Updated on 09/15/2011 2:29PM

Cigar a Grade 1 opportunity for Graeme Hall


JAMAICA, N.Y. - The distance of the Cigar Mile might not be ideal for Graeme Hall, but the race's Grade 1 rating holds a significant attraction for the horse's connections.

*, who is expected to race again next year, has won three Grade 2 races, the Jim Dandy, Arkansas Derby, and Eclipse, and the Grade 3 Stuyvesant. But a Grade 1 victory has eluded him.

Owned by Eugene and Laura Melnyk, the 4-year-old Graeme Hall enters Saturday's $350,000 Cigar Mile, a one-turn race over Aqueduct's main track, off back-to-back wins at Belmont Park in October. Graeme Hall won a 1 1/16-mile allowance race by six lengths on Oct. 7. Twenty days later, the Todd Pletcher-trained colt won the 1 1/8-mile Stuyvesant by 6 1/4 lengths.

Those wins came on the heels of a summer rest, which began after Graeme Hall ran poorly in the Stephen Foster at Churchill Downs on June 16.

"Like some horses, he trained well at Churchill but didn't fire on race day," Pletcher said. "We gave him a little freshening and he gained some weight and got stronger.

"The mile is a little bit of an experiment race. He ran very well around one turn in his last two races, at a mile and a sixteenth and a mile and an eighth. The reason we're running in the Cigar Mile is it's a Grade 1 and a win would solidify his status as a stallion. It would be a big win for him."

Pletcher also will saddle Grade 1 winner Left Bank in the Cigar Mile. Last year, Left Bank finished fifth in the Cigar Mile.

Big plans for Argentine mare

Palmarola, a group winner in Argentina, is a possible starter for Friday's $150,000 Top Flight Handicap, but only if a third-level allowance race doesn't fill on the same day.

The long-range goal for Palmarola, who is trained by the California-based Richard Mandella, is the Grade 3 Ladies Handicap on Dec. 22.

Palmarola has been in New York since the spring under the care of trainer Tom Bush, a friend of Mandella. Minor ankle surgery and a foot problem kept Palmarola away from the races for 10 months. She made her American debut on Nov. 6 at Aqueduct and finished a sharp second in a mile allowance race. She ran with an aluminum pad, which Bush has since removed and which will remain off for her next race.

Bush said he would prefer to run Palmarola in Friday's 1 1/8-mile allowance race, rather than the one-mile Top Flight, as prep for the 1 1/4-mile Ladies.

"We've been shooting all fall for the Ladies," Bush said. "With the kind of speed she has got, the distance will not be a problem. I think she will be effective going longer and around two turns.

"I'll enter the [Top Flight], but I'm not certain we'll run, even if the allowance race doesn't go."

Palmarola won a Group 3 race at 1 1/4 miles in Argentina in January. Last year, as a 3-year-old, she finished second in a Group 1 behind Miss Linda, who won the Spinster in October at Keeneland.

Hong Kong possible for Blazing Fury

A trip to Hong Kong in mid-December sounds good to trainer Jimmy Toner. Now, he must decide if it's the right place for his 3-year-old Blazing Fury.

Toner was informed that Blazing Fury has moved off the alternate list and into the body of invitees for the $1.8 million Hong Kong Vase, a 1 1/2-mile turf race to be run on Dec. 16. Toner is giving it serious consideration, so much so that he vanned Blazing Fury over to Aqueduct on Monday and worked him six furlongs in 1:15.46 over the turf course.

"He breezed very well," Toner said. "He went off nice and easy and finished up well. By the end of the week, we'll decide. We're 50-50. I want to make sure everything's right with the horse."

Blazing Fury, owned by Caesar Kimmel and Ronald Nicholson, is coming off a fourth-place finish in the Breeders' Cup Turf. Toner said the Dynaformer colt came out of the race "very good." Toner is concerned a trip to Hong Kong would knock out Blazing Fury for a long time. Toner plans on running Blazing Fury as a 4-year-old.

All expenses are paid for by the Hong Kong racing officials except for an entry fee of $18,000, or 1 percent of the purse.

"Money's not an issue," Toner said. "We're all excited about it. Now we've got to figure what's best for the horse."

Blazing Fury has two wins in seven starts, one of those victories coming in the Grade 3 Saranac Handicap at Saratoga.

* Trainer John Terranova said Heavyweight Champ came out of his fifth-place finish in Saturday's Hollywood Prevue with a respiratory infection.

"He'll have two to three weeks off to clear up, and we'll point for a race or two at Santa Anita," Terranova said. "It was unfortunate; everything was going so well."

* There will be free general admission and parking on Thursday, Thanksgiving Day.

- additional reporting by David Grening


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