Pico Central, Kela Battle in Cigar Mile

(from Aqueduct report)
Pico Central and Kela, the two best sprinters based in California, have traveled across the country to meet at Aqueduct in New York's final grade I race of 2004, Saturday's $350,000 Cigar Mile. The Cigar Mile will be the featured event on a 10-race card that includes a pair of grade II juvenile stakes, the Remsen and Demoiselle.

The Cigar Mile is especially significant for Pico Central, who is in a battle with Breeders' Cup Sprint (gr. I) winner Speightstown for Eclipse Award honors.

"We came here thinking first about the Cigar Mile," said Pico Central's trainer, Paulo Lobo. "Pico has done enough the rest of the year to be sprint champion."

Speightstown has won five of six starts this year, but only one grade 1. He had the reputation of being a better six-furlong horse than Pico Central. But when the two met for the only time in the Vosburgh (gr. I) at Belmont Park, Pico Central was dominant, beating Speightstown by 4 ½ lengths.

Pico Central has not raced since the Vosburgh. Owner Gary Tanaka decided to pass the Breeders' Cup. The 5-year-old Brazilian horse would have been supplemented to the Sprint.

Lobo had considered running the son of Spend a Buck in the De Francis Memorial Dash (gr. I) last week, but opted for the Cigar Mile instead.

"The horse knows [the track] here, he likes the track here and he ran huge in the Carter," Lobo said. Pico Central is perfect in New York this year, taking the Met Mile (gr. I) in addition to the Vosburgh and Carter (gr. I). He is the only horse to sweep those three major races on the New York schedule.

On paper, the Vosburgh appears to be Pico Central's strongest career race. However, his victories in the Met Mile and Carter were also tremendous.

"Between six furlongs and a mile, he's a very fast horse," Lobo said. "He ran the first six furlongs of the Carter in less than 1:08. He's pretty unique."

Pico Central is supposed to run next year. With all his success in New York and the Breeders' Cup at Belmont Park on October 29, 2005, there may be an even bigger year ahead for Pico Central.

Jay Manoogian's Kela was a very strong second behind Speightstown in the Breeders' Cup Sprint and is out to prove that his 5 ¾-length victory over Pico Central in the Pat O'Brien Breeders' Cup (gr. II) at Del Mar was no fluke.

Kela and Pico Central have beaten each other once. Back in March, Pico Central defeated Kela by five lengths in the San Carlos, (gr. II), Kela's first race in over six months.

Mike Mitchell, Kela's trainer, was thrilled with his 6-year-old's runner-up finish in the Sprint, but might campaign to have the race extended a furlong.

"He would have gotten up if he had a little more ground," Mitchell said. "He had to go around a lot of horses and ran out of time. A one-turn mile should be an easier setup for him."

Jockey Tyler Baze, who has been aboard Kela for the veteran's last two wins, will be reunited with the son of Numerous after Jerry Bailey rode him in the Sprint.

Starlight Stables' Purge will make his first start since Saratoga's Travers (gr. I) and his first start against older horses in the Cigar Mile after running seven races against 3-year-olds this year. Purge was very sharp winning the Peter Pan and Jim Dandy (both gr. II). He disappointed in the Belmont and Travers (both gr. I), failing to hit the board in either spot. Although his two most recent wins are at a nine furlongs, the son of Pulpit handled six furlongs in the first two starts of his career.

Trainer Todd Pletcher, who also has Michael Tabor's Lion Tamer in the Cigar Mile, will saddle Purge. Lion Tamer owns a pair of grade II wins this year and recently finished second behind Mass Media in the Sport Page (gr. III).

Kenneth and Sarah Ramsey's Badge of Silver was an encouraging second behind the speedy Mike's Classic in an October optional claimer at Belmont, his first start in eight months and his debut for trainer Bobby Frankel.

$350,000 Cigar Mile (gr. I), 3 & up, 1 mile
1. Pico Central, Paulo Lobo, Victor Espinoza, 123
2. Unforgettable Max, Lupe Preciado, Cornelio Velasquez, 114
3. Potrisunrise, Bruce Levine, Mike Luzzi, 114
4. Purge, Todd Pletcher, John Velazquez, 116
5. Lion Tamer, Todd Pletcher, Jose Santos, 115
6. Badge of Silver, Bobby Frankel, Jerry Bailey, 115
7. Voodoo, Jimmy Jerkens, Jorge Chavez, 114
8. Kela, Mike Mitchell, Tyler Baze, 121
9. During, Nick Hines, Rafael Bejarano, 116