11/28/2009 2:26PM

Cigar Mile Day '09

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The Cigar Mile and Matriarch, two of today's three Grade 1 races, could have some bearing on divisional Eclipse Awards, with the emphasis on "could."

If Kodiak Kowboy wins the Cigar Mile, he'll have three Grade 1 victories in New York (Carter, Vosburgh, Cigar Mile) to stack up against Zensational's three Grade 1's in California (Triple Bend, Bing Crosby, Pat O'Brien), which might make a race of the voting for champion sprinter. I think Zensational would still be the favorite, as some would argue that a one-mile race should have no bearing on a sprint title

A victory by Diamondrella in the Matriarch would give her three Grade 1 victories -- one each in New York (Just a Game), Kentucky (First Lady) and California (Matriarch) -- and position her as the likeliest alternative to Goldikova for those unwilling to give the Breeders' Cup Mile winner an Eclipse Award off a single American start. My guess is that Goldikova still would prevail, given that Diamondrella could have run in the Mile instead of the Turf Sprint.

Here's the holiday-weekend scoreboard so far:

 

The toteboard at Churchill Downs got quite a workout Friday. Blame at $10.80 in the featured Clark was one of the shortest-priced winners on a card where the other win mutuels included Rock Hard at $76.20 in the 1st, Echoes Resounding at $51.20 in the 5th, Rahystrada at $115.80 in the 9th, High Spirit at $55.60 in the 10th and Cavan Thunder at $54.20 in the 12th. The pick-4 combining Blame with those last three bombs paid $179,882.70 for the lone 50-cent winning ticket.

There's no pick-4 on the four straight graded stakes at Aqueduct today, apparently because the fields were too small to make any of them the last race of the day. (I'm still puzzled at how the G1 Cigar Mile drew six and yesterday's G2 Clark at Churchill got 14.) So the late pick-4 sequence consists of the Remsen, Gazelle, Cigar Mile and an eight-horse statebred allowance race.


2:00 pm: Lentenor, the 2-year-old full brother to Barbaro, ran second in Aqueduct's third race in his second career start and grass debut. The Dynaformer-La Ville Rouge colt looked like a winner in upper stretch as he took aim on the leader but failed to gain thereafter and was beaten half a length. The winner, On Vacation, was making his seventh career start but figured to improve trying grass for the first time: The Harlan's Holiday colt is a half-brother to multiple statebred stakes-winner Certifiably Crazy, who earned nearly $600k on the turf.


3:30 pm: The Demoiselle, Remsen and Gazelle were just run in succession on the same course in distance, allowing for some immediate comparisons in the fractional and final times:

 


Obviously, Flashing's front-running victory in the Gazelle was the best performance, as you would expect a 3-year-old's in a Grade 1 race to be against a pair of Grade 2 events for 2-year-olds. The Test winner set legitimate fractions en route to a final time that was more than two full seconds faster than the juvenile races. The disappointment of the race was Stardom Bound, last year's champion 2-year-old filly, who lagged early, mildly middle-moved, then was outfinished late to run a distant fifth. It was hard to know what to expect from her off a seven-month layoff and in her non-synthetic debut, but she showed very little.

The Demoiselle was slow-early/fast-late while the Remsen was the reverse. Buddy's Saint was not under pressure winning the Remsen but any enthusiasm for his 4 3/4-length victory has to be tempered by his unimpressive final furlong of 13.49 and final three-eighths in about 39.50.


4:00 pm: Time for another Great Debate over the merits of a Steve Asmussen-trained dirt horse and a synthetic specialist whose name begins with the letters Z-e-n? Kodiak Kowboy's late surge in the Cigar Mile to nail Bribon and Vineyard Haven at least gives us something else to argue about.

Zensational or Kodiak Kowboy for champion sprinter? Each won three Grade 1 stakes, two of them at seven furlongs.Both were pre-entered in the Breeders' Cup Sprint but Kodiak Kowboy was withdrawn after a horrendous 52 2/5 half-mile workout Nov. 2 that concinced his connections he wasn't handling the Pro-Ride track. Zensational finished fifth in the Sprint as the favorite.

Zensational won more pure G1 sprints, but Kodiak Kowboy faced more accomplished fields, beating Grade 1 winners Fabulous Strike (twice), Bribon, Pyro and Vineyard Haven. The runners-up in Zensational's three Grade 1 victories were Rush With Thunder, Noble Court and Talkin to Mom Roo.

Others will get consideration. Dancing in Silks did win the Sprint, though his only other stakes victories were in statebred and restricted company. One could even make a case for Quality Road, who set track records winning the 6 1/2-furlong Amsterdam and the one-mile Fountain of Youth, or for California Flag, purely a turf sprinter but 4-for-4 in 2009 and a dominant winner of the BC Turf Sprint.

Small irony: The Cigar Mile, which might topple Zensational, is sponsored by Hill 'n' Dale Farm, where Zensational will stand at stud beginning next year.