11/28/2008 12:00AM

Arson Squad looks primed for Cigar

Jessica Denver/EQUI-PHOTO
Arson Squad

OZONE PARK, N.Y. - It takes a pretty special horse to make trainer Richard Dutrow Jr. blink. Apparently, Commentator fits the bill.

When Commentator was committed to Friday's $400,000 Clark Handicap at Churchill Downs, Dutrow opted to run his talented Arson Squad in Saturday's Grade 1, $300,000 Cigar Mile at Aqueduct. Now, Dutrow believes he goes from hunter to hunted.

"I have to say this race has come up easier and it's in our backyard - that had a lot to do with it," Dutrow said. "If Commentator came here and these horses were running at Churchill, I think we'd go to Churchill. We have a better chance of beating these than we do of [beating] Commentator."

Coming off an impressive victory in the Meadowlands Cup, Arson Squad could go favored in a competitive renewal of the Cigar Mile, the last Grade 1 to be run in New York in 2008. The Cigar tops a nine-race card that includes the Grade 2 Remsen for juvenile colts and Grade 2 Demoiselle for juvenile fillies. First post is 12:25 p.m. Eastern.

Arson Squad heads a nine-horse field for the Cigar that includes Texas Mile winner Monterey Jazz; the $1.2 million-earner Wanderin Boy; the late-developing Bribon; and a bevy of 3-year-olds, including Grade 1 winners Tale of Ekati and Visionaire, graded winners Harlem Rocker and Kodiak Kowboy, and the undefeated Storm Play.

Arson Squad, owned by Samantha Siegel's Jay Em Ess Stable, began his career with Bruce Headley in Southern California, where he won the Swaps at 3 and the Strub at 4. That's when Santa Anita's surface was dirt. When Southern California's major main tracks all turned synthetic, Arson Squad turned into a subpar performer.

After seven straight losses on synthetics, Siegel transferred Arson Squad to Dutrow in the summer. In his return to dirt, Arson Squad rallied powerfully from off the pace to win the Meadowlands Cup on Oct. 3. The Meadowlands Cup was 1 1/8 miles around two turns, whereas the Cigar Mile is a one-turn mile. Arson Squad has three wins around one turn.

That fact and given how Arson Squad has trained since the Meadowlands Cup has Dutrow very confident heading into Saturday.

"Our horse is just in such a zone right now," Dutrow said. "I've had him maybe two or three months and he is on his game right now as far as his training goes."

Though Edgar Prado rode Arson Squad in the Meadowlands Cup, he had made an early commitment to ride Tale of Ekati in this race. Garrett Gomez, who won the Strub aboard Arson Squad, will ride Arson Squad from post 2.

Arson Squad may benefit from the presence of Monterey Jazz in the field. Monterey Jazz, who arrived from Southern California on Wednesday, has not been out since April, when he won the Grade 3 Texas Mile with a Beyer Speed Figure of 118. He suffered a hind foot fracture that forced him out of training for three months, but has come to hand recently for trainer Craig Dollase, who believes his horse is the one to catch on Saturday.

"He goes to the lead, they got to come catch him. That's how he runs," Dollase said. "They're crazy to chase him, that's for sure. He runs them into the ground. He's a big, powerful horse."

Wanderin Boy, who has been second to champions Lawyer Ron, Bernardini, Invasor, and Curlin in four Grade 1 races, can run with Monterey Jazz. Wanderin Boy is 4 for 7 in one-turn races, including a sharp allowance victory at Saratoga in July.

Storm Play, an undefeated 3-year-old son of Smart Strike, also has speed. Trainer Jimmy Jerkens said that of his colt's three races, he believes his maiden win at Saratoga was his best. He comes off a victory in an overnight stakes here on Oct. 29 when allowed to get loose on an easy lead.

"We're excited about him," said Jerkens, who trains Storm Play for Ed Evans. "A lot of horses got talent, but you always have to question class. But I think he's got a lot of class, too."

Tale of Ekati won the Grade 1 Wood Memorial over this track in April. Even though that race was at 1 1/8 miles around two turns, he may be a superior one-turn horse, as his 3-for-4 record in such races suggests. He comes off a solid victory in the Grade 2 Jerome - a one turn-mile at Belmont - run over a sloppy track. This will be his first start against older horses.

"He's matured very nicely, he's doing quite well," trainer Barclay Tagg said. "Whether he's good enough to do this I'm not sure, but he deserves a shot at it as good as he's doing right now."

Harlem Rocker's best race was his victory in the Grade 3 Withers here in April. That race, like this one, was a one-turn mile. Harlem Rocker is trained by Todd Pletcher, who has won this race three times since 2001.

Kodiak Kowboy enters the Cigar Mile off a sharp victory in the Grade 3 Sport Page at Belmont. Visionaire won the Grade 1 King's Bishop in August, but ran an inexplicably poor race when last as the 3-2 favorite in the Jerome. Bribon is 2 for 2 at Aqueduct and has won his last two tries at a mile impressively, including registering a 118 Beyer Speed Figure at Belmont in June. This is his first start in a Grade 1 race in three years.