Sharp Azteca May Clash With Gun Runner in Pegasus

Sharp Azteca earned his first Grade 1 victory in the Cigar Mile on Dec. 2 at Aqueduct. (Eclipse Sportswire)

Tom Pedulla presents his five major takeaways from Cigar Mile Day on Saturday at Aqueduct:

Bound for Pegasus?

Trainer Jorge Navarro suggested that Sharp Azteca might go on to the $16 million Pegasus World Cup Invitational on Jan. 27 at Gulfstream Park following an overpowering effort in the Cigar Mile Presented by NYRA Bets. “After this performance, why not?” said Navarro after the 4-year-old son of Freud took his first Grade 1 race in his 16th career start. “We are going to see how he comes out of this first.” Gun Runner, a convincing winner of the Breeders’ Cup Classic, heads the expected field for the Pegasus with a number of slots still to be filled.

Smart Move 1

Sharp Azteca appeared to benefit from a jockey change when Javier Castellano replaced Paco Lopez for the Cigar Mile and was aboard for an emphatic 5 ¼-length victory following an agonizing half-length defeat in the Las Vegas Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile. Lopez had the mount for four consecutive starts. Navarro said the change was dictated by owner Ivan Rodriguez. “We believe he is one of the top horses in the nation, so he needs one of the top riders,” the trainer said. Few can match the résumé of Castellano, who swept the Eclipse Award as North America’s leading jockey each of the last four years.

Catholic Boy and connections. (Eclipse Sportswire)

Smart Move 2

Racing secretary Martin Panza’s decision to push back Cigar Mile Day one week to encourage more entries from Breeders’ Cup competitors was rewarded in a big way. Sharp Azteca, Mind Your Biscuits and Practical Joke, the top three finishers in the Cigar Mile, had all been part of the big show at Del Mar. The same was true for Catholic Boy and Wonder Gadot, winners of the Remsen Stakes and Demoiselle Stakes, respectively. “I hate to say this, but the Breeders’ Cup kind of served as a great prep for this,” said Jonathan Thomas, trainer of Catholic Boy.

Victory In Defeat

Although Avery Island placed second to Catholic Boy in the Grade 2 Remsen, his connections viewed the race as more of a valuable learning experience than a defeat. The son of Street Sense had won his two previous starts, including the Grade 2 Nashua Stakes on Nov. 5, in front-running fashion. Regular rider Joe Bravo wound up turning the Remsen into a teaching moment when he put Avery Island behind horses. “He took the dirt. He relaxed. He was comfortable, just waiting for the rider’s orders,” Bravo said, knowing how well that bodes for the future.

No Joke

Here is a tip of the cap to Practical Joke, who rallied for third in the Cigar Mile in his career finale. The 3-year-old Into Mischief colt hit the board in all but two of 12 career starts and finished with $1,795,000 in earnings. Yes, he revealed distance limitations when he ran fifth in the Kentucky Derby, but he showed up every time. He was 5-for-5 around one turn before being tripped up in the Cigar Mile. “He’s been a really solid horse for us,” trainer Chad Brown said. “I’m excited about his future as a stallion and look forward to training his offspring.”

newsletter sign-up

Stay up-to-date with the best from America's Best Racing!