11/27/2010 12:57PM

HandiGambling the Cigar Mile (212)

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Today's HandiGambling 212 exercise is the ninth race from Aqueduct, the Grade 1 Cigar Mile for three-year-olds and upward on the main track.

Remember that you have a mythical $100 with which to wager on the race, and the entrant with the highest money total will receive a "Monthly Enhanced 60-Card Past Performance Plan." Anyone going over the $100 limit will be disqualified. Please post your plays and analysis to the blog.  Past performances are available at the previous blog post.  In the event of a tie, the earliest post gets first preference. One entry per person please. I reserve the right to approve or deny any entries.

I know that there is a time issue for some of you, but let's remember why we began the HandiGambling races in the first place. The goal was to share ideas on why we like these horses, and why we're betting them the way we are. I'm not asking for a novel, but if you could spare a sentence or two outlining your handicapping angles, and thought processes about wagering, it would be appreciated.

The main track is FAST.

#2 SOARING EMPIRE is one pound overweight.
#5 JERSEY TOWN  is two pounds overweight.
#6 FRIEND OR FOE is one pound overweight.

This year's Cigar Mile is simply an excellent race.  Of the nine runners (eight betting interests), I gave six horses a reasonable chance of winning this thing.  It makes the HandiGambling sledding tough indeed.

#4 HAYNESFIELD may not be as good as he looked when going gate-to-wire over subsequent Breeders' Cup Classic winner Blame in the Jockey Club Gold Cup, but I don't think he's as bad as he looked when finishing next to last at Churchill Downs, either.  In the Classic, he was bounced around from both sides coming out of the gate, was stuck in between and in behind horses for the first six furlongs, and just wasn't a happy camper before packing it in after a mile.  He was reportedly training very well going into the Classic, and I'll give him a break off the tough trip.  He's run well in one-turn routes in the past, and may find a nice spot parked off VINEYARD HAVEN down the backstretch.  Although his finest moment (Jockey Club Gold Cup) came when on the lead, I think he can sit just a bit.  I expect him to be prominent when they turn for home and he should get the jump on the closers.

#7 MUSKET MAN is also coming out of the Breeders' Cup Classic, and that 10-furlong distance may have been just a bit far for the courageous son of Yonaguska.  It's a shame that he only has one win this year (the Super Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs in his seasonal debut) as he's run so well in bigger spots (lost by a nose in the Grade 1 Carter, second to Quality Road in the Grade 1 Met Mile, an extremely game third in the Grade 1 Whitney).  I don't think Musket Man ran poorly in the Classic.  It looked like he was in the thick of things after nine furlongs, but he simply didn't see out the trip.  The cutback in distance should hit Musket Man right between the eyes and the prospect of a hot pace should also work to his advantage.  I can't toss him from my multi-race wagers.

If you believe that betting horses coming out of the Breeders' Cup series is unappetizing due to the very good possibility of them being "over the top," look no further than #6 FRIEND OR FOE, a hulking New York-bred that beat a pair of next-out winners in the Empire Classic on October 23.  Four of the seven horses to return from the Empire Classic came back to hit the board and the last-place finisher, Stormy's Majesty, defeated open foes in the Grade 3 Discovery last weekend.  My main concern with Friend Or Foe is that he may have been helped by a speed-favoring track in the Empire Classic, and it's doubtful that he'll make the lead in here.  Still, he's lightly-raced with a world of upside.  It's very possible that we haven't seen his best yet.  I can't leave him off my Pick 4's.

#2 SOARING EMPIRE, like Friend Or Foe, is a three-year-old that skipped the Breeders' Cup.  By Empire Maker out of an A.P. Indy mare, you can forgive trainer Cam Gambolati for thinking he had a Kentucky Derby prospect earlier in the year.  Instead, it seems as if Soaring Empire is better suited as a closing sprinter or miler.  He's taking a big step up in class (the runner-up from the most recent race could only muster third in the Fall Highweight earlier this week), but I wouldn't be surprised if he comes with a solid late kick under Edgar Prado.

#3 BRIBON is hickory.  A seven-year-old making his 37th trip to the post, Bribon is very comfortable in one-turn miles.  He won the Met Mile and Westchester at this trip last year, and marked a strong return to form when winning the seven-furlong Bold Ruler at Belmont on October 30.  After shedding a frog from his left front foot, an injury that cost him ten days of training, Bribon's trainer, Todd Pletcher, decided to skip the Breeders' Cup and focus on the Bold Ruler and Cigar Mile.  He's halfway there.  We know Bribon will be charging late.  He's dangerous, as always.

1A. VINEYARD HAVEN won the Grade 1 Champagne at two over a one-turn mile, but he hasn't shown much verve in 2010.  Sure, he won his seasonal debut at Saratoga with a triple-digit Beyer Speed Figure, but he didn't beat a very strong field (three of the six rivals to exit that sloppy race hit the board, but none won their next start).  He ran okay in the Forego, but was simply cooked by a hot pace in the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile and I didn't like the way he drifted during the stretch drive.  I believe he has the most potent early speed of any of the Cigar entrants and he could conceivably lead the way down the backstretch.  Still, he hasn't gained ground from the stretch call to the wire since last year's DeFrancis Memorial, and he should face early pressure.

#5 JERSEY TOWN ran the best race of his life when second in the Bold Ruler, but he was still outkicked by Bribon in the final furlong.  The consistent four-year-old has hit the board in his last seven starts, but will need race and pace luck coupled with another lifetime top to win this.

#8 HALF METAL JACKET, like Jersey Town, ran the best race of his career in the Bold Ruler, yet he could only muster third money.  Perhaps he can run better in his second start of the form cycle - and second start with trainer Rudy Rodriguez - but the former $20,000 claimer has the same running style as several of the top contenders, and may not be able to outfoot them all in the stretch.

#1 GIROLAMO had to work very hard to defeat the uninspiring Riley Tucker in the Grade 1 Vosburgh at six furlongs and he didn't run a step in the Breeders' Cup Sprint behind Big Drama.  He'll have to overcome a tricky inside post position this afternoon, but is capable of working out a good inside-outside stalking trip under Alan Garcia.

A fantastic race.  I'll play HandiGambling this way:

$100 Win - Haynesfield (#4)

Best of luck to all.

***

Here are some quick and dirty selections for some of the other quality stakes races to be contested over the weekend:

Japan Cup:  Pelusa, Nakayama Festa, Victoire Pisa
Citation:  Colgan's Chip, Court Vision, Victor's Cry
Remsen:  Mucho Macho Man, To Honor and Serve, Buffum
Kingarvie:  Pender Harbour, Invitation, Altius

Have a great day.