Cigar Mile Handicap 2020 guide: Odds, PPs and picks

Cigar Mile Handicap 2020 guide: Odds, PPs and picks
Photo: Chelsea Durand/NYRA

A collection of familiar veterans and a couple of talented but lightly-raced colts make for an interesting field in New York’s final Grade 1 event of 2020.

Shug McGaughey trainee Performer is the 7-5 morning-line favorite for the Grade 1, $250,000 Cigar Mile Handicap. Post time Saturday from Aqueduct is scheduled for 4:13 p.m. EST.

Performer, a 4-year-old Speightstown colt, has won five straight starts, though he did not make his 2020 debut until October off a 10½-month layoff. Jockey Joel Rosario gets the call for McGaughey, who last won the Cigar Mile in 1996 with Gold Fever.

Also used to a long layoff is 3-year-old King Guillermo (9-2), whose last start was a runner-up effort seven months ago in a division of the Arkansas Derby (G1). Trainer Juan Avila trains the Tampa Bay Derby (G2) hero who missed the Kentucky Derby with a fever.

Grade 1 winners Firenze Fire (5-2) and Mind Control (20-1) bring long resumes to the Cigar Mile, though they enter with differing recent forms.

Firenze Fire won Belmont Park’s Vosburgh Stakes (G2) in September and was third last month at Keeneland in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint. Conversely, Mind Control has fared no better than third in any of his last five outings and was ninth last month in Keeneland’s Lafayette Stakes.

Both Firenze Fire and Mind Control are questionable to actually race Saturday, with trainers Kelly Breen and Gregg Sacco to make decisions based on track conditions.

Other runners include New York-bred stakes stalwart Mr. Buff (6-1) and 2019 Cigar Mile third-place finisher True Timber (15-1).

Here is a look at the 2020 Cigar Mile field (trainers and jockeys in parentheses) with morning-line odds:

1. Performer (Shug McGaughey, Joel Rosario) 7-5

2. Mind Control (Gregg Sacco, John Velazquez), 20-1

3. Snapper Sinclair (Steve Asmussen, Manny Franco), 20-1

4. Firenze Fire (Kelly Breen, Jose Lezcano), 5-2

5. Mr. Buff (John Kimmel, Junior Alvarado), 6-1

6. King Guillermo (Juan Avila, Jose Ortiz), 9-2

7. Majestic Dunhill (George Weaver, Dylan Davis), 20-1

8. True Timber (Jack Sisterson, Kendrick Carmouche), 15-1

9. Bon Raison (Jack Sisterson, Jorge Vargas Jr.), 20-1

TimeformUS’ pace projections
show True Timber going out to the early lead under jockey Kendrick Carmouche, followed closely by King Guillermo.

For more information on the Cigar Mile’s nine entrants, visit HRN’s free PPs page.

Cigar Mile on TV

“America’s Day at the Races” will broadcast for the final time in 2020 on Saturday at Aqueduct. The program will air from 3-4:30 p.m. EST on MSG+ and 3:30-4:30 p.m. EST on FS2.

During the 2020 racing season, “America’s Day at the Races” and “Saratoga Live,” both of which are produced by NYRA, combined to air more than 800 hours of racing coverage on Fox Sports.

Racing fans can also see the Cigar Mile, along with the rest of Aqueduct’s Saturday card, on TVG. The network’s other coverage will include the $300,000 Starlet Stakes (G1) from Los Alamitos and the Claiming Crown card from Gulfstream Park.

Cigar Mile links

Padraic Manocchio digs into the Brisnet PPs, which show Mr. Buff sporting the field’s best Late Pace Last Race number. Perhaps the New York-bred can follow the example of Bodexpress, who topped that same Brisnet category last week among his Clark Stakes (G1) rivals before scoring an upset victory.

Speaking of Mr. Buff, the 6-year-old will make his 41st career start Saturday in the Cigar Mile but still seeks his first graded triumph. Trainer John Kimmel tells the NYRA Press Office that Aqueduct – where Mr. Buff has won eight of 13 starts – is the veteran runner’s favorite track.

