Ridden patiently by Shaun Bridgmohan, Kodiak Kowboy swept past Bribon and Vineyard Haven in deep stretch to win the $300,000 Hill 'n' Dale Cigar Mile Handicap (gr. I) (VIDEO) by three-quarters of a length at Aqueduct Nov. 28.
Trained by Steve Asmussen, a freshened Kodiak Kowboy made it consecutive grade I victories for owners Fox Hill Farm and Vinery Stables. The 4-year-old son of Posse --Kokadrie (by Coronado's Quest) captured the Vosburgh Stakes (gr. I) over a sloppy Belmont Park strip Oct. 3.
With his fourth win in eight starts this year, Kodiak Kowboy is a leading contender for an Eclipse Award as the nation's top sprinter. Kodiak Kowboy won the Carter Handicap (gr. I) at Aqueduct in April.
Kodiak Kowboy completed the one-turn mile in 1:35.57 over a main track labeled "fast" but not playing that way. Bribon finished second by a head, with Vineyard Haven, part of Godolphin's 11-10 coupled entry with Pyro, running third.
“That’s three grade I’s this year, we couldn’t be happier," said Tom Ludt, president of Vinery Stables. "He was a little closer to the pace than normal, but he was just sitting there so comfortably. Shaun rode a great race. This horse has been so good for us. Now, he’s going home to be a dad.”
Fourth after a half-mile, Kodiak Kowboy was held on the inside by Bribon and jockey Rajiv Maragh as Vineyard Haven dueled with Driven by Success through quarter-mile fractions of :23.69 and :46.80. The outlook began to change when Driven by Success tired at the rail and Bribon moved up three wide to challenge Vineyard Haven after six furlongs in 1:11.54.
That created an opportunity for Kodiak Kowboy, who was switched to the outside by Bridgmohan for room in upper stretch. As Bribon surged to the front over the battling Vineyard Haven at the furlong pole, Kodiak Kowboy ranged up on the outside, getting a head in front less than 100 yards from the wire. He inched away in determined fashion under right-handed urging.
"I had such a great trip," Bridgmohan said. "I was just very patient with him, and when I asked him, he responded like the professional he’s always been. What a nice horse.”
Met Mile Handicap (gr. I) victor Bribon yielded grudgingly to finish second after looking like a winner in the stretch. A game Vineyard Haven was followed by Vacation, Pyro and Driven by Success.
“He ran great," said Bribon's trainer Robert Ribaudo, who added that the 6-year-old would return to training after a break in 2010. "We were a little concerned because the track seemed to be putting up some slow times, but the track didn’t seem to bother him."
“He ran hard all the way to the wire, and it’s unfortunate he didn’t win,” said Maragh. “He ran too good to lose, but there can only be one winner.”
Bred in Kentucky by Hartwell Farm, Kodiak Kowboy scored his 11th lifetime triumph in 23 starts while banking $1,663,363. The Cigar Mile win was worth $180,000. The bay colt sold for $70,000 at the Ocala Breeders' Sale in August 2006.
Sent off as the third choice among five betting interests, Kodiak Kowboy carried high weight of 120 pounds and paid $8.70, $4.10 and $2.10 while heading a $22.60 exacta. The French-bred Bribon, rebounding from a fifth-place finish as the favorite in the Woodbine Mile (Can-IT) in his last start Sept. 20, returned $3.40 and $2.10. The 3-year-old Vineyard Haven, who came into the race off back-to-back grade I wins for Godolphin, was $2.10 to show.