More often than not, the $750,000 Cigar Mile Handicap (gr. I) at Aqueduct is won by a horse exiting a Breeders’ Cup race, whether it’s the Classic, the Dirt Mile, or even the Sprint.
It only makes sense. With its Grade 1 ranking, its hefty purse, its perfect placement on the calendar, and its one-mile distance that is ideal for a wide variety of horses, the Cigar Mile is a logical attraction for proven Grade 1 runners exiting the Breeders’ Cup four weeks prior.
That’s why I’m a little surprised that #1 Mendelssohn is the only Breeders’ Cup starter entered in Saturday’s renewal of the Cigar Mile, and in the absence of any fellow Breeders’ Cup veterans, Mendelssohn has to be strongly respected. Trained in Ireland by Aidan O’Brien, the three-year-old son of Scat Daddy finished a gutsy fifth in the Breeders’ Cup Classic after carving out a fast pace, a performance that followed similarly game efforts in the Travers Stakes (gr. I) and Jockey Club Gold Cup (gr. I), where he finished second and third, respectively.
Mendelssohn has been running 1 ¼ miles as of late, but you can make a case that he’s better going shorter, so the cutback in distance for the Cigar Mile should not be an issue. Furthermore, three-year-olds have prevailed in five of the last twelve editions of this race, so there’s no reason to think Mendelssohn can’t be successful against his older rivals on Saturday, especially considering how well he ran against his elders in the Breeders’ Cup Classic and Jockey Club Gold Cup.
In my opinion, the only thing standing between Mendelssohn and an elusive Grade 1 win on dirt is #5 Copper Town. This lightly-raced son of Speightstown has made just four starts dating back to February 2017, but he’s shown a tremendous amount of talent already, most notably winning maiden and allowance races at Belmont last year by a combined ten lengths while earning back-to-back 101 BRIS speed figures.
Then, following a one-year layoff, Copper Town returned to action in a 6 ½-furlong allowance race at Keeneland on October 13th and rallied from just off the pace to crush his rivals by five lengths. This was significant because Copper Town showed that he can rate off the pace and still finish powerfully, which should allow Copper Town to work out a perfect trip in the Cigar Mile, probably stalking Mendelssohn early on before challenging on the turn.
With top jockey Javier Castellano in the saddle for trainer Todd Pletcher, I’m expecting a very big run from Copper Town in his second start of the season. He’s already proven over this distance, and if he runs to the ability he’s shown against easier company, he can nab a Grade 1 win in his stakes debut.
$12 to win on #5 Copper Town
$9 exacta: 1,5 with 1,5 ($18)