Stretch-out sprinters lead the way in G1 Cigar Mile Handicap

December 10, 2019

OZONE PARK, N.Y. - The second, third, and fourth-place finishers from the Grade 1 Breeders' Cup Sprint on November 1 at Santa Anita Park are all back for more on Saturday in the Grade 1, $500,000 Cigar Mile Handicap - the centerpiece of the fall meet at Aqueduct Racetrack.

The Cigar Mile - the last Grade 1 race of the year in New York - will be accompanied by a trio of graded stakes, including the Grade 2, $400,000 Remsen, Grade 2, $400,000 Demoiselle, and Grade 3, $400,000 Comely. As part of a purse incentive initiated last year, any previous Grade 1 winner competing in the Cigar Mile will be running for a gross purse of $750,000, while any previous Breeders' Cup winner will run for a purse of $1 million.

Despite the worst finish among the Sprint contingent, fourth-place finisher Bourbon Courage may have the upper hand on his rivals as the trio makes the jump from six furlongs to one mile.

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The Kellyn Gorder trainee turned in a breathtaking run in the Sprint. Trailing the field of fourteen at the top of the stretch, the son of Lion Heart unleashed an explosive rally to come within two lengths of victory, making up 10 lengths in the process.

"I think he's as good as he's ever been," said Gorder. "He came out of the Breeders' Cup Sprint in really good shape; his weight is right where I want it and he's feeling good."

Bourbon Courage's recent form is starkly different than what it was at the start of his 2014 campaign. The Bourbon Lane Stable color-bearer, who has shown immense ability at times, was underwhelming in his first three starts of the year, and the situation reached a head after a sixth-place finish in the Grade 3 Pimlico Special on May 13.

"We kind of had to regroup with this horse," said Gorder. "His race at Pimlico - I was struggling to keep as much condition on him as I wanted. When he didn't run well, it gave us an excuse to give him a break and get him right."

Since he returned to the races on October 3 at Keeneland, Bourbon Courage has looked like a different animal. His comeback was so convincing, in fact, that it earned him a spot in the Sprint.

"One turn is the key," said Gorder. "His first two races were sprints, and those were strong races. What makes this unique is this is the first time I've trained him for sprinting. He's a very good horse. He's been frustrating, but hopefully this is his breakthrough. It would be my first Grade 1 win."

Bourbon Courage, 12-1 on the morning line, will break from post 9 with Jose Lezcano aboard.

Trainer Bob Baffert, who has a reputation for sending live horses to New York, will saddle the runner-up from the Sprint, Secret Circle. The son of Eddington has run only five times over the past two years, but he's made those starts count.

The 5-year-old horse won the 2013 edition of the Breeders' Cup Sprint, making him eligible for the $1 million Cigar Mile purse, and finished second in this year's Grade 2 Palos Verdes and third in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Sprint Championship. His rock-solid sprint form will be put to the test at a mile, however, as he has not run beyond six furlongs since 2012, when he finished second in the Grade 1, 1 1/8-mile Arkansas Derby.

Secret Circle will be ridden from post 6 by Joel Rosario, and is the 2-1 morning-line favorite.

Rounding out the Sprint triumvirate is last year's Cigar Mile runner-up Private Zone. Over his past five dirt starts - all in Grade 1 events - Private Zone compiled a record of 2-1-1. In addition to finishing second in the Cigar Mile at odds of 32-1 in 2013, Private Zone took the Grade 1 Vosburgh - a race he won again in 2014.

Private Zone, who is trained by Alfredo Velasquez for Good Friends Stable, sits at 3-1 on the morning line. He will break from the rail with Martin Pedroza in the irons.

Itsmyluckyday, trained by Eddie Plesa for Trilogy Stable and Laurie Plesa, will look to rebound off a disappointing third-place finish in the Grade 2 Kelso Handicap as the odds-on favorite. The son of Lawyer Ron has won four of seven starts this year, including the Grade 1 Woodward at Saratoga Race Course, in which he engaged in an epic stretch duel with Moreno to reverse the decision posted in the Grade 1 Whitney.

Prior to his run in the Kelso, Itsmyluckyday appeared poised to be a major threat in the Breeders' Cup Classic, but Plesa called an audible after his colt's sub-par performance.

"He came out a little bit tired, but soundness-wise he was fine," said Plesa. "We decided to bypass the Breeders' Cup, and point to the [Cigar Mile] instead. I think his performance in the Kelso was a combination of factors. [The Whitney and Woodward] took a toll on him physically, and he was put in a position between horses [in the Kelso] and was bounced around. Everyone expected him to win, but that's why they call it horse racing."

Itsmyluckyday, 4-1 on the morning line, drew post 2 and will be ridden by his regular rider Paco Lopez.

Transparent, who set a track record at 1 1/16 miles at Belmont in his latest outing, will have the benefit of turning back in distance for trainer Kiaran McLaughlin and Godolphin Racing. The son of Bernardini came off a nine-month layoff to take an optional claimer on September 18 in record-setting time, besting Cease by 1 ¼ lengths in 1:39.22.

"He came off a long layoff - after a trip to Dubai and back - to run a huge race," said McLaughlin. "Once he ran so well, we decided to go [in the Cigar Mile]. It's a tough race, but you've got to be in it to win it."

Javier Castellano will be aboard Transparent, 6-1 on the morning line, from post 5.

Rounding out the field are Noble Moon, fourth in the Grade 1 Pennsylvania Derby two starts ago; Vyjack, winner of the Kelso in his latest outing; Big Business, a hard-knocking New York-bred for David Jacobson; and Regally Ready, who won the one-mile Big Bear Stakes at Santa Anita in his most recent start.

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