In his first race back since a sixth-place finish in last month's Qatar Racing Breeders' Cup Sprint, Hoist the Gold dictated the 12-horse field through blazing early fractions and never looked back on his way to a 4 1/2-length victory. Relentless to the wire, he stopped the timer in 1:34.28 for the mile over a muddy (sealed) Aqueduct main track.
"At the eighth pole, he kicked in another gear and got in front of them some more," trainer Dallas Stewart said of his stable star. "He made that separation and that's the sign of a good horse. I just hate that they took the Grade 1 away, but he showed he's a good horse and we'll take the $500,000 and head down the road."
The Cigar Mile was downgraded to a Grade 2 event for the first time since it was awarded Grade 1 status by the American Graded Stakes Committee in 1990.
It was Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez who initially suggested the Cigar Mile as a target for Hoist the Gold. The 4-year-old son of Mineshaft had never won beyond seven furlongs in any of his 25 starts prior to the Cigar Mile.
"Johnny (Velazquez) picked the right race for us," said Stewart. "He told us at Breeders' Cup the horse doesn't like dirt in his face. He said, 'just let me ride him the way I want — run him a mile at Aqueduct and he won't get beat.' He was 100% right."
Multiple graded stakes winner Senor Buscador made his trademark late run on the far outside, but with too much to do, could only settle for second in his first run back since a fifth-place effort in the Longines Breeders' Cup Classic.
A homebred for Dream Team Racing, Hoist the Gold took his earnings in excess of $1.1 million with his second graded win.
Dornoch, Full Brother to Kentucky Derby Winner Mage, Wins Remsen
Kentucky Derby winner Mage is retired from racing and now it is his 2-year-old full brother Dornoch that is producing racing headlines. On Dec. 2 at Aqueduct Racetrack, Dornoch gamely won the $250,000 Grade 2 Remsen Stakes, battling back to defeat Sierra Leone by a nose after being passed in mid-stretch.
With the 1 1/8-mile Remsen part of the Road to the Kentucky Derby series, the victory earned Dornoch 10 qualifying points.
Dornoch showed grit after looking beaten with an eighth of a mile remaining when surging Sierra Leone poked his head in front from rallying from last in the field of 10. But Dornoch, who had set a pressured pace with fractions of :23.09, :46.97, 1:11.56, still had something left under jockey Luis Saez.
"As soon as the other one came to him, he saw him, and he wanted to beat him," Saez said. "I can't describe this. He wants to win the race."
Favored Dornoch ($5.40), who skimmed the rail down the stretch while racing greenly, completed the distance in 1:50.30 over a muddy, sealed track. His time was .80 of a second faster than Life Talk's clocking earlier in the Grade 2 Demoiselle Stakes for 2-year-old fillies.
Drum Roll Please closed to grab third, 4 3/4 lengths behind the top two. Moonlight was fourth, and Where's Chris was fifth. The second-through-fifth runners earned Kentucky Derby points on a 5-3-2-1 scale toward the May 4 run for the roses at Churchill Downs.
The victory was the second in a row for Dornoch, who won a maiden race Oct. 14 at Keeneland at 1 1/16 miles. He had been second in a pair of earlier starts.
Six Remsen participants have gone on to triumph in the Derby, though none since Thunder Gulch took the 1994 Remsen and then the Kentucky Derby in 1995.
After getting a short break, Dornoch will train at Palm Meadows Training Center in Florida this winter.
Hargan said he will "start looking for races later, probably sometime in March. Two races, maybe three, before the Derby."
Though he came up on the losing end of a photo, Sierra Leone, a son of Gun Runner and a $2.3 million yearling purchase, performed well in defeat. -- Byron King
Life Talk Romps Over 3-Year-Old Fillies in Demoiselle
Repole Stable's Life Talk continued to climb the ladder of progress with a flashy frontrunning victory in the $250,000 Grade 2 Demoiselle Stakes Dec. 2 at Aqueduct Racetrack for trainer Todd Pletcher with Irad Ortiz Jr. aboard.
Life Talk skipped on the lead through moderate early fractions of :24.10, :48.65, and 1:13.10. Shimmering Allure appeared she might make a race of it turning for home but Life Talk quickly repelled her looming challenge, opening up two lengths down the lane. Life Talk hugged the rail as she glided to the wire, splashing home 3 3/4 lengths ahead in a final time of 1:51.10. She paid $4.00 to win.
An impressive second-out maiden winner at Saratoga in August, Life Talk posted her first stakes win in the Demoiselle. She collected 10 points on the Road to the Longines Kentucky Oaks. The second-place finisher Shimmering Allure (5), third-place finisher Dolomite (3), and fourth and fifth-place finishers Most of All (2), and Caldwell Luvs Gold (1) also earned Kentucky Oaks qualifying points. -- Molly Rollins