Morning-line favorite Performer is on Keeler Johnson’s list of horses to watch. Johnson says this edition of the Cigar Mile is “the perfect spot” for the Shug McGaughey trainee’s Grade 1 debut.

Part of what makes King Guillermo an intriguing runner is that the Cigar Mile marks his first start since the Arkansas Derby (G1) way back on May 2. Reiner Macatangay factors in “the red flags surrounding the layoff” but says the colt still has the talent worthy of winning this race.

Jarrod Horak also sees King Guillermo as a value win contender, though he has Performer atop his trifecta ticket. See which two runners Horak classifies as live long shots.

Another way to get in on the action Saturday is by playing the DerbyWars $20,000 Cigar Mile Day game featuring races from Aqueduct and Tampa Bay Downs. Matt Shifman handicaps the final five races from Aqueduct that are included in the contest.

The Cigar Mile stirs memories of the event’s Hall of Fame namesake. Jockey Jerry Bailey reminisces to the NYRA Press Office on his experiences riding the horse Tom Durkin labeled the “unconquerable, invincible, unbeatable Cigar.”

Cigar Mile card

First post is 11:30 a.m. EST, with full Aqueduct entries available via HRN. The Cigar Mile is the last of 10 races carded Saturday at the Big A.

Courtesy of the NTRA, here is a look at the three other graded stakes races that will take place Saturday at Aqueduct:

1 p.m. EST – $150,000 Remsen Stakes (G2), TVG

Already a winner at the nine-furlong distance, Known Agenda will attempt to give trainer Todd Pletcher a third Remsen triumph when heading up the five-horse field. Owned and bred by Vincent Viola’s St. Elias Stable, Known Agenda rose to the occasion at second asking, breaking his maiden Nov. 8 at Aqueduct over a fast main track. The chestnut son of Curlin and second offspring out of Grade 1-winner Byrama finished second to eventual stakes-winner Highly Motivated in his career debut Sept. 27, going 6½ furlongs at Belmont Park.

2:07 p.m. EST – $100,000 Go for Wand Handicap (G3), TVG

Teresa Viola Racing Stables and St. Elias Stable’s Nonna Madeline cuts back to one mile for the Go for Wand Handicap. Trained by Pletcher, Nonna Madeline boasts a consistent record of 13: 4-3-2 with purse earnings of $275,128. The 4-year-old Candy Ride bay, bred in Kentucky by WinStar Farm, broke through in stakes company this summer when capturing the restricted Summer Colony at nine furlongs on the Saratoga Race Course main track.

3:44 p.m. EST – $150,000 Demoiselle Stakes (G2), FS2

Shadwell Stable’s Malathaat, undefeated in two starts for Pletcher, will look to make the grade in Saturday’s Demoiselle. Out of the Pletcher-trained Dreaming of Julia, who captured the 2012 Frizette (G1) at Belmont Park, Malathaat boasts a golden pedigree that saw the filly purchased for $1.05 million at the Keeneland September Yearling Sale. The precocious bay drew off to a 1 3/4-length score when sprinting seven furlongs in her Oct. 9 debut at Belmont Park and followed last out with a 7 3/4-length win in the Tempted at one-mile.

Cigar Mile preview

From the NYRA Press Office:

Performer has checked a lot of boxes while forging a five-race winning streak. Owned by Phipps Stable and Claiborne Farm, the 4-year-old son of Speightstown will face Grade 1 competition for the first time as part of a competitive nine-horse field in the $250,000 Cigar Mile Handicap for 3-year-olds and up on the main track at Aqueduct Racetrack.

