Saturday’s $750,000 Cigar Mile marks the final Grade 1 stakes of the year in New York. To be contested at Aqueduct around one turn, the race drew a field of eight which is headlined by the globe-trotting 3-year-old Mendelssohn, who’s running back from the Breeders’ Cup Classic.
Here’s a look at the field of eight with morning line odds by Horse Racing Nation:
Mendelssohn [ML 8-5 – Scat Daddy – A. O’Brien/R. Moore – 12: 4-2-2 – $2,497,137] He sports the top resume in this field with the most earnings and the best record in graded stakes company. There seems to be no question that the Aidan O’Brien runner will be gunning it on the lead as he has done in his recent starts. His last victory came back in March in the UAE Derby (G2). The Cigar Mile represents a cutback in distance of sorts from his 10-furlong runs in the Travers, Jockey Club Gold Cup and Breeders’ Cup Classic. Back in July in a one-turn mile in the Dwyer (G3) he prompted the pace and faded to third. At this point in his career I think it is fair to ask if dirt is Mendelssohn’s best surface, although a grass start in the future looks unlikely. Vulnerable favorite.
Sunny Ridge [ML 7-2 – Holy Bull – Jason Servis/Irad Ortiz Jr. – 20: 6-5-3 – $1,084,402] He’s comfortable racing at Aqueduct, where he has three victories, all in stakes races including the Withers (G3) on the 2016 Kentucky Derby trail. Last time out he was second in the Kelso (G2) at Belmont Park, plus he was the winner of the State Dinner while racing one turn at Belmont. He does his best work while stalking the early pace. The top choice.
Pat On the Back [ML 20-1 – Congrats – J. Englehart/D. Davis – 21: 6-4-4 – $727,532] He has won more than $700,000 while racing in New York-bred stakes, including the recent Empire Classic at Belmont Park. Trainer Jeremiah Englehart is taking a shot with the son of Congrats, and New-York breds have pulled some very big upsets in the past in very important races. Pretender.
Stan the Man [ML 30-1 – Broken Vow – Terranova/Cancel – 13: 3-5-2 – $185,736] He makes his debut in stakes company as a horse who loves Aqueduct. In seven starts, he has never finished off the board, including two wins with one of them just a month ago while racing seven furlongs. Trainer John Terranova’s barn is red-hot right now, but this is asking quite a lot. Toss.
Copper Town [ML 5-1 – Speightstown – Pletcher/Castellano – 4: 3-1-0 – $141,780] He’s in fine form for trainer Todd Pletcher. The speedy son of Speightstown has now won three races in a row with the most recent score coming in an allowance at Keeneland after a year away from the races. Copper Town is another one of several horses who prefer to be part of the early pace. His first two wins came at distances of a mile or more going one turn at Belmont Park. “He’s a horse we’ve always had high expectations for,” said Pletcher. “We’re just hoping for a steady campaign with him. We feel like he’s talented enough, if the one race has him fit enough to run against horses that have a little more seasoning and recency.” Win contender.
True Timber [ML 15-1 – Mineshaft – McLaughlin/Bravo – 16: 4-3-4 – $393,050] Now a 4-year-old, this Calumet runner has settled in as a sprinter and a one-turn specialist after appearing on the 2017 Kentucky Derby trail. He prefers to race on or near the lead and registered two allowance wins in a row at Belmont on either side of the Saratoga meeting. Last out, he was a distant second in the Bold Ruler (G3), but he has never won a stakes race as he now tries this Grade 1. Board hitter.
Timeline [ML 15-1 – Hard Spun – C. Brown/J. Velazquez – 11: 5-1-2 – $406,300] He began his career with four consecutive victories at four different racetracks, including the Peter Pan and the Pegasus, both Grade 3 events. Another of those wins came in a one-turn mile at Aqueduct while pushing the early pace, which is his best running style. This year, Chad Brown has had the son of Hard Spun racing in stakes company with a third most recently in the Kelso (G2) at Belmont Park. Use underneath.
Patternrecognition [ML 5-2 – Adios Charlie – C. Brown/Jose Ortiz – 10: 4-5-0 – $379,200] He has a 2-for-2 record at Aqueduct, including his maiden win and then an allowance victory at the distance of Saturday’s race. As is the case with Brown runners, this 5-year-old is frequently the favorite. In his last three starts he has raced on the lead including a big gate-to-wire victory in the Kelso. It will not be easy racing on the front end in this field, which includes several speedy types. Win contender.
Summary: The bottom line in the Cigar Mile is that you have to make a decision about Mendelssohn. On the Kentucky Derby trail, I was a big supporter of the Aidan O’Brien trainee. But to me, he has been a disappointment.
Certainly, this Cigar Mile field is a much softer spot than Mendelssohn faced in the Jockey Club Gold Cup or the Breeders’ Cup. However, I look back in his past performances at the Dwyer, and I don’t see anything encouraging about his performance in that one-turn mile.
With the distinct possibility that he will be an odds-on favorite, Mendelssohn is a bad bet that provides no value on a horse that has so many questions to still answer.