By Ashley Tamulonis
On Friday, December 16 the American Graded Stakes Committee of the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association (TOBA) announced its revisions to the graded and/or listed status of all U.S. stakes races with a purse of at least $75,000 for 2023.
In Part 1 of this series, I looked at the upgrading of the Stephen Foster from a grade two to a grade one race and concluded that was a justified and necessary change. In Part 2, I will address the downgrading of the Cigar Mile, named for the storied Cigar, from a grade one to a grade two. As with the Stephen Foster, I will review the last five runnings, or from 2018-2022, in depth.
Multiple graded stakes winner Patternrecognition took down the 2018 edition of the Cigar Mile, earning his only grade one victory in the process. True Timber, who would finally win this very race in 2020, finished second, while multiple graded stakes winner and multiple grade one placed Sunny Ridge was third. Grade one winner Mendelssohn, graded stakes winner Pat On the Back, and graded stakes placed Stan the Man and Copper Town completed the field.
Things get a bit dicey with the 2019 running of the Cigar Mile as it was the controversial Maximum Security, a multiple grade one winner (for now), that crossed the wire first. Spun to Run, who won his only grade one race in the 2019 Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile, finished second, while True Timber checked in third. Multiple grade one placed Bal Harbour, Whitmore, and Network Effect finished sixth, seventh, and eighth. Graded stakes winners Nicodemus, Pat On the Back, and Tale of Silence, and stakes placed Looking At Bikinis and Forewarned (graded) comprised the rest of that year’s field.
2020 was finally the year for True Timber. After previously running second and third in the race, the son of Mineshaft finally annexed the Cigar Mile to win his only grade one win. He was followed across the wire by grade one placed, graded stakes winners Snapper Sinclair, Performer, and King Guillermo. Graded stakes placed Mr. Buff and Bon Raison brought up the rear.
Americanrevolution got his first graded stakes win in the 2021 running of the Cigar Mile. Graded stakes winner and multiple grade one placed Following Sea ran second with grade one placed, multiple graded stakes winner Plainsman picking up the show. Eventual grade one winner Olympiad and grade one winner Code of Honor finished fourth and fifth respectively. 2021 Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (G1) runner-up Ginobili and grade one placed Independence Hall and Pipeline completed the field.
Multiple graded stakes winner Mind Control made his career swan song in the Cigar Mile a winning one, going out a multiple grade one victor. Rounding out the superfecta were grade one winners Ger Her Number, White Abarrio, and Zandon. Outlier and graded stakes winner Double Crown comprised the rest of the field.
In looking back over the past five years, we find three winners who nabbed their only career grade one win in the Cigar Mile. The two other victors were multiple grade one winners, however, you have to put an asterisk next to Maximum Security as the fate of all his wins while with Servis is still up for debate. Each field did attract numerous graded stakes winners, many of them grade one winners or grade one placed. While many of them were multiple graded stakes victors, just as many had only one graded stake win or were simply stakes placed.
Does the Cigar Mile suffer from post-Breeders’ Cup retirements? Of course it does, just like any graded race between the championships and the end of the year. Take this year, for example. This would have been a great spot for Life Is Good to end his career. He could have gone out a winner, but his connections chose to go ahead and retire him after his monster effort against Flightline in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. That did not, however, impact the quality of the field that still showed up.
Initially I was on the fence about the downgrading of the Cigar Mile, but after looking at the fields for the past five years and then also the winners for years prior to that (including Sharp Azteca, Connect, Tonalist, Private Zone, Flat Out and Stay Thirsty), I think the committee made the wrong decision. Though it’s true many of the winners scored their only career grade one victory in the Cigar Mile, just as many were multiple grade one winners. The fields have consistently attracted true grade one runners, particularly this year’s edition. Additionally, the Cigar Mile is far enough spaced from the Breeders’ Cup races that some championship participants will run back in this spot. Conversely, those looking to make a case for an Eclipse Award or seal the deal will often cap off their year here. Hopefully the committee will rethink this decision next year and bump this race back up to grade one status in 2024.
Photo: Mind Control wins The Cigar Mile, Susie Raischer, NYRA Photo,