11/28/2013 1:48PM

Aqueduct: Capo Bastone looks to spring Cigar Mile upset

Barbara D. Livingston
Capo Bastone may be able to capitalize on a fast Cigar Mile pace.

OZONE PARK, N.Y. – While the Cigar Mile has attracted some big names over the years, it also has proven to be a bettor’s paradise. Favorites have won just two of the last nine runnings – five of those races had six horses or fewer – and some win payoffs over that span have been $71.50, $53, $26, and $19.80.

A similar scenario could play out in Saturday’s 25th renewal of this race at Aqueduct – called the NYRA Mile prior to 1997. Lured by purse incentives, a stellar 11-horse field – including Breeders’ Cup winners Groupie Doll and Goldencents – has assembled for the Cigar Mile. The Cigar Mile has a base purse of $500,000, but Breeders’ Cup winners Groupie Doll and Goldencents are running for a winner’s share of a $1 million pot while Grade 1 winners Verrazano, Capo Bastone, Flat Out, and Private Zone are running for a winner’s share of $750,000.

Capo Bastone could be the least-heralded of the three horses trainer Todd Pletcher has entered in the Cigar Mile, but with an expected rapid early pace and a return to his preferred surface – and perhaps best distance – he could be poised to spring the upset.

Pletcher has won four of the last 12 runnings of the Cigar Mile and had a fifth horse – Harlem Rocker, a 9-1 shot in 2008 – disqualified from first. In 2005, the last time the Cigar Mile attracted a field of 11, Pletcher won it with Purge ($53), one of three horses he had in the field.

Last time he ran on dirt, Capo Bastone won Grade 1 King’s Bishop at Saratoga at 28-1. In trying to pick out a Breeders’ Cup race for him, Pletcher and owner Aaron Wellman selected the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint, but that backfired as Capo Bastone finished last of 13, beaten six lengths.

“It was an experiment that went wrong,” Pletcher said. “We felt like he’d handle the turf, but, unfortunately, he didn’t, so we’ve regrouped and gone back to his preferred surface. If he can repeat his King’s Bishop performance, it gives him a big chance.”

Since the Breeders’ Cup, Capo Bastone has put in two solid workouts – both in company with Verrazano. Capo Bastone is reunited with Irad Ortiz Jr., who was aboard for the King’s Bishop and who has won three graded stakes from eight mounts for Pletcher.

Capo Bastone is a one-run closer and would benefit from what should be a lively pace with Private Zone, Saratoga Snacks, Goldencents, and Verrazano in the field.

Like Capo Bastone, the Pletcher-trained Forty Tales would benefit from a fast pace. He defeated Capo Bastone by a neck in the Grade 3 Derby Trial in April. Last out, in the Grade 3 Bold Ruler, Forty Tales raced closer to the pace than usual and was beaten by Clearly Now, also in this field.

Of Pletcher’s three horses, most will favor Verrazano, a two-time Grade 1 winner – including the Wood Memorial over this track in April – who should relish a one-turn mile and post 10. Verrazano finished fourth in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile last out at Santa Anita.

Goldencents went gate to wire in the Dirt Mile, but that does not have to be his running style. That day, Santa Anita’s track was favoring speed and Goldencents was breaking from the outside in that two-turn race. O’Neill said jockey Rafael Bejarano “did not want to get caught wide and make up ground on a track that wouldn’t let us do it.”

Goldencents, the 120-pound highweight, will break from post 8 under Bejarano.

O’Neill also sends out Private Zone, the Grade 1 Vosburgh winner who will try to carry his blazing speed a mile under Martin Pedroza from post 11.

Groupie Doll, the two-time Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint winner, was beaten a nose in this race last year by the 3-year-old Stay Thirsty. She goes out for a new owner – Mandy Pope bought her for $3.1 million at the Keeneland November sale – but the same trainer, Buff Bradley.

“We’re excited about bringing her back to this race,” said Bradley, who has had Groupie Doll in New York for three weeks. “She’s doing very well. All we got left to do now is run her.”

In 2011, trainer Bill Mott won the Cigar Mile with To Honor and Serve, who was coming off a seventh-place finish in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. Saturday, he sends out Flat Out, a three-time Grade 1 winner coming off an eighth-place finish in the Classic. Though his two biggest wins came in the Jockey Club Gold Cup at 1 1/4 miles, he beat Cross Traffic in the Grade 3 Westchester, a one-turn mile race at Belmont, earning his career-best Beyer Speed Figure of 116. He also finished a troubled third in the Metropolitan Handicap.

“I thought they were both good races,” Mott said. “He’s effective at a mile.”

Clearly Now, a multiple Grade 3 winner at seven furlongs, is coming off his best race, winning the Bold Ruler at Belmont with blinkers added. Completing the field are Laugh Track, second in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint, Praetereo, and Saratoga Snacks.