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Triple Crown contenders from past three seasons face off in Cigar Mile

By Robert Kieckhefer, UPI Racing Writer
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Zandon, shown winning the Grade I Blue Grass Stakes, runs in Saturday's Grade I Cigar Mile at Aqueduct. Photo courtesy of Keeneland
Zandon, shown winning the Grade I Blue Grass Stakes, runs in Saturday's Grade I Cigar Mile at Aqueduct. Photo courtesy of Keeneland

Dec. 2 (UPI) -- Triple Crown contenders from the past three seasons will battle it out in a field of seven for one of this weekend's top races, the Grade I Cigar Mile at Aqueduct, where 2023 Kentucky Derby hopefuls also will be on display in the Grade II Remsen.

Del Mar wraps up its season with a big weekend card featuring a pair of Grade I turf affairs. Leaping into the breach are Oaklawn Park, opening Saturday, and Tampa Bay Downs, which opened last weekend and gets its stakes slate going with two races for 2-year-olds.

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And on the global scene ... yet another Triple Crown veteran is in action in Japan. Remember Crown Pride? No? See the international section.

But first, this word for the domestic competitors:

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Classic / Dirt Mile

Zandon, third in the Kentucky Derby seven months ago, is the even-money favorite on the morning line for Saturday's $750,000 Grade I Cigar Mile at Aqueduct.

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He's joined by Florida Derby winner White Abarrio, who finished sixth in Louisville, as well as O Besos, fifth in the 2021 Derby and Mind Control, who dropped off the 2020 Triple Crown trail after winning the Grade 3 Bay Shore at the Big A.

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Mind Control and O Besos settled back into shorter trips after their fling at glory and O Besos finished fifth, beaten just 3 1/2 lengths, in the Breeders' Cup Sprint in his most recent start.

White Abarrio and Zandon have continued to contest two-turn races, with Zandon finishing second to Taiba in the Grade I Pennsylvania Derby and White Abarrio fifth in his last start.

The Cigar Mile is a one-turn affair starting on the Aqueduct backstretch chute.

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Zandon might get some support for 3-year-old honors with a win, which would be his second Grade I victory of the season after the Blue Grass at Keeneland.

He has, however, finished behind Kentucky Derby runner-up Epicenter all three times they've met. White Abarrio, meanwhile, could get a boost to January's Grade I Pegasus World Cup Invitational with a good effort, according to trainer Saffie Joseph Jr.

"It would make us consider it but we aren't thinking that far ahead," Joseph said. "If he were to win very impressively, we may consider sticking to one turn. But the Pegasus is right around the corner, and a lot of the good horses have retired. That has us rise up a bit by default, almost."

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Juvenile

Saturday's $250,000 Grade II Remsen at Aqueduct, a "Road to the Kentucky Derby" race, is contested at 1 1/8 miles, a rarity for 2-year-olds and a first for all seven colts entered.

It's also a handicapping puzzle based on experience with two coming out of state-bred races and another having broken his maiden in an off-the-turf, sloppy-track affair.

Another faded pretty badly in the 1-mile, Grade III Nashua last time and yet another makes a reverse snowbird move after four so-so stars at Gulfstream Park.

The 8-5 morning-line favorite in the Remsen is Tuskegee Airmen, a Street Sense colt who's 2-for-2 with the wins coming at Parx Racing and Delaware Park.

Distance shouldn't be a problem and his numbers stack up, but trainer John Servis said the colt isn't nearly a finished product at this point.

"Mentally, the light hasn't gone on yet, but he has flashed some talent," Servis said. "His last race, at the three-eighths pole, I didn't think he was going to beat a horse. He dropped back under a drive and it looked like he was finished and all of a sudden he went back to running again.

"We're letting him bring himself along at his pace. He's doing it all on raw talent and the sky is the limit."

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Super Chow headlines a field of seven for Saturday's $100,000 Inaugural Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs. The Lord Nelson colt, trained by Jorge Delgado with Chantal Sutherland named to ride, is 3-for-4 with a third in the Grade II Saratoga Special the only blot on the copybook.

Second on the morning line is Apocalypso, who travels across the peninsula after contesting two legs of the Florida Sire Stakes, reporting third and fourth. This is 6 furlongs so much is yet to be discovered about the field.

