The $750,000, Grade 1 Cigar Mile Handicap Presented by NYRA Bets Saturday at Aqueduct brings together six-horse field (the original seven reduced by one after O Besos was not allowed to ship in from Kentucky due to an outbreak of equine herpesvirus at Churchill Downs). That group is headlined by two millionaires and one on the brink of achieving that status.
Leading the field in achievements and earnings is Mind Control, winner of 11 races in his career and accounting for more than $1.77 million in earnings. Coming off a win (via disqualification) in the Parx Dirt Mile Stakes earlier this fall, Mind Control hopes to improve off his third-place finish in the similar Grade 1 Carter Handicap this past spring as he makes his 29th and final career start. Zandon is the other horse which has banked more than $1 million in his career, $1.44 million to be exact. His biggest win came this past April in the Grade 1 Toyota Blue Grass Stakes and he faces older horses for the first time off a runner-up effort in the Grade 1 Pennsylvania Derby. Get Her Number ships in from California and appears capable of competing with these horses off a strong win 13 days ago. He proved to be top caliber in the fall of 2020 as a 2-year-old when winning the Grade 1 American Pharoah Stakes, and he may have regained that form. White Abarrio brings a 4-for-8 record into this race, his most notable win coming in the Grade 1 Curlin Florida Derby Presented by Hill ‘n’ Dale Farm at Xalapa in April. He is also facing older horses for the first time. Double Crown won the Grade 2 Kelso Handicap over this track and at the distance of the Cigar Mile last month, posting the huge upset at 42.25-1 odds, and hopes for a similar effort. Outlier rounds out the field, having run 40 times to date with eight wins but never making a start in a stakes race.
Main win contenders:
Mind Control loves this track and loves these long one-turn races. In his 28-race career he’s run the one-mile trip five times, winning four of those races and finishing second in the other. Among that group he has run this one-turn mile trip twice, with a win and a runner-up effort. Jockey John Velazquez has been in the saddle for eight of the horse’s 11 career wins including, in the Salvator Mile Stakes this past June. That effort earned Mind Control a career-best 118 Equibase Speed Figure which towers over this field if repeated as the best figure earned by any of the others is 109, belonging to Zandon from his runner-up finishes in the Pennsylvania Derby and the Jim Dandy Stakes. In his most recent race, the Parx Dirt Mile Stakes on Sept. 24, Mind Control battled head-and-head for the final three-eighths of a mile, leading with a sixteenth of a mile to go but beaten a neck at the finish. When the stewards determined the winner had interfered with Mind Control in the stretch, he was moved up to first, earning a 109 figure with that effort. Moving back to track where he has a very strong record of 4-2-1 in seven races, Mind Control appears to be the horse to beat in this year’s Cigar Mile.
Get Her Number has run only 14 times in his career as compared to 28 for Mind Control, but he has won five times and may be rounding into his best form. Well regarded as a 2-year-old in the fall of 2020, Get Her Number won the important American Pharoah Stakes in only the third start of his career, beating a couple of talented colts in Rombauer and Spielberg in the process. Something kept him out of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile that year and away from the races for many months, but he was still highly regarded and returned on the Road to the Kentucky Derby in the Rebel Stakes the following year. Following four poor efforts, Get Her Number was given eight months off and was no longer aiming at longer races, and he won a sprint in March of this year in his comeback. Two races later the colt finished third in the Triple Bend Stakes, and then ran even better in July of this year when second in the Bing Crosby Stakes with a career-best 108 figure. Following a poor effort in the Pat O’Brien Stakes in August, Get Her Number got another brief rest and repeated the 108 figure effort with a nice win in a six-furlong allowance optional claiming race. Now making his second start off a layoff and getting the services of red-hot Luis Saez (who just won the November meet riding title at Churchill Downs), Get Her Number has a shot to run as well as Mind Control, and likely at higher odds.
White Abarrio was highly regarded early this year when on the Road to the Kentucky Derby, winning both the Holy Bull Stakes and the Florida Derby with 102 and 100 figures, respectively. After a poor 16th-place finish in the Kentucky Derby, White Abarrio rebounded somewhat when second in the Ohio Derby to earn a new career-best 106 figure. In his most recent start in the Pennsylvania Derby, White Abarrio set the pace for the first mile but then faded to fifth. Rested a couple of months since and having posted a strong set of drills at trainer Saffie Joseph Jr.’s base in Florida, White Abarrio gets the services of North American leading jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. for Saturday’s race. This is significant because going back to Jan. 1, 2021, when Ortiz, Jr. and Joseph team up for dirt races at Belmont and Aqueduct, they have a record of seven wins in eight races. He’s likely to be the controlling speed in this year’s Cigar Mile, and White Abarrio is not without a chance to add to those numbers.
The rest of the field, with their best Equibase Speed Figures, is Double Crown (103 on a synthetic track), Outlier (99) and Zandon (109), the latter who has every right to finish in-the-money as he has in all eight career races.
Win Contenders, in preference order:
Get Her Number