By Brian Bohl
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 Grade 3, $100,000 Go for Wand Handicap 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 Grade 3 Discovery 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 on October 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 Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Sprint at Keeneland behind C Z Rocket and the winner Whitmore. In his last New York start, the Florida homebred won the Grade 2 Vosburgh Invitational 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 Grade 3 General George in February at Laurel Park along with the Grade 2 True North 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 blacktype 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 Grade 1 Forego on August 29 at Saratoga Race Course, garnering a season-best 98 Beyer Speed Figure. After finishing fourth in the six-furlong Grade 2 Vosburgh Invitational on September 26 at Belmont, he was stretched back out to seven furlongs for a runner-up effort in the Lafayette on November 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 Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Sprint on November 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 on October 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 Grade 1 Arkansas Derby on May 2 at Oaklawn Park. Originally slated to run in September’s Grade 1 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 Friday before arriving in New York on Saturday.
King Guillermo broke his maiden at second asking in November at Gulfstream Park West and kicked off his 3-year-old year with a 4 ¾-length win in the Grade 2 Tampa Bay Derby 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 be wrapping up his 6-year-old year, won the Empire Classic against state-breds last out going 1 1/8 miles on October 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 Grade 1 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 Grade 3 Tom Fool Handicap 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 on November 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 Grade 3 Fall Highweight Handicap on Saturday at Aqueduct.
Previously, the 5-year-old son of Majesticperfection, trained by George Weaver, won the Grade 3 Bold Ruler on October 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. Eastern. The card will also feature a mandatory payout of the Empire 6.
Live coverage of Cigar Mile Day will be available with America’s Day at the Races on FS2 from 3:30 – 4:30 p.m. and on MSG+ from 3:00 – 4:30 p.m. Free Equibase-provided past performances will be available for races that are part of the America’s Day at the Races broadcast and can be accessed at https://www.nyra.com/aqueduct/racing/tv-schedule.
Photo Credit: Chelsea Durand / Edited Press Release