OZONE PARK, NY – Ivan Rodriguez’s Sharp Azteca blew away a stellar field of top horses en route to his first Grade 1 victory in Saturday’s $750,000 Cigar Mile Handicap at Aqueduct.
Off quickly from post 6 under Javier Castellano, Sharp Azteca initially looked for his customary spot on the lead but quickly conceded to Americanize and Seymourdini, who led through opening fractions of :22.78 and :45.97. Remaining just off the outside of the leading pair heading into the far turn, Sharp Azteca advanced through the far turn while Seymourdini began to give way along the rail. Shaking clear of Americanize at the top of the stretch, Sharp Azteca shot off from the competition under only light urging to cross first by 5 1/4 lengths in a final time of 1:35.17.
“There was a lot of early speed with the horses in this race,” said Castellano, who also won last year’s running. “I was really impressed by the way he did it. I just asked him to win the race back, I didn’t push him all the way. We’ve known this is a special horse for a long time. You don’t see too many horses do this; when they’re going too fast in the Breeders’ Cup, then they have a short rest, and the way they perform today. A mile race against a good field of horses, I think he’s very impressive.”
The finish was a reverse of last year’s Grade 1 Malibu, where the Jorge Navarro-trained Sharp Azteca was defeated late by Mind Your Biscuits. The latter’s owner/trainer, Chad Summers, has a close relationship with Navarro (the two routinely ship together and help care for each other’s steeds), and for Biscuits, it was his second straight strong performance after throwing a dud in the Grade 1 Forego at Saratoga this past summer. While nothing is set in stone yet, the two could soon rematch in the upcoming Grade 1, $16,000,000 Pegasus World Cup at Gulfstream Park in January.
“After this performance, why not?” Navarro said of Sharp Azteca’s potential next start. “We are going to see how he comes out of this first.”
In his last career race before retiring to stud, multiple Grade 1 winner Practical Joke didn’t quite fire down the stretch as he was prone to do in the past and settled for third, 2 3/4 lengths behind second. Americanize held onto fourth ahead of Tom’s Ready, another horse making his last start before heading off to stud duty. Just Call Kenny, Vulcan’s Forge, Beasley, Seymourdini, and Summer Revolution completed the order of finish.
Sharp Azteca’s purse share of $450,000 pushed his 2017 earnings to $1,390,490, good enough for 14th among all North American horses this year. The 4-year-old son of Freud, who has earned seven triple-digit Beyer Speed Figures in the past 13 months, improved his career winnings to $1,756,740 with a record of 16-8-5-1.
“I bought him; I picked him; it means a lot,” Navarro said. “When the horse was a 3-year-old, I mentioned that he was one of the top 3-year-olds, and another trainer came up to me and said, ‘Are you kidding, do you know what you are talking about?’ He is the only [member of the 2016 three-year-old class] still around Everything with him is details. He came out (of the Breeders’ Cup) tired. We paid attention to every little thing. We wanted to do the right thing. And I know we were sitting on that Grade 1, and you know what, I wasn’t expecting this big of a performance. He ran his eyes out. What else can I ask?”
Sharp Azteca returned $5.50 to win, $3.30 to place, and $2.70 to show. Mind Your Biscuits brought back $6.40 to place and $3.80 to show, while Practical Joke paid $2.70 to show.