US Weekend Preview: Strike Gold in the Cigar Mile
Graeme North takes a look at the best of this weekends US action...
"Dirt Mile winner Goldencents heads the weights, conceding up to 7 lb, but despite that still has 3 lb in hand on our weight-adjusted ratings..."
Racing in New York has by and large been low key since Belmont's Fall meeting ended but there is a decent card at Aqueduct on Saturday featuring four Graded races topped by a well-up-to-scratch running of the Cigar Mile (off 15:20 local time, 20:20 GMT). Its eleven runners include two Breeders' Cup winners in the shape of Groupie Doll and Goldencents, as well as several others coming here after faring less well at Santa Anita.
Dirt Mile winner Goldencents heads the weights, conceding up to 7 lb, but despite that still has 3 lb in hand on our weight-adjusted ratings over a trio comprising Clearly Now, Groupie Doll and Verrazano. The return to a mile clearly suited Goldencents at Santa Anita after a couple of smart efforts at shorter trips behind the since-deceased Points Offthebench, and he ran his rivals, Verrazano among them, into the ground after being sent straight into the lead.
Verrazano gets a 2 lb weight pull here but isn't strongly fancied to turn the form around given that his Mile effort was his second disappointing effort in a row, and with Groupie Doll - who was below her best in this race last year - better at shorter distances and not the same filly this time around that she was last year, then the main obstacles stopping Goldencents following up might be early pace pressure in the form of likely non-stayer Private Zone and some sort of recoil off his tough front-running effort at Santa Anita (Broadway Empire, the only one to get near him at Santa Anita, ended up well beaten at Zia Park on Wednesday when a very short-priced favourite for the Zia Derby).
If there is one horse at a very big price that might benefit from a fast pace and the step back up to a mile it could well be Capo Bastone. He has had something of an unorthodox preparation, bizarrely last seen in the Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint on the back of a ten-week break, but he won the G1 King's Bishop at Saratoga in August closing strongly off a hectic pace and he is reunited here with Irad Ortiz jnr who rode him then. The 4 Morning Line forecast about Goldencents looks fair value, though, and he is the selection.
The G2 Demoiselle Stakes (14:22, 19:22 GMT) and the G3 Comely Handicap (14:51, 19:51 GMT) precede the Cigar Mile. The Demoiselle has attracted six runners and a clear top-rated in the shape of Todd Pletcher's Stopchargingmaria who has won two of her four starts including the G3 Tempted Stakes here earlier in the month and been placed in Graded company in the others in between. The extra furlong won't be a problem given how strong she was at the end of her last race and all of her opponents will have to raise their game significantly if they are to beat her.
If there is a shortcoming in her form it's that she has yet to record an outstanding timefigure, so it's interesting that our TimeformUS partners give her stablemate Lexi Morgan, who broke her maiden here last time at the third time of asking, a good shot at beating her but that race doesn't stack up particularly highly from a form perspective for all she is second top on our figures. Stopchargingmaria is the most likely winner but Morning Line odds of 2.6 look optimistic.
Heading the Morning Line at 2.8 for the Comely Stakes over nine furlongs is Wedding Toast. The Godolphin runner has won three of her four starts and is improving fast with her last two wins at Belmont, one of which was gained in a very fast time, marking her out as very ready for this step up in grade.
That said, at the odds (2.8) she might be worth taking on with My Happy Face who faces an easier task here than in her last three G1 races up against the likes of Princess of Sylmar and Close Hatches. Street Girl was one place in front of My Happy Face in the Cotillion at Parx last time having previously finished behind the unlucky-in-running My Happy Face in the G1 Test at Saratoga is another with prospects given that her fifth-place effort in the Breeders' Cup Distaff last time is readily excused, but at the time of writing it's not yet clear whether she will run instead on the Friday Aqueduct card.
The G2 Remsen (15:49, 20:49 GMT), the colts equivalent to the Demoiselle, features the third appearance of one of the most interesting juveniles around, Honor Code, who won his debut in the slop at Saratoga in extraordinary fashion - he was 20 lengths and more behind at halfway - before finishing second to subsequent Breeders' Cup Juvenile runner-up Havana in the G1 Champagne at Belmont where he again finished strongly from well off the pace.
It was probably no bad thing he missed the Breeders' Cup Juvenile given how the track was playing that day, and no horse in the Remsen promises to be better suited by this nine-furlong trip. Most of the field have a good deal to find but if there is one legitimate opponent in the field it is Cairo Prince. Unbeaten in two starts, he had the speed to race close up when winning over six furlongs at Belmont first time out and could have won the G2 Nashua here last time by much further than the official two-and-a-half length winning margin had his rider so desired, eased down after quickly putting several lengths between himself and his rivals early in the straight. There is a slight doubt about his stamina, however, as his dam was a sprinter. This promises to be a fascinating race.
Over at Hawthorne the feature event is the G2 Hawthorne Gold Cup (17:43, 23:43 GMT) over a mile and a quarter on the dirt. This contest on paper at least is dominated by two horses that ran out of the places at the Breeders' Cup, Last Gunfighter and Alpha, fifth and eight in the Classic and the Dirt Mile respectively. Alpha is something of an all-or-nothing performer who despite being a notch below top level has won two G1 events. He has run his best races at Saratoga so faces a very different track configuration here, but in his favour he seems likely to get his own way in front as seems to suit him and despite reservations he can't be dismissed. Morning Line odds of 4 don't appeal greatly, however, but neither do those of 2.8 for Last Gunfighter who might be slightly flattered by his never-competitive effort in the Classic. This race looks best watched.
Back Goldencents in the Cigar Mile
Back My Happy Face in the Comely