By J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman") Twitter: @J_Keelerman
Saturday's $750,000 Cigar
Mile H. (G1) at Aqueduct is the final Grade 1 race of the season for male dirt
horses. The roster of winners is impressive; the last 15 years have seen
champions Kodiak Kowboy (2009) and Maximum Security (2019) take first prize,
along with such accomplished horses as Belmont S. (G1) winner Tonalist (2014)
and two-time Jockey Club Gold Cup (G1) winner Flat Out (2013).
By this time of year,
three-year-olds are more than capable of holding their own against older
rivals, and it's not uncommon to see members of the sophomore division take
first prize in the Cigar Mile. Since its inaugural renewal in 1988, Forty Niner
(1988), Dispersal (1989), Flying Chevron (1995), Gold Fever (1996), El Corredor
(2000), Discreet Cat (2006), Daaher (2007), Tale of Ekati (2008), To Honor and
Serve (2011), Connect (2016), Maximum Security (2019), and Americanrevolution
(2021) have all defeated their elders in this prestigious one-mile prize.
Seven horses have entered the
2022 Cigar Mile, including four Grade 1 winners, although one of the non-Grade
1 winners (#5 O Besos) is expected
to scratch due to the equine herpesvirus outbreak at Churchill Downs. It's a
quality field, but one horse—the accomplished three-year-old #2 Zandon—looks rather like a standout.
Never out of the trifecta in
eight starts, Zandon has competed with aplomb against tough graded stakes rivals
ever since winning his October 2021 debut at Belmont Park. Let's take a moment
to recount Zandon's exploits in seven consecutive graded stakes:
On Dec. 4, Zandon
finished second in the Remsen S. (G2) at Aqueduct, beaten a nose by future
Belmont S. (G1) winner Mo Donegal.
On Feb. 19, Zandon
finished third in the Risen Star S. (G2) at Fair Grounds, beaten only by future
Travers S. (G1) winner Epicenter and last-out Kentucky Jockey Club S. (G2)
winner Smile Happy.
On Apr. 9, Zandon
dominated the Blue Grass S. (G1) at Keeneland by 2 1/2 lengths over Smile Happy
and next-out Pennine Ridge S. (G2) winner Emmanuel.
On May 7, Zandon
finished third in the Kentucky Derby (G1) at Churchill Downs, beaten 1 1/2
lengths by future Breeders' Cup Classic (G1) fourth-place finish Rich Strike.
Epicenter finished three-quarters of a length ahead of Zandon in second place.
On July 30, Zandon
ran second in the Jim Dandy S. (G2) at Saratoga, beaten 1 1/2 lengths by
Epicenter while finishing half a length clear of Lexington S. (G3) and Ohio
Derby (G3) winner Tawny Port.
On Aug. 27, Zandon
finished third in the Travers S. (G1), 5 1/4 lengths behind Epicenter but only
a nose behind Arkansas Derby (G1) and Haskell S. (G1) winner Cyberknife.
On Sept. 24, Zandon
finished second in the Pennsylvania Derby (G1), three lengths behind Santa
Anita Derby (G1) winner Taiba, but 3 3/4 lengths ahead of Cyberknife. Taiba
came back to finish a strong third in the Breeders' Cup Classic, while Cyberknife
returned to finish second by a head in the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile (G1).
The form of the 2022 classic
generation has held up well, and Zandon ranks among the best of the group. The
competition should be easier in the Cigar Mile, and Zandon's runner-up finish
from the Pennsylvania Derby looks even better given how well Taiba and
Cyberknife performed against older rivals at the Breeders' Cup.
Significantly, Zandon is
cutting back to a one-turn mile for the Cigar Mile, a configuration shift that
may trigger his strongest run of the season. Zandon has lost ground from the
eighth pole to the finish line in his last four starts racing 1 1/8 miles to 1
1/4 miles, suggesting that the stretch-running colt will appreciate the cutback
in distance. Certainly his pedigree (by Upstart out of Creative Cause) hints that
racing one mile might be a strong suit for Zandon. Taking all of these
positives together, Zandon looks tough to beat in the Cigar Mile.
For second place, #7 Mind Control is a logical choice.
Winner of the 2018 Hopeful S. (G1) and 2019 H. Allen Jerkens S. (G1), Mind
Control boasts a 7-4-2-1 lifetime record at Aqueduct highlighted by triumphs in
the Jerome S., Bay Shore S. (G3), Toboggan S. (G3), and Tom Fool H. (G3), plus
placed efforts in the Gotham S. (G3) and two editions of the Carter H. (G1).
Much of Mind Control's
success has come sprinting, but he also boasts a 5-4-1-0 record racing one
mile, highlighted by a tenacious triumph over Grade 1 winners Hot Rod Charlie
and Shirl's Speight in the Salvator Mile (G3) earlier this year. Mind Control
most recently won the Parx Dirt Mile via disqualification and figures to keep
his momentum rolling with a strong showing in the Cigar Mile.
Now it's your turn! Who do
you like in the Cigar Mile?