Slight Edge to Spun to Run in Cigar Mile Showdown With Maximum Security

Spun to Run, above en route to a win in the Big Ass Fans Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile, will face a strong field that includes Haskell Invitational Stakes winner Maximum Security Dec. 7 at Aqueduct in the Grade 1 Cigar Mile Handicap. (Eclipse Sportswire)

The 31st running of the Grade 1, $750,000 Cigar Mile Handicap drew a field of 11, with many having solid stakes credentials. That being said, all eyes may be on the battle between Maximum Security and Spun to Run. Maximum Security enters the race off strong victories in the Grade 1 Haskell Invitational Stakes and Grade 3 Bold Ruler Handicap while Spun to Run comes in off a dominant win in the Grade 1 Big Ass Fans Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile. Other horses with potential to have an impact include 12-time winner Whitmore, who has earned more than $2.8 million in his career, but whose last win came in March; and Pat On the Back, a winner of nine races, including the Grade 2 Kelso Handicap in September. Nicodemus won the Grade 3 Westchester Stakes in May but is winless in two higher-level stakes since then. Tale of Silence won the Westchester in 2018 but is winless in six races this year since that victory. 2018 Cigar Mile runner-up True Timber has lost all four of his races since that time and the rest of the field — Bal Harbour, Forewarned, Looking At Bikinis, and Network Effect —has yet to win a graded stakes.

Spun to Run possesses a double advantage in the speed figure category, historically a very significant marker for success. Two races back in October, Spun to Run won the M.P. Ballezzi Appreciation Mile Stakes powerfully by 6 3/4 lengths in hand and earned a career-best 119 Equibase Speed Figure. Returning three weeks later, Spun to Run proved that effort to be no fluke when controlling the pace in front and easily winning the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile by 2 3/4 lengths, earning a similar 117 figure. The double advantage comes from the fact those two figures of 119 and 117 are higher than the last two figures of any other horse in the Cigar Mile field, because it would be very difficult for another horse to jump up to that level or for Spun to Run to regress significantly. Jockey Irad Ortiz Jr., who leads all jockeys in North America by purse earnings in 2019, takes the return engagement on Spun to Run after being in the saddle for the first time in the Dirt Mile. With two very strong workouts since the Breeders’ Cup, Spun to Run is showing all signs of holding his top form and, as the Cigar Mile is at the same distance of his last two wins, he will be very tough to beat in this race.

Pat On the Back and Maximum Security both warrant strong consideration as contenders as well, with Pat On the Back very likely to be higher odds near post time. Pat On the Back has won nine of 26 dirt races in his career and, perhaps more importantly, has won the last two times he’s raced at this one-turn mile trip. Pat On the Back won the Commentator Stakes in May with a 110 speed figure then, after a layoff and sprint prep, stretched out to the mile for the Kelso Handicap, winning with a 106 figure. Following the Kelso, Pat On the Back finished third at 1 1/8 miles, also with a 106 figure, so the cut back to a mile may suit him nicely to run very competitively in the Cigar Mile.

Maximum Security needs no talking up, with six wins in eight races. One of the losses came in this year’s Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve when he crossed the finish line in front but was disqualified. Following a defeat as the 1-20 favorite in the Pegasus Stakes in June, Maximum Security nearly duplicated the 111 figure earned in the Derby with a 109 figure when winning the Haskell, then improved back to the 111 level winning the Bold Ruler Handicap at the end of October. Considering the Cigar Mile will be his second start following three months off, Maximum Security could run even better, but so too can Spun to Run. If both do improve as I expect they will, we could be watching a race to remember.

The rest of the field (with best representative Equibase Speed Figures): Bal Harbour (109), Forewarned (103), Looking At Bikinis (112), Network Effect (107), Nicodemus (104), Tale of Silence (108), True Timber (113), and Whitmore (110).

My Selections:

Spun to Run

Pat On the Back

Maximum Security

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