Taking a Stand: Cigar Mile has a vulnerable favorite

Taking a Stand: Cigar Mile has a vulnerable favorite
Photo: Courtesy NYRA

After two unsuccessful ventures taking stands against favorites at Churchill Downs, this week we are returning to the Empire State. We are analyzing the Cigar Mile (G1) and taking a stand against morning line favorite Americanrevolution (5-2). 

To be honest, I was not planning to cover the Cigar Mile for this column as I figured both Independence Hall and Ginobli looked strong in this field. However, upon seeing Americanrevolution installed as the morning line favorite, I decided this race was worth further discussion. While I have all the respect in the world for morning line makers across the country, I will be surprised if Americanrevolution ultimately goes off as the favorite in this event. 

Nevertheless, Americanrevolution is the current favorite and therefore is the horse we will be taking a stand against. Americanrevolution is certainly a talented horse who has rattled off some visually dominant performances. 

If you are a pure speed figure pundit who lives and dies by the numbers, Americanrevolution is most likely your horse. His last race in the Empire Classic Handicap for New York-breds is the fastest last out race of any horse in this field on nearly any set of figures you use. A repeat of any of his last three races would make him a strong contender to win the Cigar Mile. 

However, it behooves handicappers to treat big speed figures earned over off tracks or in blowout victories with a healthy dose of skepticism. Two of Americanrevolution’s last three races fit this criteria, and it can often be tricky for figure makers to create reliable speed figures under these challenging conditions. 

When utilizing speed figures in handicapping, it is important to remember that they are simply a tool that describes how fast a horse ran on a given day. The burden lies on the handicapper to use that information to determine if the horse will regress, repeat, or improve on that performance today. Americanrevolution is by Constitution (Tapit), out of a Super Saver mare. His pedigree suggests he is bred to love the off going. That is further reflected in his wet Tomlinson figure of 438, well above the 400 figure that is commonly accepted as the benchmark for finding horses who will relish the slop. Even if you trust the figure from that race, Americanrevolution was really supposed to fire a big race given his predisposition to the track conditions and the weak field. It’s no guarantee that he is as effective over a fast track.

Some may point to his effort in the Pennsylvania Derby (G1) as evidence that he doesn’t need an off track to run a huge race. While I will concede that he ran a fine race at Parx that day, I’m also beginning to become skeptical of the speed figures of that race as well. 

Parx is a track that used to be notorious for having figures that seemed too fast and failed to translate to other circuits. Although improvements have been made in that area, I still think this is a case of a race coming back too fast. TimeformUS gave the winner, Hot Rod Charlie, a figure of 133 for that effort. That 133 was a significant top for Hot Rod Charlie by 7 points, and he subsequently returned in the Breeder’s Cup Classic (G1) to run a well beaten fourth with a figure of 128, regressing 5 points from his Parx race. 

Midnight Bourbon, the subject of last week’s article, is an even worse offender. He was second in the Pennsylvania Derby with a figure of 130, an 8 point career best, and he returned last week running a disappointing third in the Clark (G1). He also regressed to a figure of 123, roughly the same figure he was running prior to the Pennsylvania Derby. 

Finally, even if you trust the figures earned under dubious conditions, one must consider the quality of competition those figures were earned against. While some may argue that class doesn’t matter, history provides us with countless examples of horses like Mr. Buff who run incredible speed figures while facing restricted company but then fail to transition that same effort when moved up in class. Americanrevolution was a non-threatening third in his only try against Grade 1 foes, and that was still restricted to three-year-old company. The waters here are even deeper than that event.

I would never claim to be a better horseman than Todd Pletcher, but it feels like they’ve picked some odd spots to race this talented colt. Owned by the same connections that shared in Justify and Life is Good, it’s unusual to see them campaign a horse with this much apparent ability in New York restricted races. It’s hard not to wonder why these connections ran Americanrevolution in the Empire Stakes Handicap the weekend before Breeder’s Cup if they truly believed they had a Grade 1 superstar in their barn. 