The 32nd running of the Cigar Mile, known as the NYRA Mile from 1988-96, was renamed in honor of the 1994 winner and 2002 Hall of Fame inductee. The prestigious race headlines a lucrative card which includes a pair of Grade 2, $150,000 nine-furlong events for juveniles in the Remsen and its filly counterpart, the Demoiselle, as well as the $100,000 Go for Wand Handicap (G3) for fillies and mares 3-years-old and up at one mile on the main track. The Remsen and Demoiselle will offer 10-4-2-1 qualifying points to the top-four finishers towards the 2021 Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks, respectively.

Performer raced third in his debut as a juvenile in November 2018 at the Big A. That marked the last – and only – time he failed to earn a trip to the winner’s circle, going 4-for-4 as a sophomore in 2019, including a victory in the Discovery (G3) going 1 1/8 miles last November at Aqueduct.

Off an 11-month layoff, Performer picked up where he left off, registering a 1 3/4-length win over optional claimers in a one-turn mile Oct. 17 at Belmont Park. Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey, who won this race in 1996 with Gold Fever, said his charge has continued to train well at Belmont since, recording six official workouts following his triumphant return.

“He’s training well. It has been a while since he ran, but he’ll be fit enough,” McGaughey said. “He’s been over that track before. He seems to be doing as well now as he’s ever done.”

Plans for a potential 5-year-old year have not been firmed up, but he’ll look to close 2020 with aplomb. Jockey Joel Rosario, 5-for-5 aboard Performer, will look to stay undefeated on the Kentucky homebred, drawing the inside post.

“Everything being equal he’ll run next year, but what I’ll do with him after Saturday, I’m not sure yet. We’ll have to wait and see,” McGaughey said.

Mr. Amore Stable’s Firenze Fire was a good third last out in the Breeders' Cup Sprint at Keeneland behind C Z Rocket and the winner Whitmore. In his last New York start, the Florida homebred won the Vosburgh Invitational (G2) over Big Sandy, posting his second triple-digit Speed Figure of the year with a 101.

The Kelly Breen trainee has already won three graded stakes in his 5-year-old campaign, capturing the General George (G3) in February at Laurel Park along with the True North (G2) in June at Belmont.

Firenze Fire boasts a career record of 12-3-3 in 30 career start with field-high earnings of $2.21 million. Jose Lezcano will ride from post 4.

Trainer Jack Sisterson will send out a pair of Calumet Farm-owned Kentucky shippers who each have extensive experience at the Big A in True Timber and Bon Raison.

“They’ve shown us in the mornings that they both can run a competitive race,” Sisterson said.

True Timber will make his third Cigar Mile appearance after running second in 2018 and third a year ago. He has earned black type in three of the four starts since Sisterson took over the training duties from Kiaran McLaughlin, who retired to become a jockey agent.

In the summer meet, True Timber ran a strong third in the seven-furlong Forego (G1) on Aug. 29 at Saratoga Race Course, garnering a season-best 98 Beyer Speed Figure. After finishing fourth in the six-furlong Vosburgh Invitational on Sept. 26 at Belmont, he was stretched back out to seven furlongs for a runner-up effort in the Lafayette on Nov. 7 at Keeneland, where he continued to train heading into the Cigar Mile.

“He’s been close to winning a race like this and is peaking at the right time,” Sisterson said. "He got stuck down at the rail running three-quarters at Belmont (in the Vosburgh). He just wasn’t happy. He’s a horse who likes his own way and we learned that in the mornings. We let him put his feet where he wanted to and put him in a happy frame of mind, and he moved forward extremely well.

“His coat looks good, his appetite is great, and his energy level is high,” he added. “He’s shown that he wants to do more.”

Kendrick Carmouche will be in the irons from post 8.

Bon Raison enters off a 10th-place effort in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint on Nov. 7 at Keeneland. Prior to that, the 5-year-old son of Raison d’Etat won his first race since Sisterson took over the training duties, topping a field of optional claimers going six furlongs Oct. 16 at Keeneland.

The veteran workhorse is returning to a familiar spot at Aqueduct, where he is 3-0-2 in 13 career starts. In 2019, Bon Raison raced a whopping 21 times before scaling back the workload this year, as the Cigar Mile will be his ninth appearance of 2020.

