11/26/2015 2:04PM

Crist: Fine Cigar follows sumptuous stakes feast

Email

There are four graded stakes at Aqueduct on Saturday, including the Cigar Mile, the last Grade 1 race in New York until the Carter Handicap and Wood Memorial next April. It’s a quartet worth watching, highlighted by some very quick 2-year-olds stretching out in the Remsen and some admirable veterans in the Cigar Mile, even though the way the races have been carded leaves something to be desired.

If you thought that four graded stakes sounded like an obvious late pick four and a good 90 minutes of racing, you must be new around here. The New York Racing Association instead is running the four in hopscotch fashion on a 10-race card that starts 10 minutes before noon and ends 10 minutes before sunset: The Demoiselle is the third at 12:50 p.m. Eastern, the Remsen the fifth at 1:50, the Comely the seventh at 2:50, and the Cigar the ninth at 3:50. They are interspersed with three grass races, including a firster-filled 2-year-old race and a statebred allowance.

This allegedly will improve handle on the early part of the card. You sometimes get the feeling that if NYRA ever asks to host another Breeders’ Cup, it also would ask to run a statebred maiden race between the Turf and the Classic.

The Demoiselle, for 2-year-old fillies at 1 1/8 miles, is the first and weakest of the stakes. No one in the field of seven has yet to exceed a Beyer Speed Figure of 75; the average winning figure for the last 20 Demoiselles is an 84. Perhaps someone will improve.

Skip to the Remsen, however, and it’s a different story. Four of the nine entrants have already run an 85 or better, and they look like very serious racehorses. They include the top three finishers from the Grade 2 Nashua – Mohaymen, Flexibility, and Sail Ahoy.

Mohaymen, a $2.2 million Tapit colt, won the Nashua at 11-10 in just his second career start and adds Lasix here. That performance made him the co-third choice (with Brody’s Cause and Swipe) at 15-1 behind “All Others” (7-5) and Nyquist (10-1) in the first Kentucky Derby Future Wager pool. That pool opened Thursday and closes Sunday, and Flexibility and Sail Ahoy would get a lot shorter than their opening prices of 30-1 with an upset victory in the Remsen.

It’s weird to be running a race restricted to 3-year-old fillies after Thanksgiving, but that’s exactly what the Grade 3 Comely is. There are no champions in the field of 10, but it’s a doozy of a handicapping challenge, with nearly every entrant capable of a Beyer in the high 80s. Carrumba will try to wire the field in her stakes debut, with Peace and War and Forever Unbridled perhaps the likeliest to catch her, but it’s a good race to talk yourself into a longshot.

The Cigar Mile has a field of seven but may well turn out to be a showdown between the two multiple Grade 1-winning favorites, Private Zone (6-5) and Tonalist (5-2). Private Zone, coming off a close second to Runhappy in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint, has won a Cigar, a Forego, and two Vosburghs, while Tonalist has two Jockey Club Gold Cups and a Belmont to his credit. Tonalist and Private Zone have met just once before, when they ran second and third in that order behind Honor Code in this year’s Met Mile.

The recent history of the Cigar revolves around Private Zone: Two years ago, he was 32-1 but led until the final strides and was nailed by Flat Out, another two-time Jockey Club Gold Cup winner. Last year, he led all the way to beat Secret Circle by five lengths. The bad news for this year’s challengers is that Private Zone again looks like the dominant speed and lone front-runner, but Tonalist is good enough to make things interesting in the final furlong.

Hollow claim of victory

After a 20-month investigation, the New York State Gaming Commission on Monday finally released its report on allegations of mistreatment by trainer Steve Asmussen, charges filed by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and splashed across the front page of The New York Times two years ago. The trainer was cleared of every serious charge, just as he was in a Kentucky Horse Racing Commission investigation of the same complaints earlier this year.

PETA nevertheless claimed victory in a press release, congratulating itself despite having had its shoddy and sensationalistic charges rejected by two commissions. A more appropriate gesture would have been an apology to Asmussen and to the taxpayers of Kentucky and New York for such a waste of time and money.