constitution colt splashed his way to a 2 1/4-length win in Keeneland’s Grade II Fayette Stakes on Oct. 30. He recorded a robust 105 Beyer Speed Figure.
And so Independence Hall heads into the Cigar Mile off a career-best Beyer. Perhaps his impressive Fayette victory was fueled by the sloppy strip. After all, that made him three for three on wet tracks.
But I also think there is a chance that Independence Hall is just really on his game right now. McCarthy is demonstrating time and again that he is adept at having a horse ready for a peak effort in an important event. A recent example of this was how McCarthy had Ce Ce so finely tuned to run a winning race in the Grade I BC Filly & Mare Sprint at Del Mar on Nov. 6.
This will be Independence Hall’s final start before he goes to stud.
I very nearly made Ginobili my top pick in the Cigar Mile. I may regret not doing that.
Trained by Richard Baltas, Ginobili won only one of his first 11 career starts, all without blinkers. His top Beyer during that time was a 90.
Since having blinkers added to his equipment, Ginobili has improved significantly.
In his first race with blinkers, Ginobili won a Del Mar allowance/optional claiming race by 9 3/4 lengths at one mile on July 27. The Kentucky-bred Munnings colt registered a 104 Beyer Speed Figure.
Proving the 104 was not a fluke, Ginobili recorded a 102 Beyer when he moved up substantially in class and won Del Mar’s Grade II Pat O’Brien Stakes with blinkers at seven furlongs on Aug. 28.
After the Grade II victory, Ginobili wore blinkers again when he started in the Grade I BC Dirt Mile at Del Mar on Nov. 6. Life Is Good won with authority by 5 3/4 lengths. Many felt that win by Life Is Good was the best performance in any of this year’s 14 Breeders’ Cup races. Ginobili actually did well to finish second behind such a beast.
I also gave serious consideration to making Americanrevolution my top pick in the Cigar Mile. I certainly will not be surprised if he wins.
Americanrevolution, trained by Pletcher, has won four of five starts this year. The Constitution colt is coming off a scintillating 11 3/4-length win against New York-breds in the 1 1/8-mile Empire Classic Handicap, which was contested on a sloppy track Oct. 30 at Belmont Park.
In his lone defeat this year, Americanrevolution finished third in the Grade I Pennsylvania Derby at Parx Racing on Sept. 25. He faced a couple of tough foes on that occasion in the victorious Hot Rod Charlie and runner-up Midnight Bourbon.
Hot Rod Charlie ran fourth in the subsequent Grade I BC Classic. Midnight Bourbon went on to finish third as the 6-5 favorite in last Friday’s Clark.
I was sky high on Following Sea earlier this year. In fact, he was my top pick in Monmouth Park’s Grade I Haskell Stakes at 1 1/8 miles on July 17. But Following Sea let me down that day by finishing a well-beaten third.
Following Sea went back to sprinting after the Haskell. He finished third to Jackie’s Warrior and Life Is Good in Saratoga’s Grade I H. Allen Jerkens Memorial at seven furlongs on Aug. 28, then cruised to a 4 3/4-length win vs. his elders in the Grade II Vosburgh Stakes at Belmont on Oct. 9.
After the Vosburgh, Following Sea had a troubled trip in the Grade I BC Sprint when he was steadied at the top of the lane. Would Following Sea have won that race without the trouble? Maybe. At the very least, I think he would have ended up closer to one-two finishers Aloha West and Dr. Schivel.
A reason that I’m rather reluctant to pick Following Sea to win the Cigar is I’m still stinging a bit from how he ran when asked to race farther than seven furlongs in the Haskell. But in fairness to him, the one-turn one-mile Cigar Mile might well be a better fit for him than the two-turn 1 1/8-mile Haskell. Also, Following Sea just might be a better, more mature racehorse now than he was in July.
If you are a horseplayer, you know full well how it often goes. When I loved Following Sea in the Haskell, he finished a bad third. Now, when I am trying to beat Following Sea, he’s eligible to go out there and drill them in the Cigar Mile while figuratively thumbing his nose at me.
“ALL OTHER MALES” ODDS-ON IN FUTURE WAGER
Not surprisingly, the “All Other 3-Year-Old Colts and Geldings” option closed as an overwhelming favorite last Sunday in Pool 1 of the 2022 Kentucky Derby Future Wager (KDFW) conducted by Churchill Downs.
“All Other 3-Year-Old Colts & Geldings” was reported by Churchill to have “closed as the 3-5 favorite.” More specifically, this option closed as the 7-10 favorite, meaning that you would win $70 for a $100 wager.
In addition to the “All Other 3-Year-Old Colts and Geldings” option, the “Any 3-Year-Old Filly” option closed at 41-1.
Those who bet the “All Other 3-Year-Old Colts and Geldings” option in Pool 1 of the 2021 KDFW at odds of 6-5 cashed when Medina Spirit finished first in the Kentucky Derby. Media Spirit was 12-1 on race day.
As for the 22 individual horses in Pool 1 of the 2022 KDFW, Smile Happy was 20-1 last Saturday prior to winning the Grade II Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes by 3 1/4 lengths later in the day to remain undefeated in two starts. Smile Happy then was 15-1 last Sunday afternoon before Jim “Mattress Mack” McIngvale plunked $10,000 on him.
Following McIngvale’s wager, Smile Happy’s odds plummeted and the colt closed as the 8-1 favorite among individual horses.
McIngvale raced Smile Happy’s sire, the 2015 Eclipse Award-winning male sprinter Runhappy. As Daily Racing Form’s Marty McGee noted, McIngvale “is widely known in the racing industry as a tireless promoter of Runhappy” as a sire.
Kenny McPeek trains Smile Happy. McPeek also conditions Tiz the Bomb and Rattle N Roll.