“He’s got a late running style and he just seems to be a versatile horse,” Sisterson said. “He’s got talent and he’s intelligent. He has those attributes where he can do what you ask him to do.”

Jorge Vargas, Jr. will be aboard from post 9.

King Guillermo will enter off a seven-month layoff since running second in a division of the Arkansas Derby (G1) on May 2 at Oaklawn Park. Originally slated to run in September’s Kentucky Derby, the Uncle Mo colt was scratched out of the 146th Run for the Roses with a fever.

Owned by Victoria’s Ranch, headed by 16-year Major League Baseball veteran and five-time All-Star Victor Martinez, King Guillermo has been training at conditioner Juan Avila’s base at Gulfstream Park, including a four-furlong blowout in 50.25 seconds on Nov. 27 before arriving in New York a day later.

King Guillermo broke his maiden at second asking in November 2019 at Gulfstream Park West and kicked off his 3-year-old year with a 4¾-length win in the Tampa Bay Derby (G2) in March before facing his first Grade 1 challenge in the 1 1/8-mile Arkansas Derby, where he ran second to Nadal.

“He’s good. He’s ready,” Avila said. “He’s getting ready to face that challenge. The mile will be good for him because he’s had seven months without a race.”

Avila said he’s excited for the opportunity to bring the $150,000 purchase at the 2019 Ocala Breeders’ Sale to New York.

“I really like the opportunity and the chance to win and this gives us a chance for people to know me and know King Guillermo,” Avila said. “We have big expectations.”

Jose Ortiz will pick up the mount from post 6.

Mr. Buff, owned and bred by Chester and Mary Broman, will give the race a New York homebred who will look for additional glory at the Big A. Making his 41st career start overall, the John Kimmel trainee is returning to a track where he is 8-3-0 in 13 previous starts, including five stakes victories led by a 20-length score in the one-mile Haynesfield in February that matched a career-best 106 Beyer.

The Friend Or Foe gelding, who will be wrapping up his 6-year-old year, won the Empire Classic against state-breds last out going 1 1/8 miles Oct. 24 at Belmont.

Junior Alvarado, who won the 2013 Cigar Mile aboard Flat Out, will have the call from post 5.

Red Oak Stable and Madaket Stables’ multiple Grade 1-winner Mind Control will face graded stakes company for the first time since running eighth in the Forego over the summer.

A four-time winner at the Big A, the Gregg Sacco trainee won in his last appearance at Aqueduct after rallying to take the Tom Fool Handicap (G3) on March 7. Both of Mind Control's Grade 1 scores came at Saratoga in the 2018 Hopeful and last year's H. Allen Jerkens.

Hall of Famer John Velazquez, a two-time Cigar Mile winner, will seek his third in breaking from post 2.

Bloom Racing Stable’s Snapper Sinclair will make his Aqueduct bow seeking his first win since the Tourist Mile in August 2019 at Kentucky Downs. Winless in his last 10 starts, the son of City Zip has still been competitive, finishing second or third in five of those efforts for Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen.

Snapper Sinclair will make his first start in New York since breaking his maiden in August 2017 over the Mellon turf at Saratoga. Two starts back, he posted a runner-up finish in the Tourist Mile in September before a last-out third against allowance company Nov. 5 at Churchill. Manny Franco has the call from post 3.

R.A. Hill Stable’s Majestic Dunhill will wheel back off a six-day turnaround, looking to atone for a seventh-place finish after a slow start in the Fall Highweight Handicap (G3) on Nov. 28 at Aqueduct.

Previously, the 5-year-old son of Majesticperfection, trained by George Weaver, won the Bold Ruler (G3) on Oct. 31 at Belmont. Dylan Davis will be in the irons for the first time, drawing post 7.

The Cigar Mile is slated as the finale of the 10-race program, which offers a first post of 11:30 a.m. EST. The card will also feature a mandatory payout of the Empire 6.

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