Left Banks's victory in the Cigar Mile was one of three major wins for jockey John Velazquez on Nov. 24.

Left Banks's victory in the Cigar Mile was one of three major wins for jockey John Velazquez on Nov. 24.

AP/ NYRA/ Adam Coglianese

From the Print Edition: Bank Heist in New York

Published in the Dec. 1 issue of The Blood-Horse
New York has seen one of the mildest autumns on record, with temperatures often swelling into the 60s and even 70s. How mild was it on Nov. 24? It was so mild that the strongest wind was provided by Michael Tabor's Left Bank, who blew away his opponents to win the $350,000 Cigar Mile (gr. I) in a spectacular 1:33.35. On a day when horses basically were plodding home in slow times, Left Bank flew home as if caught up in some sudden squall.

How else can you explain such a freakish final time when a short while earlier, the 1 1/8-mile Remsen (gr. II) and Demoiselle (gr. II) were run in 1:51.28 and 1:50.57, respectively? Another 1 1/8-mile race for $30,000 claimers was run in 1:51.65 and a mile maiden race for 3-year-olds and up went in 1:38.51.

The answer might be quite simple, actually, if you believe Tabor and his bloodstock agent, Demi O'Byrne, who agreed watching the replay that Left Bank might be the best horse they've ever had. That's quite a statement considering the number of top-class champions who have worn Tabor's royal blue and orange silks to victory all over the world.

But one can understand their enthusiasm for a colt who is just now finding himself at the end of his 4-year-old campaign, and who turned in a flawless, dominating performance against a star-studded field in the Cigar Mile. Two races back, the son of French Deputy defeated eventual Breeders' Cup Sprint (gr. I) winner Squirtle Squirt in the Vosburgh Stakes (gr. I), in which he blazed his seven furlongs in 1:20.73, missing the track record by .40 of a second. Over the Aqueduct track last year, he won the 1 1/8-mile Discovery Handicap (gr. III) in 1:47.30, missing the track record by just more than a fifth of a second.

"It's a shame the Breeders' Cup Sprint is at six furlongs," trainer Todd Pletcher said, referring to Left Bank's fifth-place finish on Oct. 27, in which he was beaten only 2 1/2 lengths. Earlier this year, however, Left Bank did win a six-furlong allowance race at Saratoga by 7 3/4 lengths in 1:08.53, which was nearly two-fifths off the track record, and a 6 1/2-furlong allowance race at Gulfstream by 7 1/4 lengths in 1:15.22, just more than a fifth off the track record.

So, what we've got here is a colt who may be the best Michael Tabor has ever owned; has come within a tick or two of track records at six furlongs, 6 1/2 furlongs, seven furlongs, and 1 1/8 miles, in addition to his brilliant time in the Cigar Mile; and most importantly, will remain in training next year.

"He's a much better horse now," Tabor said. "He could have a terrific year next year. He has a big future, and it will be interesting to see where Todd runs him."

O'Byrne then reminisced with Tabor about watching the simulcast of Left Bank's allowance victory at Gulfstream while they were attending the Keeneland January sale of 2000. "Remember when we saw him win for the first time that afternoon at Keeneland," he said. "Jerry Bailey rode him and we thought we had a hell of a horse. Then, after he ran two bad races and bled, Todd was great. He just said he's not right and gave him a long holiday. He came back and won three straight allowance races."

After failing in his first four attempts in grade I company, Left Bank has now won the prestigious Vosburgh and Cigar Mile. "Everyone was always knocking him for being a horse who could only win the easier races," Pletcher said. "But this year he's really stepped up to another level. This was a huge race."

Pletcher went into the Cigar Mile with two barrels loaded, also saddling Eugene and Laura Melnyk's Graeme Hall, who was coming off two runaway victories at Belmont, the most recent a 6 1/4-length victory in the Stuyvesant Handicap (gr. III) in 1:47.95. The Melnyks and Pletcher felt Graeme Hall was ready to run a winning race, which would have given the son of Dehere the first grade I victory of his career. But they also knew Left Bank likely would be the one to prevent him from getting it. Eugene Melnyk kidded with Pletcher, asking him if he had any other options for Left Bank.

As it turned out, it indeed was Left Bank who prevented it, as the 2-1 favorite drew off to win by 3 1/4 lengths, with Graeme Hall, co-second choice at 5-1, holding off Red Bullet by a head for the place spot. Left Bank looked a picture in the paddock, bouncing along on his toes. "You should have seen him warming up; he was beautiful," jockey John Velazquez told Pletcher after the race. Left Bank showed he had running on his mind right from the start when he outbroke the field.

Carrying top weight of 120 pounds, he went head and head all the way to the quarter pole with 1999 Cigar Mile winner Affirmed Success, but always looked as if he were in complete control of the race. Graeme Hall, Volponi, and Illusioned were all bunched right behind them. After turning for home, Left Bank put Affirmed Success away and was never in any danger after that, increasing his lead through the stretch. He rattled off his quarters in a remarkable :23.47, :22.25, :23.82, and :23.81 over a track that was playing slow all afternoon. As Pletcher said, "It was a shame for Graeme Hall that Left Bank was in the race. He ran fast enough to win a lot of Cigar Miles."

Volponi, one of two 3-year-olds in the field, ran a solid race to finish fourth, a neck in front of Affirmed Sucess. The race was marred by the fatal breakdown of George Steinbrenner and Team Valor's Illusioned, who suffered fractures of the sesamoid and cannon bone in his right front leg shortly after turning into the stretch.

As for Left Bank, he already has Tabor looking forward to next fall's championship races. Considering the versatility he's shown, it's no wonder he has Tabor asking, "Who's going to be around for the Breeders' Cup Classic (gr. I) next year?"

Shug Lands Another Remsen

If there was one thing trainer Shug McGaughey didn't want, it was for Cynthia Phipps' Saarland to head into the winter on another down note. McGaughey has always believed that the big, rangy son of Unbridled out of Versailles Treaty was a classic prospect, but off-the-board performances in the Champagne Stakes (gr. I) and Bessemer Trust Breeders' Cup Juvenile (gr. I) provided room for doubt. McGaughey at least took some comfort in the fact the colt stumbled badly at the start of the Champagne and bled in the race, and then was beaten only 5 3/4 lengths in the Juvenile despite finishing eighth. But the time for comforting was over. The Remsen would tell him once and for all whether he had a potential Derby horse or one of those unfortunate might-have-beens who never seem to fulfill their promise.

McGaughey's confidence in the colt obviously must have rubbed off on the fans who made him the 9-5 favorite, despite the presence of Listen Here and Monthir, the one-two finishers of the Nashua Stakes (gr. III) on Oct. 26. Around the far turn, however, it looked as if it might be another long, frustrating afternoon for McGaughey, as Saarland had one horse beaten in the nine-horse field.

Turning for home, Monthir was being outrun by 44-1 Robins Beauty, while Listen Here was going nowhere in the middle of the pack. Michael Tabor's highly promising Nokoma, coming off a maiden victory, then slipped between horses and shot to the lead passing the eighth pole. Saarland, under John Velazquez, had launched his bid around horses and was now charging for the wire, with the Nick Zito-trained Silent Fred rallying just in front of him.