11/25/2010 1:16PM

Bribon should get hot pace in Cigar Mile

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Barbara D. Livingston
Bribon comes into the Cigar Mile off a victory in the Bold Ruler.

OZONE PARK, N.Y. – Four of the nine horses entered in Saturday’s $250,000 Hill ‘n’ Dale Cigar Mile are coming out of less-than-stellar performances in Breeders’ Cup races run three weeks ago at Churchill Downs. If past performance is indicative of future success, it may be wise to look beyond Girolamo, Vineyard Haven, Haynesfield, and Musket Man when seeking the winner of the final Grade 1 race to be run in New York this year.

The last horse to win the Cigar Mile coming out of a Breeders’ Cup race was Congaree, who in 2003 won the Cigar Mile – for the second straight year – after running fourth in the BC Classic a month earlier at Santa Anita. Though only six horses since then have run in the Cigar Mile after the Breeders’ Cup, none has won, including Midnight Lute, who finished second in this race as the 1-2 favorite after winning the BC Sprint at Monmouth Park. Last year, Pyro finished fifth after running last in the BC Dirt Mile.

Kodiak Kowboy won last year’s Cigar Mile after skipping the Breeders’ Cup following an unsatisfactory workout at Santa Anita the week before the Sprint. One of the horses he beat was Bribon, who seeks his first win in the Cigar Mile after narrow losses in 2008-09.

Bribon, winner of the 2009 Grade 1 Metropolitan Handicap at Belmont, was twice beaten by three-quarters of a length in the Cigar Mile when he ran third in 2008 and second in 2009. In both races he had some trouble. In 2008, the chart read Bribon “checked hard when bothered at the quarter pole.” Last year’s chart said that Bribon “lunged a bit at the start.”

Bribon’s connections, trainer Todd Pletcher and owner Derrick Smith, considered supplementing the 7-year-old gelding to this year’s Breeders’ Cup Sprint, but ultimately passed. Instead, Bribon prepped for this race with a 1 3/4-length victory in the Grade 3 Bold Ruler at Belmont on Oct. 30.

“I thought he ran well, seemed to come out of it well, is training good,” said Pletcher, who has won this race with Purge (2005), Lion Tamer (2004), and Left Bank (2001). “He has run well in the race before, we know he likes the track and distance and he seems to be in good form."

Bribon, who will be ridden from post 3 under John Velazquez, usually benefits from a strong pace and should get that on Saturday. Friend or Foe, a 3-year-old New York-bred, displayed exceptional speed winning the Empire Classic five weeks ago. Vineyard Haven vied for the lead in this race last year before finishing a head behind Bribon. Haynesfield, 11th in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, was a front-running winner of the Jockey Club Gold Cup on Oct. 2.

According to Toby Sheets, the assistant to trainer Steve Asmussen, Haynesfield got knocked around at the start of the Classic and had his heels clipped by Espoir City down the backside, which contributed to his poor finish in that race. Sheets said the plan is to run Haynesfield in this race, then most likely give him the winter off.

“He’s won at a one-turn mile, he’s doing good, we got to take our chance,” Sheets said.

Javier Castellano replaces Ramon Dominguez, who elected to sit out the race out after having calls on Haynesfield and Half Metal Jacket, neither of whom he felt comfortable abandoning.

Girolamo and Vineyard Haven will race as a coupled entry, as both are owned by Sheikh Mohammed’s Godolphin Stable. Girolamo, who won the Grade 1 Vosburgh, finished 11th of 12 as the lukewarm favorite in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint. While the one-turn mile is probably his best game, the fact he drew the rail could be problematic.

Vineyard Haven won the one-mile Champagne at 2 and ran a bang-up third in this race at 3. He faded to sixth after pressing the pace in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile.

“It’s a pretty hot race for $250,000 to be running two in there,” said Rick Mettee, Godolphin’s New York-based assistant trainer. “We couldn’t justify leaving Vineyard Haven in the barn, and we didn’t see the sense to shortening up to six in the Fall Highweight, where he would have had to carry 138 pounds. He was involved in that very fast pace in [the Dirt Mile]. Although this race might be a good pace too, it can’t possibly go like they did in that race.”

After never finishing worse than third in his first 14 starts, Musket Man finished seventh in the Breeders’ Cup Classic at 1 1/4 miles. He did get hit from behind in that race, but trainer Derek Ryan is comfortable enough with how Musket Man came out of the race to run him back here. In his last start at Aqueduct, he was beaten a nose by Warrior’s Reward in the Grade 1 Carter, a one-turn, seven-furlong race. He also finished second to Quality Road in the Met Mile, in his last one-turn mile race.

“It’s probably his ideal distance,” Ryan said. “He deserves to win a Grade 1.”

Half Metal Jacket, who will be ridden by Fernando Jara, is 3 for 4 at Aqueduct though tries Grade 1 company for the first time. Jersey Town was second to Bribon in the Bold Ruler and third to Tizway in the Kelso, both one-turn races at Belmont. Soaring Empire, who rallied from last to win the six-furlong Rutgers Stakes at Monmouth on Nov. 6, completes the field.

The Cigar Mile is race 9 on a 10-race card that begins at noon Eastern and includes the Grade 1 Gazelle for 3-year-old fillies and the Grade 2 Remsen and Demoiselle for 2-year-old males and females, respectively. The Remsen, Gazelle, and Cigar Mile are the first three legs of a pick four with a guaranteed pool of $250,000.