Wide open best describes some of the undercard races for the Grade 1, $750,000 Cigar Mile at Aqueduct on Saturday, as well as the main event itself. To this eye, not one of the stakes races offers a confident single.
Regardless, here is a rough draft of selections for the Cigar Mile late pick 4, which also includes the $250,000 Go for Wand Stakes (G3), $250,000 Remsen Stakes (G2) and $250,000 Demoiselle Stakes (G2).
Aqueduct Race 7: Go For Wand Stakes (G3)
Miss Marissa has been in a slump since winning the Delaware Handicap (G2) in July. Yet, she might deserve another chance from bettors.
After chasing the division leader Letruska in the Personal Ensign Stakes (G1) in August, she folded to eighth and 36 lengths behind the division leader. Then in the Beldame Stakes (G2) in September, Miss Marissa pressed Horologist on the lead before Royal Flag passed both of them.
Given the company, those races are forgivable. She also gets a pass for the clunker the Turnback the Alarm Stakes (G3). Maybe she can revert back to her Delaware form against the weaker competition in this race.
Lady Rocket brings incredible consistency with nine trifecta finishes in 10 career starts. While Lady Rocket is light on graded stakes experience, she ran a good second by 3 ½ lengths to Bella Sofia in the Gallant Bloom Handicap (G2) in September. The main question is Lady Rocket's lack of one-mile experience, which makes the distance questionable.
Sharp Starr is the defending champion and brings sharp form as the recent winner of the Empire Distaff Handicap against New York-breds.
So Darn Hot owns the best late pace rating on TimeformUS and could possibly take advantage of a heated pace, if one happens.
Top selection: No. 1 Miss Marissa (4-1)
Contenders: No. 2 Lady Rocket (8/5), No. 7 Sharp Starr (7/2)
Live longshot: No. 4 So Darn Hot (10-1)
Aqueduct Race 8: Remsen Stakes (G2)
Mo Donegal gives the impression of a horse who will love nine furlongs.
After a mild third-place finish in his career debut, Mo Donegal stretched out to a mile and one-sixteenth at Belmont and gradually wore down Fromanothamutha in the stretch to score the maiden win. The only discouraging part is that he needed heavy whip use to finish first.
Although it is preferable not to see the whip, Mo Donegal still ran well to catch a loose Fromanothamutha and beat him by 1 1/2 lengths. The stretchout to nine furlongs in this race should help his grinding style.
With that said, it is not a good idea to ignore Fromanothamutha either as he might secure an uncontested lead. If Mo Donegal fails to fire or gets caught in traffic, then Fromanothamutha might forget to stop late.
The third choice is Zandon, who broke his maiden in a six-furlong Belmont maiden race. He won by 1 ½ lengths with a TimeformUS Speed Figure that is not too far off the top figures from Mo Donegal and Fromanothamutha.
Chad Brown trains Zandon, and he likely sees talent in this colt to put him on the Derby trail only one race after his successful career debut.
Top selection: No. 1 Mo Donegal (8/5)
Contenders: No. 4 Fromanothamutha (6-1), No. 7 Zandon (5/2)
Aqueduct Race 9: Demoiselle Stakes (G2)
Tap the Faith broke her maiden at Belmont on Nov. 7 in impressive fashion by overcoming a slow pace and outfinishing A Mo Reay.
Even though Tap the Faith only won by a head, she beat a stakes-placed runner in A Mo Reay without any experience herself. It is also a great sign that six lengths separated A Mo Reay and the third-place Khuluq.
As a daughter of Tapit and the 2015 Alabama Stakes (G1) winner Embellish the Lace, Tap the Faith is supposed to love the stretchout to nine furlongs.
The second option is Nest, who brings stakes experience as the closing third-place finisher in the one-mile Tempted Stakes (G3) at Belmont. Given this Curlin filly is a full sister to this year’s Santa Anita Handicap (G1) winner Idol, she is supposed to love the stretchout as well.
In addition, the high-percentage combination of jockey Irad Ortiz and trainer Todd Pletcher is behind Nest. The future looks bright for this filly.
Nostalgic also deserves consideration based on her maiden win.
Like Tap the Faith, Nostalgic overcame a slow pace as a closer in a Belmont maiden race on Oct. 22. In Nostalgic’s case though, she crushed the field by 7 ¾ lengths. Although she dominated the race, Nostalgic did not beat any fillies on the level of A Mo Reay.
Top selection: No. 6 Tap the Faith (3-1)
Contenders: No. 4 Nostalgic (6-1), No. 5 Nest (2-1)
Aqueduct Race 10: Cigar Mile (G1)
The Todd Pletcher-trained Americanrevolution brings a great 4-for-6 win record and some evidence of Grade 1 class to this race.
His second loss came only a few months ago in the Pennsylvania Derby (G1) against big 3-year-old names in Hot Rod Charlie and Midnight Bourbon. Americanrevolution inherited third when Weyburn folded, although he could not keep up with Hot Rod Charlie and Midnight Bourbon on the final turn.
To Americanrevolution’s credit, finishing third in a big Grade 1 race without any prior graded stakes experience is a nice accomplishment. Americanrevolution also beat some decent runners in that race, such as Fulsome, Bourbonic, Speaker’s Corner and Weyburn. Speaker’s Corner went on to crush an optional claiming race at Belmont by 6 ¾ lengths before losing by half a length to Miles D in the local Discovery Stakes.
In Americanrevolution’s most recent start, he dominated older New York-bred runners by 11 ¾ lengths in the Empire Classic Handicap at Belmont.
Another win candidate is Independence Hall. This 4-year-old colt enjoys Aqueduct dirt and brings good form with a recent graded stakes win.
Earlier in his career, Independence Hall crushed his opponents by 12 ¼ lengths in the 2019 Nashua Stakes (G3). He instantly became one of the major players on the Derby trail.
When Independence Hall made his 2020 debut on the same course in the Jerome Stakes, he only won by four lengths against a weak field. Regardless, those two races make him 2 for 2 on this dirt course.
In recent times, Independence Hall won the Fayette Stakes (G2) over the slop after repelling Code of Honor in the stretch.
Despite his unreliability prior to the Fayette win, Independence Hall deserves a spot in tickets.
As for the longshot, that horse is Pipeline.
Pipeline exits a third-place finish in the Perryville Stakes at Keeneland. Besides that, he also broke his maiden by 3 ¼ lengths at Saratoga in September and ran second to Vindictive back in July at nine furlongs.
The Perryville loss is excusable. Pipeline made a move into the teeth of a fast pace and the pace took something out of him before the stretch.
In Pipeline’s September maiden win, he beat a horse with a possible future in Cody’s Wish, who finished a closing third in the same race. Since losing to Pipeline, Cody’s Wish has posted three straight wins at Churchill Downs, including his maiden breaker on Oct. 2 and two allowance wins in the November meet.
While the jump in class from the Perryville is a tall order, trainer Chad Brown must see something in Pipeline to believe he can perform well in this group. Miles D from the same barn only had two maiden races on record before running second in the Curlin Stakes and third in the Travers Stakes (G1).
Top selection: No. 3 Americanrevolution (5/2)
Contender: No. 5 Independence Hall (7/2)
Live longshot: No. 8 Pipeline (15-1)