Americanrevolution has flashed enormous ability when dominating much lesser foes, but there are reasons to be doubtful that his form will translate to a victory in the Cigar Mile. He would be playable as the third choice in this field around 4-1, but we will take a hard stance against him as the morning line 5-2 favorite. 

Circling back to those who I believe may ultimately vie for favoritism, both Independence Hall and Ginobli enter this race with strong credentials. Independence Hall is the more consistent runner of the two, with his only poor race coming in the Pacific Classic (G1) while going a distance that was likely too far. He has shown an affinity for Aqueduct with a perfect two-for-two record over the local course going a one-turn mile. He set the world ablaze when posting a 121 TimeformUS speed figure when winning in a 12 length romp in the 2018 Nashua (G3) here at Aqueduct, and he now returns to this track for the first time in over two years. 

While it could be argued he didn’t completely fulfill the promise he showed as a juvenile, he is nevertheless in excellent form right now. My biggest concern with him would be the price, as I think his form isn’t perhaps quite as strong as it appears off of the heels of his runaway victory in the slop last out. He is another who is a proven off-track specialist, so it’s fair to take that race with a grain of salt.

On the other hand, Ginobli is a horse that is far from consistent but seems to have finally put it all together. He showed a ton of promise as a juvenile when trouncing Honor A.P. and then finishing a game second to Nadal. However, things went awry after that, and after a failed turf experiment he was finally turned out for a few months. 

Ginobli has been a completely different horse since returning as a four-year-old and adding blinkers. He demolished a decent field at Del Mar when posting a speed figure of 129, and then returned to prove that was no fluke when easily dispatching multiple graded stakes winners C Z Rocket and Flagstaff in the Pat O’Brien Stakes (G2). He ran well in defeat when finishing a clear second to Life is Good, who is arguably the best dirt horse in the world right now. 

Ginobli has to answer the question about whether he can replicate those performances outside of Del Mar, but at 7-2 the value is too good to pass up. 

Code of Honor and Following Sea are honorable mentions, as both could win this race on their day. However, I think 6-1 is a pipe dream for Code of Honor, and he will be overbet relative to his chances of winning. Following Sea is extremely talented, but I think he is a pure sprinter and the stretch out to a mile is really pushing his limits. 

Don’t sleep on Pipeline to hit the board at a generous price. He would be an unlikely winner, but he made a premature move into a blistering pace last out when getting nailed at the wire. I strongly prefer him to the other three-year-old Olympiad, who exited another race with a highly suspect speed figure in the September 4 allowance race won by Baby Yoda. The public will likely support Olympiad off of that effort, but that form has not come back strong and the Mott barn has been cold most of this meet.

How to play it:

Race 10

$20 Exacta: 6 / 5

$10 Trifecta: 5,6 / 5,6 / 4,5,6,8

Last week, we took a stand against Maxfield. Churchill Downs must have our number, as Maxfield was able to just hold on for the win in the Clark (G1). 

Taking a Stand overall record: 6-4

Stands Taken: Sept 18, 2021 - Raging Bull (2-1 ML, 7-2 final odds, 3rd place finish)

Sept 25, 2021 - Moretti (2-1 ML, 2-1 final odds, 5th place finish)

Oct 2, 2021 - Dr. Schivel (2-1 ML, 9-5 final odds, 1st place finish)

Oct 9, 2021 - Double Thunder (4-1 ML, 7-1 final odds, 2nd place finish)

Oct 16, 2021 - Higher Truth (2-1 ML, 6-5 final odds, 3rd place finish)

Oct 23, 2021 - Tamahere (9-5 ML, 2-1 final odds, 6th place finish) 

Oct 30, 2021 - Golden Pal (7/2 ML, 5/2 final odds, 1st place finish)

Nov 6, 2021 - Letruska (8/5 ML, 8/5 final odds, 10th place finish)

Nov 20, 2021 - Obligatory (5/2 ML, 6/5 final odds, 1st place finish)

Nov 27, 2021 - Maxfield (6/5 ML, 6/5 final odds, 1st place finish)

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