Also to watch: Saturday's $100,000 Maryland Futurity for state-bred colts and geldings at Laurel Park, andSaturday's $150,000 (Canadian) Clarendon Stakes for Ontario-breds at Woodbine.

Already in the books: Winning Time got to the lead in the stretch in Tuesday's $200,000 Pennsylvania Nursery Stakes at Parx Racing and held off 81-1 shot Veeson by 3/4 length at the finish.

The favorite, Gordian Knot, was third. Winning Time's winning time for 7 furlongs on a fast track was 1:26.48. The Winchell colt improved to 2-for-2.

On the grass: Most of the nine 2-year-olds entered for Sunday's $100,000 Grade III Cecil B. DeMille Stakes on the Del Mar turf are recent maiden winners, which should make this a great setup for Speed Boat Beach.

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The Florida-bred Bayern colt won his first two starts, including the Speakeasy Stakes at Santa Anita in October. But then, he got home ninth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf without apparent excuse. This should be easier, but cast a wary eye.

Juvenile Fillies

Tough to back a 3-5 shot with only one previous start in a race for 2-year-old fillies like Saturday's $250,000 Grade II Demoiselle at Aqueduct?

Usually, yes. But maybe not so tough when the filly in question, Julia Shining, is a full sister to Malathaat, by Curlin out of the A.P. Indy mare Dreaming of Julia.

She's a Stonestreet Stables homebred, trained by Todd Pletcher with Luis Saez named for the return ride. And her lone previous start produced a 2 3/4-lengths, off-the-pace victory at Keeneland in October.

Yes, the 1 1/8 miles adds a quarter mile to the challenge and yes, it's a different track. Still, did we mention -- full sister to Malathaat? Those determined to beat her might look to Foggy Night or Royal Spa.

Six are set for Saturday's $100,000 Sandpiper at Tampa Bay Downs and the oddsmaker reckons five of them have a decent chance of winning the 6-furlongs event.

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The 8-5 morning line favorite, though, is Dorth Vader, a Girvin filly who exits a victory in the Juvenile Fillies Championship at Gulfstream Park on Oct. 29. This might be a good one to watch for fun.

Also to watch: Saturday's $100,000 Maryland Juvenile Filly Championship for state-breds at Laurel Park; Saturday's $50,000 Pat Whitworth Illinois Debutante Stakes for state-breds at Hawthorne Race Course; Saturday's $75,000 Glacial Princess for Pennsylvania-breds at Mahoning Valley; and Saturday's $150,000 (Canadian) Shady Well Stakes for Ontario-breds at Woodbine.

Already in the books: Girl Trouble, the odds-on favorite, kicked away in the stretch run of Tuesday's $75,000 Future Stars Filly Division at Parx Racing to win by 6 lengths from Gold Medal Anna. Girl Trouble, a Fast Anna filly, got 6 furlongs in 1:13.46 for her third win from six starts.

On the grass: Chad Brown sent Ligura cross-country to take the favorite's role among 11 fillies entered for Saturday's $100,000 Grade III Jimmy Durante on the Del Mar turf.

The War Front filly broke her maiden in her second start in October. Flavien Prat has the reins. There are plenty of local options in the one-mile test, too.

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Distaff

Saturday's $200,000 Grade III Go For Wand Handicap at Aqueduct is a handicapping challenge with 11 fillies and mares set for the one-turn mile. Battle Bling is the 3-1 favorite on the tight morning line after three straight wins.

Dr B, Betsy Blue and Bank Sting all are at single-digit odds, although Bank Sting has been toiling mostly in state-bred affairs. However, it turns out the letter "B" figures to be, well, Big.

Turf

Pletcher and Prat also team up with the morning-line favorite, Wit, among 11 entries for Saturday's $400,000 Grade I Hollywood Derby at Del Mar. The Practical Joke colt comes off a second, beaten just a neck, in the Grade III Bryan Station at Keeneland and has missed a top-three finish only once in nine starts.

Also here are Grade II Twilight Derby winner Cabo Spirit, Hawthorne Derby winner Speaking Scout, Del Mar Derby second and third Spycatcher and War at Sea and Grade II Hill Prince Stakes winner Celestial City.

