The $250,000, Grade 1 Cigar Mile Handicap Saturday at Aqueduct drew a field of nine and will likely be run on a wet racetrack given the weather forecast. Among the nine contenders, five are millionaires, led by Firenze Fire ($2.2 million), who won the Grade 2 Vosburgh Invitational Stakes in September. However, Firenze Fire has only won once on a wet track in five races and he finished 11th and fourth in his last two stakes on the type of surface he’s likely to be running over in the Cigar Mile. Another millionaire is Snapper Sinclair ($1.3 million), who moves back to the main track after a pair of in-the-money finishes on turf including a runner-up effort in the Tourist Mile this past summer.
Mr. Buff is a horse who likes to lead early, resulting in 15 wins in 40 starts and $1.2 million in the bank. He has a liking for off tracks with three wins but nearly all of his 15 career wins have been racked up against New York-breds and he finished fifth in his two tries in graded stakes this year. Mind Control ($1 million) put together three straight graded stakes wins from August 2019 through March of this year including the Grade 3 Tom Fool Handicap at Aqueduct, but hasn’t threatened to win in five races since then, two of those over sloppy tracks. Similarly, True Timber ($1 million) has now gone winless in 13 races since September 2018 although he did finish third in the Grade 1 Forego Stakes Presented by America's Best Racing in August over a sloppy track. Majestic Dunhill won the Grade 3 Bold Ruler Handicap in October and returns on five days rest following a last-place effort in the Grade 3 Fall Highweight Handicap last Sunday. Three-year-old King Guillermo won the Grade 2 Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby in March before posting a second-place finish in a division of the Grade 1 Arkansas Derby in May, and he makes his return to the races in the Cigar Mile. Bon Raison has won 11 of 44 races but has never won a stakes. Last but certainly not least is Performer, who has won five races in a row going back to June 2019, including the Grade 3 Discovery Stakes last November, before coming back to win in October following 11 months off.
Performer finished third in the first start of his career in November 2018 and has not lost a race since. Moving straight through his first two allowance conditions in the summer of 2019, Performer improved to earn 105 and 106 Equibase Speed Figures before earning a new career-best figure of 112 in November of last year when victorious in the Discovery Stakes at Aqueduct. Rested for 11 months, Performer returned as if he had never been away to win a classified allowance race in mid-October with a 109 figure. Joel Rosario has been aboard for every race since the debut – all wins – and rides again Saturday. He draws the ground-saving rail and has the ability to take up a stalking spot from the start behind likely early leader Mr. Buff – and if he makes logical improvement off his comeback effort in October, Performer should be very tough to beat in this year’s Cigar Mile.
King Guillermo proved his 49.20-1 upset win in the Tampa Bay Derby was no fluke when clearly second in the Arkansas Derby on what would have otherwise been the traditional Kentucky Derby day in May. Although regressing a bit to a 101 figure in the Arkansas Derby from the 110 earned in the Tampa Bay Derby, King Guillermo proved in that race that he belongs in top company. Rested since May, King Guillermo put in a very strong pair of half-mile drills at his home base in south Florida, the first of the two the best of 59 on the day and the second the best of 38, suggesting he may be able to do what Performer did in his recent comeback off a long layoff, and that is run as if he had never been away at all.
Snapper Sinclair has more second place finishes (six) than wins (five) in his career but he is competitive quite often and may be the one finishing fastest of all in the Cigar Mile. Snapper Sinclair ran well when second in the Essex Mile Handicap at Oaklawn Park in March on a sloppy track with a 107 figure, and he also finished second, missing by a head, on a muddy track in the Fifth Season Stakes in January with the same figure. This fall, Snapper Sinclair has run even better, earning a 114 figure when second (beaten three-quarters of a length) in the Tourist Mile Stakes. That race was on turf, but having run so well on dirt earlier this year, I think Snapper Sinclair could get a big piece in this race given his current form.
The rest of the field, with their best Equibase Speed Figures, is Bon Raison (116), Firenze Fire (119), Mr. Buff (119), Majestic Dunhill (112), Mind Control (113) and True Timber (113).
Win Contenders, in preference order: