Race Previews

Cigar Mile Preview: Sharp Azteca Always Tough at a Mile

Sharp Azteca winning the Grade 2 Kelso Stakes (Chelsea Durand/NYRA)

The Cigar Mile is the last Grade 1 race of the season in New York and will be accompanied by a trio of graded stakes: the Grade 2, $250,000 Remsen for 2-year-olds, the Grade 2, $250,000 Demoiselle for 2-year-old fillies, and the Grade 3, $200,000 Go For Wand for fillies and mares at a mile. Live broadcast of the Cigar Mile, set to end the day’s action as Race 10, will be included in a special edition of Aqueduct Live, airing from 3 to 4:30 p.m. on Fox Sports 2.

Gelfenstein Farm’s Grade 2 Kelso Handicap winner Sharp Azteca and Klaravich Stable and William H. Lawrence’s multiple Grade 1 winner Practical Joke finished second and fourth, respectively, in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile on November 3 at Del Mar.

Trained by Jorge Navarro, Sharp Azteca is still seeking his first Grade 1 win after three runner-up finishes in as many tries, including the Dirt Mile, where he led under a pressured early pace but couldn’t hold off a late charge from Battle of Midway, finishing a 1/2-length behind the winner.

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“I want to get a Grade 1 for him,” said Navarro. “Once he retires, I want to hear that people are using him because of what he’s shown as a runner, but I think he just needs that Grade 1 under his belt.

“We have the horse, I believe that,” he added. “With the seconds and thirds, the track wasn’t playing to our advantage or we had bad positions or guys being on top of him, but I know we have a good horse, and now we’ve got a top rider, too.”

Top Choice

#6 Sharp Azteca – The consistency of this horse is just hard to go against. He’s hit the board in 13 of 15 lifetime races, including nine in a row. Last time out, he set the pace in the Dirt Mile and battled down to the wire before losing by a 1/2-length to Battle of Midway. He has two wins in five starts in 2017, and his three losses have all come in Group or Grade 1 races. This will not be an easy task, but he has drawn outside of all the speed and should sit a perfect trip. The only thing missing from his resume is a Grade 1 victory, and this is his best chance to get it.

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#1 Mind Your Biscuits – It’s been a strange ride this year for Mind Your Biscuits. It started off promising, with ultra-impressive performances in the Group 1 Dubai Golden Shaheen and the Grade 2 Belmont Sprint Championship. Going into the Grade 1 Forego Stakes, he was the number-one sprinter in the country, but after training poorly up to the race, he threw in a clunker, finishing sixth while beaten 8 lengths. Last time out, he improved off of that race to finish third in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint, but he never really threatened the top two finishers. Now, he tries a mile for the first time in a long while, which may actually bode well for his late-running style. I nearly put him as the top choice, but his odd form makes me a little leery.

#8 Practical Joke – Unfortunately, this will be the final race of his career. Too often this year, his connections spotted him in two-turn races that were too long for him, but in one-turn races, he’s undefeated. This will be a one-turn race, and you can bet that he will be dangerous. Last time out, he ran well to finish fourth in the Dirt Mile, but I think that he can run better than that here. He will try to rally from the back, and if the pace is hot, then he will be coming fast. I wish he was coming back as a 4-year-old…

Exotic Plays

#4 Tom’s Ready – He won the 7-furlong Grade 3 Bold Ruler in his last start. With the potential pace setup looking fast for this one, he might have a big shot to make it two in a row while getting an extra furlong. He has proven to be a bit inconsistent during his career, but he truly is a victim of the pace. In all of his starts, he has dropped at least 7 lengths off the pace. It will be more of the same here. The pace will determine what kind of run he ends up making.

Party Crashers

#2 Seymourdini – Simply put: who knows what this horse will do here. Seymourdini started this year on FIRE, winning by 12 1/4, 13 1/2, and then 10 1/2 lengths. The third of those three victories came in a $100,000 stakes at Belmont Park, and many thought that a win like that would propel him to a graded stakes race against top company. Instead, he went on the shelf for nearly four months, and when he returned, he ran fourth in the Bold Ruler. If he returns to top form, he will be the horse to beat in this spot, but it’s hard to rely on him.

Throw Outs

#9 Summer Revolution – This horse had all kinds of hype last year after an impressive allowance win at Saratoga, but he never lived up to the billing, struggling against stakes company. After a 312-day layoff, he returned this year to win an allowance race, but he’s up against tough stakes company again. He needs to prove that he can compete at this level before picking him again.

#10 Beasley – He returned from a long break to win back-to-back allowance races by a head and a nose. Last time out, he was third in the Bold Ruler to Tom’s Ready. If you like Tom’s Ready in this race, then you also like Beasley, but I was not that high on Tom’s Ready in this spot.

#5 Americanize – A winner of two races in a row coming into this one, including the $200,000 Damascus Stakes at Del Mar in his last start, some might be surprised that I’m still throwing him out. I just feel like this level of competition is going to be much tougher than what he faced in his last race.

#7 Vulcan’s Forge – He tried stakes company once and got smoked, and this race willtr be even harder than that one. He has just won win this year, which was against allowance company, and lost consecutive allowance races heading into this one.

#3 Just Call Kenny – This hard-knocking horse is in way over his head in this tough spot. The mile distance seems suitable for him, but going up against this level of competition will most likely be overwhelming.

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