A field of nine was drawn for the Cigar Mile, including Godolphin’s coupled entry of Vineyard Haven and Girolamo who both disappointed in their respective Breeders’ Cup races earlier this month at Churchill Downs. Also entered were Musket Man and Haynesfield, the seventh- and 11th-place finishers, respectively, in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (gr. I).
Not involved in the World Championships but perhaps in the best position of all to win the Cigar Mile is 7-year-old Bribon, who was third in 2008 and runner-up in this race a year ago.
The Cigar Mile is one of four graded races on the Aqueduct program that also includes a pair of important juvenile races, the Remsen (gr. II) and Demoiselle (gr. II), and the Gazelle Stakes (gr. I) for 3-year-old fillies. Post time for the Cigar Mile is set for 3:38 p.m. EST.
Vineyard Haven finished sixth in the Nov. 6 Breeders Cup Dirt Mile (gr. I). The 4-year-old son of Lido Palace came up empty after putting himself in winning position at the top of the Churchill Downs lane in his third start of the season. He scored one of his three grade I victories as a juvenile in the Champagne Stakes, also at one mile.
Vineyard Haven ran very well in the Cigar Mile last season, missing by three parts of a length to Kodiak Kowboy. His regular rider is Alan Garcia, but David Cohen will be aboard for this race.
Garcia will instead have the mount on Girolamo, who finished 11th as the favorite in the Sentient Jet Breeders’ Cup Sprint (gr. I). One start after winning the Vosburgh for his first grade I win, Girolamo was never a factor in the BC Sprint, fading badly with Garcia aboard. The son of A.P. Indy is 2-for-3 at a mile, including a victory in last year’s Jerome Handicap (gr. II). This will be his Aqueduct debut.
The coupled entry is the 5-2 morning-line favorite.
“(In the Breeders’ Cup) Girolamo got an inside draw in a big field,” said assistant trainer Rick Mettee. “Hopefully the mile will suit him a little better.
“Vineyard Haven was drawn outside and stalked a very fast pace. He’s another one who should pull a better trip.”
Eric Fein and Vic Carlson’s Musket Man made his only start at a mile in the Metropolitan Handicap (gr. I) in May, running second to Quality Road in a fine effort. Since then he has made three route starts, his best finish coming in the Oct. 9 Monmouth Cup (gr. II) when missing by a neck to Etched. He was never a factor in the BC Classic after being stepped on going into the first turn. It was his first time off the board in 15 starts.
Musket Man, trained by Derek Ryan, has won six times but has been runner-up or third in eight other starts including missing by a nose at Aqueduct in the grade I Carter Handicap in April. Rajiv Maragh will have the ride.
“A mile to 1 1/16 miles is his best distance, but we decided to take a shot in the Classic,” said Ryan. “He came out of the race well, and this is the last grade I race.”
Turtle Bird Stable’s New York-bred Haynesfield has recorded four of his nine wins at Aqueduct, including the Discovery Handicap (gr. III) a year ago. The Jockey Club Gold Cup (gr. I) winner over Blame on Oct. 2, he was part of the pace in the BC Classic but tired badly under Ramon Dominguez. The son of Speightstown won his only start at a mile in an optional claimer at Belmont in his season debut. Javier Castellano will be in the irons.
“He didn’t run at all in the Breeders’ Cup,” said assistant trainer Toby Sheets, who oversees trainer Steve Asmussen’s New York string at Belmont. “This is the last grade I of the year, and as long as he’s doing well, he deserves to run. He’s very happy to be home.”
Derrick Smith’s Bribon fell three-quarters of a length short in the 2008 Cigar Mile and then missed by the same margin a year ago. He has won five times at a mile since coming to the United States, including last year’s Met Mile. The gelded son of Mark of Esteem is 2-for-5 in 2010, his wins coming in the True North (gr. II) and Bold Ruler (gr. III) handicaps, both at Belmont. After winning the Oct. 30 Bold Ruler, trainer Todd Pletcher originally thought about the Breeders’ Cup for Bribon but later opted for the Cigar Mile.
“I think the Cigar Mile is always a very difficult race to win,” said Pletcher, who saddled Purge, Lion Tamer, and Left Bank to win this race. “It’s the last significant grade I on the East Coast, and always attracts the best sprinters, the best middle-distance horses, and horses backing up as well. Given that, I think Bribon fits in very well.”
$250,000 Cigar Mile (gr. I, Race 9, 3:38 p.m.), 3YO and Up, 1 Mile (Dirt) PP. Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer 1. Girolamo (KY), A Garcia, 120, S bin Suroor
2. Soaring Empire (KY), E S Prado, 114, C M Gambolati
3. Bribon (FR), J R Velazquez, 119, T A Pletcher
4. Vineyard Haven (FL), D Cohen, 119, S bin Suroor
5. Haynesfield (NY), J Castellano, 120, S M Asmussen
6. Jersey Town (KY), C H Velasquez, 114, B Tagg
7. Friend Or Foe (NY), A O Solis, 115, J C Kimmel
8. Musket Man (KY), R Maragh, 117, D S Ryan
9. Half Metal Jacket (FL), F Jara, 115, R R Rodriguez