There's no denying Todd Pletcher these days, no matter the odds. A day after setting the North American record for earnings by a trainer and winning the rich Clark Handicap (gr. II) with Magna Graduate, Pletcher hit again with 25-1 shot Purge in the $350,000 Hill 'n' Dale Cigar Mile (gr. I) at Aqueduct Saturday.
Pletcher also saddled odds-on choice Bluegrass Cat to win the $200,000 Remsen (gr. II) for 2-year-olds a race earlier on the Aqueduct card. The trainer won four races in all at the Big A Saturday.
With a lively pace to chase and a ground saving trip under Garrett Gomez, the stalking Purge, fifth on the turn, angled out in the stretch and overtook Mass Media in mid-stretch, rolling to an impressive 3 3/4-length win in a time of 1:34 1/5. Purge, a 4-year-old son of Pulpit
-Copelan's Bid Gal (Copelan), captured his first grade I event.
"I tried to thread my way through," Gomez said. "(Purge) started picking them up handily. I turned for home, gave him some daylight, and he started picking them up. He went into overdrive. He acted like he had been doing that all his life, sitting there like an old come-from-behind sprinter. Going into the turn, I was a little worried because Todd told me that he spits :12s, and I had never ridden him. I wasn't sure if we had too much to do."
Mass Media, softened up by the quick pace in his first try at eight furlongs on the main track, ran second with Alex Solis in the irons. Gygistar, who made a big sweeping move on the turn but failed to threaten the winner, settled for third, another length behind, with Javier Castellano aboard. Silver Wagon finished fourth.
Pletcher's Value Plus, sent off at 55-1, set solid early fractions (:22 3/5, :45) after getting the lead from the extreme outside in a field of 11. Value Plus, tracked by Mass Media and 2-1 favorite Badge of Silver, took them into the stretch, battling Mass Media for the lead as the favorite faded from contention. Mass Media took control after a brief battle but had little left as Purge swept past.
Pletcher won the Cigar Mile in 2004 with Lion Tamer and in 2001 with Left Bank.
Purge earned his first graded stakes win since taking the Jim Dandy (gr. II) in 2004, when he also won the Peter Pan (gr. II). He ran sixth in last year's Cigar Mile behind Lion Tamer, the only other time that Purge competed at Aqueduct. The victory, his sixth in 15 lifetime starts, increased his earnings to $905,434 for owners Starlight Stables, Paul H. Saylor, and Johns Martin. Purge had won just once this year –a Monmouth optional allowance race at 7-10 odds– in five previous starts.
"I realize more why he did what he did today and why we didn't do better with him the rest of the year," Pletcher said. "Last year, when we were kind of talking about what the plans were and coming back and training and all that stuff, I felt he could be as good as any older horse in the country. Things just didn't gel early in the year.
"Then, he ran much better at Monmouth. He was third in the Iselin and he ran a big race in the Meadowlands Cup. Then, we felt like backing him up a month later to the (Cigar) Mile would work. We were waffling back between the Clark Handicap and this. (Jack Wolf, owner of Starlight Stable) was very optimistic about this race, and the horse made him look smart."
Bred by Glory Days Breeding Inc. in Kentucky, the winner was a $180,000 yearling buy at Keeneland in 2002.
Purge, who was coming off a third-place finish behind Tap Day in the Meadowlands Breeders' Cup (gr. II) Oct. 7, paid $53, $21.80, and $18.40. Mass Media, trained by Bobby Frankel, returned $10.40 and $9.70. He will stand at Dr. Tom Simon's Vinery near Lexington.
Mass Media will stand at Hill `n' Dale next year. Winner of Saratoga's Forego Handicap (gr. I), the son of 1997 Belmont Stakes winner Touch Gold (gr. I) retired with a record of 6-2-2 from 17 starts and earnings of $466,420.
"Mass Media ran a nice race," said Frankel, who also saddled Badge of Silver. "He always runs well. It's too bad that Purge had to run so big today.
Gygistar's show was $6.50. He was followed by Silver Wagon, Value Plus, Scrappy T, Bailero, Badge of Silver, Host, Imperialism, and Straight Line.
"I don't' know what happened to Badge of Silver," Frankel said. "Jerry (Bailey) had to try to keep him up there. He just didn't have it today. Maybe I breezed him too fast."