Tiz the Bomb, runner-up in the Grade I Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf, was scratched from the Kentucky Jockey Club due to an infection in his left foreleg. The Kentucky-bred Hit It a Bomb colt closed at 24-1 in Pool 1 of the KDFW.
Rattle N Roll won Keeneland’s Grade I Breeders’ Futurity by 4 1/4 lengths on Oct. 9, but then missed the BC Juvenile due to a hind foot setback. The Kentucky-bred Connect colt is to resume training within the next couple of weeks, according to McPeek. Rattle N Roll closed at 21-1 in Pool 1 of the KDFW.
Meanwhile, before wagering in the KDFW began last week, a Churchill Downs news release stated that “Pool 1 assumes the horses under the care of trainers suspended from competing in the 2022 Kentucky Derby will not be under consideration. To that end, prospects Corniche, Messier, Pinehurst and Rockefeller are not among the 22 individual betting interests and are included in the pari-mutuel field” also known as the “All Other 3-Year-Old Colts & Geldings” option.
Corniche, a $1.5 million auction purchase, is three for three. Hall of Famer Bob Baffert trains the BC Juvenile winner and odds-on favorite to be voted an Eclipse Award as 2-year-old male champion. Baffert also trains Messier, Pinehurst and Rockefeller.
Daily Racing Form’s Jay Privman reported Monday that Corniche has been sent to WinStar Farm in Kentucky for a brief freshening, but the plan is for him to return to trainer Bob Baffert, according to Marette Farrell, who purchased the colt for owners Speedway Stable.
Corniche was sent to Kentucky on Nov. 24. After his time at WinStar, Farrell said he will return to Baffert’s barn at Santa Anita.
“Baffert is barred from Churchill Downs, including the next two Kentucky Derbies,” Privman wrote. “If Corniche is to be pointed to the May 7 Derby, and if there is no change in Baffert’s status with Churchill Downs, Corniche will have to be moved to another trainer in order to accumulate qualifying points to earn a berth in the field. No points were awarded to Corniche for his wins in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile or American Pharoah owing to Baffert’s status.”
Speedway Stables is owned by Houston residents Peter Fluor and K.C. Weiner.
“Peter wants to be loyal,” Farrell said in an obvious reference to Baffert. “Corniche won the Breeders’ Cup, and he’s a possible 2-year-old champion. No decisions have been made -- there hasn’t even been any talk about another trainer, or who he’d go to if he needs to go to another trainer. If the time comes that a decision needs to be made, if it needs to be made that way, we’ll put our heads together and make a decision.”
As of Monday, Corniche was listed as the 6-1 favorite for the 2022 Kentucky Derby by Caesars Sportsbook at William Hill Nevada. Messier was 16-1. Jack Christopher and Smile Happy were each 20-1.
Jack Christopher was the 9-5 morning-line favorite in the Nov. 5 BC Juvenile, but he was scratched on the advice of the veterinarians due to a left shin issue. BloodHorse’s Byron King reported Nov. 16 that Jack Christopher “had a screw inserted in his left shin by orthopedic surgeon Dr. Larry Bramlage, said Bradley Weisbord, racing manager for the colt’s co-owner, Jim Bakke.”
Gerald Isbister, Coolmore Stud and Peter Brant are also members of the Jack Christopher ownership group.
“Due to a couple areas lighting up [on a bone scan], mainly the left shin, he had a procedure done on that shin and he’s going to be out for two months,” said Weisbord, a bloodstock agent whose clients include Bakke and Isbister. “So we will start him back [training] in early 2022 at WinStar Farm and then ship him to Palm Meadows and start his campaign in South Florida.”
Chad Brown trains Jack Christopher. The Kentucky-bred Munnings colt won a six-furlong maiden race by 8 3/4 lengths when unveiled at Saratoga on Aug. 28, then took the Champagne by 2 3/4 lengths.
There will be four more KDFW pools (Jan. 21-13, Feb. 11-13, March 11-13 and March 31-April 2. A 2022 Kentucky Oaks Future Wager will be offered March 11-13.
Below are the final odds reported by Churchill Downs for Pool 1 of the 2022 KDFW:
3-5 “All Other 3-Year-Old Colts & Geldings”
8-1 Smile Happy
10-1 Jack Christopher
21-1 Rattle N Roll
24-1 Tiz the Bomb
37-1 Giant Game
37-1 Mo Donegal
41-1 “All 3-Year-Old Fillies”
43-1 Howling Time
43-1 Major General
44-1 Classic Causeway
66-1 Ben Diesel
72-1 Double Thunder
87-1 Oviatt Class
133-1 Graphic Detail
138-1 Forced Ranking
KENTUCKY DERBY SIRE WAGERING
The 2022 Kentucky Derby Sire Future Wager once again was offered at the same time as Pool 1 of the KDFW.
In terms of sire wagering, the “All Others” option closed as the 7-2 favorite. Runhappy was 7-1, lowest odds among the 23 individual sires. The DRF’s McGee reported that McIngvale made a $3,000 wager on Runhappy.
Gun Runner was the third choice in the sire wager at 9-1. He was the only other sire to close at lower than 10-1.
Below are the final odds for the 2022 Kentucky Derby Sire Future Wager:
7-2 “All Others”
9-1 Gun Runner
10-1 Quality Road
14-1 Into Mischief
16-1 Empire Maker
20-1 American Pharoah
23-1 Not This Time
24-1 Giant’s Causeway
25-1 Uncle Mo
29-1 Union Rags
32-1 Medaglia d’Oro
33-1 Practical Joke
37-1 Candy Ride
41-1 Street Sense
48-1 Twirling Candy
53-1 Pioneerof the Nile