Some of the game's top sprinters and middle distance runners have one more dance penciled in on their 2001 calendar - Saturday's $350,000 Cigar Mile, the last grade I race in New York this year. As of Sunday, 12 horses were pointing for the Cigar Mile, the centerpiece of Aqueduct's Holidayfest, a four-day feast for horseplayers that runs from Thursday, Thanksgiving Day, through Sunday. Three-year-olds have had a decent amount of success in the first 12 runnings of the Cigar Mile, winning five times. Amherst Stable's Volponi, will try to make it six. A son of Cryptoclearance-Prom Knight, by Sir Harry Lewis, Volponi had his final tune up for the Cigar Mile Saturday morning, breezing six furlong over Belmont's training track 1:12 1/5. He enters Aqueduct's most important race of the fall off the most important victory in his career, a 2 ¾-length score in the Meadowlands' grade II Pegasus Handicap on October 19. That was the colt's second graded stakes win, as he broke his maiden in Belmont's grade III Pilgrim in October of 2000. "I was happy with the move (on Saturday)," said Hall of Fame trainer Phil Johnson. "I'm confident coming into the race. We were either going to run at Aqueduct or send him to Kentucky for the Clark (also on Saturday at Churchill Downs.) Being a three-year-old, I opted to keep him in New York. He's always shipped well, but you never know if they're going to react after getting off the plane. The Cigar Mile is a better spot." Volponi, a half-brother to graded stakes mare Fickle Friends, has not raced at the Big A since mid-April, when the colt made his 2001 debut. Running in a 6 ½-furlong race on the main track, he closed well to finish a good second behind heavily favored Stake Runner. Johnson says his charge won't have a problem with the one-turn mile or change of scenery on Saturday afternoon. "I don't think the mile or main track over there will bother him," Johnson said. "He ran a big race at Aqueduct in the spring."
Volponi, one of eight 3-year-olds nominated to the Cigar Mile, was assigned 115 pounds for the race. Michael Tabor's Left Bank, beaten less than three lengths in the Breeders' Cup Sprint last time out, is the Cigar Mile highweight at 120 pounds. The four-year-old French Deputy colt had a commendable late summer/fall campaign finishing second to Delaware Township in the grade I Forego before cutting down Squirtle Squirt in taking Belmont's grade I Vosburgh. Squirtle Squirt, of course, returned to win the Breeders' Cup Sprint, making Left Bank the likely Cigar Mile favorite.
Trained by Todd Pletcher, Left Bank finished fifth in last year's Cigar Mile. Still going strong at seven, Affirmed Success will be making his fourth start in the Cigar Mile. Bred and owned by Albert Fried Jr., the son of 1978 Triple Crown winner Affirmed, has won two-of-four starts this year and can be forgiven for fading to 11th after a four wide trip in the Breeders' Cup Mile last time out. Trainer Richard Schosberg, will saddle the veteran, a winner of more than $1.7 million and 1999 Cigar Mile champion.Others pointing for the Cigar Mile are: Figlio Mio, Graeme Hall, Illusioned, Orientate, Peeping Tom, Red Bullet, Scorpion, Ticket to Freedom and Voodoo.