The 30th running of the Grade 1, $750,000 Cigar Mile Handicap presented by NYRA Bets brings together a field of eight at Aqueduct, with Mendelssohn the one to catch, particularly as he draws the rail post position. Wire-to-wire winner of the Group 2 U.A.E. Derby by 18 lengths in May, in his first race on dirt following six races on grass or all-weather surfaces, Mendelssohn has failed to win in five subsequent races. However, he has led from the start in two of his last three races, each time running very fast in the early stages before being passed. The best of those efforts came in the Grade 1 Travers Stakes in August when second, four lengths behind Catholic Boy. Most recently Mendelssohn led for the first mile of the 1 ¼-mile Grade 1 Breeders' Cup Classic before fading to fifth in a field of 14.
There are many potential beneficiaries of the fast early pace likely to be set by Mendelssohn, with Patternrecognition the horse with the best credentials of that group. Only worse than second one time in 10 career races, Patternrecognition enters the Cigar Mile following a win in the Grade 2 Kelso Handicap at the same one-turn mile trip. Sunny Ridge and Timeline finished second and third, respectively, in the Kelso. Sunny Ridge had won the State Dinner Stakes in July so has proven competitive in stakes races, while Timeline won the Grade 3 Pegasus Stakes last year as a 3-year-old and may be rounding back to top form. Another recent stakes-placed runner is True Timber, second to a 9 ¾ length winner in the Grade 3 Bold Ruler Handicap Nov. 2 at Aqueduct. Then there's Copper Town, who won the second and third starts of his career (during the summer and fall of 2017) in powerful fashion and who returned from a year away from the races with a resounding five length win in October. Pat On the Back is a multiple stakes winner against horses bred in New York only, including wins in the Saginaw Stakes in July and in the Empire Classic Handicap in October, but stepping into open Grade 1 company may be asking a lot. Stan the Man has won three of his last four races but those victories came against maidens and first level allowance types so he too may be overmatched.
Copper Town has tremendous upside and that's why he appears to have the highest probability to win this year's Cigar Mile. Making his career debut in a 5 ½ furlong sprint in February 2017, Copper Town got the experience of a race out of the way then blew away his competition following six months off last September with a 3 ¾ length win in easy fashion. Bettering that effort less than one month later, Copper Town won by six lengths, beating favored Patternrecognition easily to earn a then career-best 103 Equibase Speed Figure. Put on the sidelines after that race, Copper Town came back after a year off and ran as if he had never been away, easily winning by five lengths and earning a new career-best 108 figure. Todd Pletcher has had excellent success with back-to-back winners in dirt routes when the horse's last start was a sprint, as the STATS Race Lens statistic reveals a 15-for-50 (30 percent) win rate over the last two years in this situation. With his two prior wins coming in one-turn route races like the Cigar Mile and with a lot of improving to do physically in his second start back from a year on the bench, Copper Town could put his name in the hat to be one of the premier handicap division horses for 2019 with a win in this race.
Sunny Ridge entered the stretch 1 ½ lengths behind Patternrecognition in the Kelso Handicap in September and crossed the wire one length behind so was no match for Patternrecognition that day. However, Patternrecognition was allowed to lead easily by a length from the start and to establish a steady rhythm, which is unlikely to happen in the Cigar because of Mendelssohn's predisposition to lead from the start. As it appears likely Mendelssohn will once again lead from the start, with Patternrecognition pressing the pacesetter in second, Sunny Ridge may be in a great stalking spot in third in the early stages, much like he was three races back in July when rallying to win the State Dinner Stakes by three lengths with a career-best 114 figure, an effort which if repeated here may help him to gain the upset win.
Patternrecognition earned a 111 figure in the Kelso, which followed a career-best 113 figure effort in August following two months away. Patternrecognition shows up every time, as evidenced by a first- or second-place finish in nine of his 10 career races. Likely to be in the second position early if Mendelssohn goes to the lead as expected, Patternrecognition has the ability to take over before the other stalkers and closers get into high gear and therefore could win his second graded stakes race in a row.
The rest of the field, with their best representative Equibase Speed Figures, is Mendelssohn (119), Pat On the Back (114), Stan the Man (108), Timeline (113) and True Timber (110).