Filly & Mare Turf

Sunday's $400,000 Matriarch at Del Mar has a field of 10 well worthy of the Grade I status of the race -- yet, a field that's hard to figure thanks to inconsistencies, shippers from out of town and other factors.

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Have a look at the likes of the Chad Brown-trained duo of Regal Glory and Dolce Zell or Bobby Flay's Pizza Bianca. Wakanaka, Avenue de France and England's Rose all rate a good chance in the 1-mile race.

Turf Sprint

A couple to watch Saturday in this division: The $100,000 Stormy Liberal at Del Mar and the $100,000 Pan Zaretta for fillies and mares at Fair Grounds.

Around the world, around the clock

Japan

T O Keynes, last year's winner, is the likely favorite again for Sunday's Group 1 Champions Cup at Chukyo Racecourse, one of Japan's top events on dirt.

But the 5-year-old son of Sinister Minister faces an interesting rival in Crown Pride, a 3-year-old who won the Grade II UAE Derby in Dubai, earning a trip to the Kentucky Derby.

There, he and fellow Dubai shipper Summer Is Tomorrow helped set a suicidal early pace that resulted, at the end of the 1 1/4 miles, in 81-1 shot Rich Strike catching Epicenter in the final strides for the victory.

T O Keynes also journeyed to the Middle East early this year, finishing eighth in the $20 million Grade I Saudi Cup. He's 2-for-3 since returning from Japan and defeated Crown Pride soundly, by 2 1/2 lengths, in their last start.

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Crown Pride, after fading to finish 13th in Louisville, was out of action until the end of September, whereupon he finished second in two starts leading up to the Champions Cup.

There are some upset hopes in the field, including some progressive 3-year-olds. The race is 1,800 meters around a somewhat egg-shaped oval.

Formerly known as the Japan Cup Dirt, the Champions Cup has taken on new significance as the nation's racing hierarchy put additional emphasis on dirt racing and the big-money races on that surface around the world.

England

The All-Weather Championships have become not only a worthwhile end unto themselves, but also a proving ground for big-money dirt races in Saudi Arabia and Dubai. This week's results reinforced that.

The Wizard of Eye, a 3-year-old Galileo Gold colt, forgot to stop after being left alone on the lead through the first half of Monday evening's British Stallion Studs EBF Hyde Stakes at Kempton Park.

With David Egan up, the 20-1 shot found new life when challenged by three rivals at the top of the lane and galloped home a 3 1/2-length winner.

The win earned a guaranteed start in the £150,000 All-Weather Mile Championships on Finals Daym but trainer Stan Moore sees more from The Wizard of Eye, who has been competing at Pattern level throughout the season.

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"We could aim high next year after what he did there, as he showed a bit of class against good horses. A lot of his form did not warrant him to be a 20-1 shot today," Moore said.

"I just said that if we got an invite to Saudi, we know he goes on the dirt out there, as he was seventh in the Saudi Derby."

The series crossed the Channel for Tuesday's Prix Lyphard at Deauville. The race was a Fast-Track Qualifier for the £200,000 Easter Classic and it appears that's the goal for the winner, Yoozuna, a 3-year-old who has won twice on turf and was making his all-weather debut.

"He will probably run two times at Cagnes-sur-Mer over the winter and then the All-Weather Championships at Newcastle would be a good possibility after that," trainer Christophe Ferland said.

"I think he is more of a miler than a long-distance horse, even though today's race was nine and a half furlongs, as he showed a lot of speed."

News and notes

Ascot Racecourse announced Tuesday total prize money available in 2023 will be a record £17 million across 25 race days. The overall figure excludes the industry-owned QIPCO British Champions Day.

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That's a year-to-year increase of £1.33 million or 8.5 percent. Purses for Royal Ascot 2023 will be a record £9.52 million, up 10 percent from £8.65 million in 2022.

"We are delighted to have reached the £17 million prize money mark for the first time," said Nick Smith, Ascot Racecourse director of racing and public affairs.

"It's never been so important to focus on the top end of the British program with competition for the best horses so intense internationally."

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