The 29th running of the Grade 1, $750,000 Cigar Mile Handicap Presented by NYRA Bets at Aqueduct on Saturday is not only one of the last few Grade 1 stakes races in North America in 2017, it is a race with a tremendously talented field of 10.
Four in that group have won Grade 2 stakes or better but only one of that quartet enters the Cigar Mile off a win. Tom's Ready won the Grade 2 Woody Stephens Stakes in June 2016 and enters this race off a strong ninth to first rally in the Grade 3 Bold Ruler Handicap last month. Next in terms of having run the best at the highest levels are a trio of runners, led by the winner of the Grade 1 H. Allen Jerkens Stakes in August, Practical Joke. Practical Joke was most recently fourth in the Grade 1 Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile. Mind Your Biscuits won the Grade 1 Malibu Stakes last fall as well as the Grade 2 Belmont Sprint Championship Stakes in July. Mind Your Biscuits enters the Cigar Mile race off a third-place effort in the Grade 1 Breeders' Cup Sprint last month. Sharp Azteca finished second in the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile and is a multiple graded stakes winner including the Grade 2 Kelso Handicap this past September. Two more potential contenders in top form are Americanize, who ships in from California on the heels of a pair of wins including the Damascus Stakes, and Beasley, beaten less than a length by Tom's Ready in the Bold Ruler recently. Just Call Kenny, Seymourdini, Summer Revolution, and Vulcan's Forge round out the field.
Tom's Ready runs his best races at one mile or less and preferably around one turn. All five of his career wins have come at either seven furlongs or a mile, including a career-best effort in the Bold Ruler Handicap last month at Belmont Park in which Tom's Ready earned a 122 Equibase Speed Figure. In a visually impressive effort winning the Bold Ruler, Tom's Ready rallied from last of nine and was eight paths wide turning into the stretch as he drove past the field. Since then, Tom's Ready was flattered when Bold Ruler runner-up Stallwalkin' Dude won the Fall Highweight Handicap a little over a week ago. In the Cigar Mile it appears Sharp Azteca and Seymourdini will both battle for the lead while setting very fast fractions and benefiting Tom's Ready and his late kick. The icing on the cake is that jockey Mike Smith comes in from California to ride Tom's Ready for the first time and there is a STATS Race Lens angle just for this situation, which shows when there is a jockey change to Smith in a graded stakes in the last year, betting to win produces a 28 percent profit ($2.56 returned for every $2 bet).
Americanize ships in from California on the heels of a pair of very strong wins since adding blinkers. His most recent victory came on the undercard on Breeders' Cup Friday (November 3) in the Damascus Stakes. Americanize earned a career-best 123 Equibase figure in the Damascus, and that effort stacks up very nicely with the top contenders in this field. Jockey Rafael Bejarano was aboard for the horse's last two wins and comes in from California to ride so we should expect another top effort good enough to win the Cigar Mile Handicap.
Beasley finished third in the Bold Ruler last month, just three-quarters of a length behind Tom's Ready. Although he was fifth in the early stages while Tom's Ready was ninth and was outfinished by the winner, Beasley ran the best race of his career, earning a 121 figure. Considering he is just a 3-year-old, Beasley has more improving to do and he should get a great trip stalking the pacesetters in the Cigar so we must respect his chances to be in the thick of the action at the end.
About some of the others: Although Practical Joke won the H. Allen Jerkens in August, that was against 3-year-olds and in his only previous start against older horses he finished fourth in the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile last month (121 figure). Other than that, the 112 best figure Practical Joke put forth this year isn't enough to threaten the top contenders here if repeated. Mind Your Biscuits is a top sprinter but has run this far only once, in a maiden race early in his career. His career-best effort came last December winning the Malibu Stakes with a 122 figure, but that was against his own age group. Considering the main contenders in the Cigar Mile have run a mile or farther and won, Mind Your Biscuits may have his work cut out for him in terms of winning even though he definitely should be considered for the runner-up and third-place spots on exacta and trifecta tickets. Seymourdini and Sharp Azteca are both very good horses, with Seymourdini having earned a 119 figure when fourth in the Bold Ruler and Sharp Azteca having earned a career-best 129 figure when second in the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile. However, both have the same running style and will want to be in front from the start, so it is likely they will tire each other out just enough to be vulnerable to being passed by any number of stalkers and closers.
The rest of the field, with their best representative Equibase Speed Figures, is Just Call Kenny (105), Summer Revolution (121) and Vulcan's Forge (111).