11/28/2009 12:00AM

Kodiak Kowboy aims for Cigar Mile gold

Barbara D. Livingston
Kodiak Kowboy missed the Breeders' Cup Sprint because of illness.

OZONE PARK, N.Y. - When Dancing in Silks upset the Breeders' Cup Sprint at Santa Anita, it left the Eclipse Award in the sprint division open for debate. Kodiak Kowboy, who rarely gets mentioned in the conversation, could further the confusion with a victory in Saturday's Grade 1, $300,000 Hill 'n' Dale Cigar Mile at Aqueduct.

Kodiak Kowboy was one of four Grade 1 winners among the six horses entered in the Cigar Mile, which tops a 10-race card that also includes the Grade 1 Gazelle for 3-year-old fillies, the Grade 2 Remsen for 2-year-old males, and the Grade 2 Demoiselle for 2-year-old fillies. First post is noon Eastern.

While it's somewhat debatable if a one-turn mile race qualifies as a sprint, a victory in the Cigar would strengthen Kodiak Kowboy's resume, which already includes two Grade 1 victories over Fabulous Strike, who many believe is the top dirt sprinter in the country. Kodiak Kowboy defeated Fabulous Strike in the seven-furlong Carter here in April and in the six-furlong Vosburgh at Belmont last month. Neither horse competed in the Breeders' Cup Sprint.

Kodiak Kowboy was being pointed to the Sprint, but was not entered after an endoscopic examination following a slow workout showed mucus in the lungs. After getting that cleared up, Kodiak Kowboy returned to Churchill Downs, where he worked a solid six-furlongs in 1:12.60 on Nov. 15 followed by an easy half-mile last Sunday. Kodiak Kowboy, who will be making the 23rd and final start of his career in the Cigar, will break from post 2 under Shaun Bridgmohan.

"Kodiak handles well," trainer Steve Asmussen said. "I really like how he runs for Shaun. He's coming off a very nice win in the Vosburgh. Pyro did beat him in the Forego at seven-eighths and probably has a little more advantage at a mile, but Kodiak is a very, very good horse."

Asmussen, who trains Kodiak Kowboy for the Vinery Stables and Fox Hill Farm, believes Kodiak Kowboy should be considered for the sprint Eclipse Award if he is able to win this race.

"If you beat Fabulous Strike at three-quarters of a mile and [win] two other Grade 1's, are you kidding?" Asmussen said.

The horse to beat in the Cigar Mile is the 3-year-old Vineyard Haven, who stretches out to his preferred distance of a mile after winning the Grade 1 De Francis Dash at six furlongs at Laurel Park on Oct. 24. Since he showed a disdain for a synthetic surface while training last winter in Dubai, Vineyard Haven was not considered for a Breeders' Cup race at Santa Anita. In fact, the Cigar Mile has been Vineyard Haven's target since he got disqualified from first in the Grade 1 King's Bishop at Saratoga on Aug. 29.

"It was a question of after the King's Bishop how best to get there," said Rick Mettee, the assistant trainer for Sheikh Mohammed al-Maktoum's Godolphin Stable. "The De Francis we thought was a Grade 1 that was winnable, though six furlongs is probably not his best trip. The one-turn mile should be good."

Vineyard Haven, who will break from post 5 under Alan Garcia, will be part of a favored entry along with Pyro, who will make the final start of his career in the Cigar. Pyro finished last in the Breeders' Cup Dirt mile, run over Santa Anita's Pro-Ride surface. Before that, he beat Kodiak Kowboy in the Grade 1 Forego at Saratoga. Richard Migliore will ride from post 3.

The defections of Munnings and Quality Road from the Cigar Mile took some of the speed out of the race. The New York-bred Driven by Success, who finished third in the Grade 1 Metropolitan Handicap, figures to be the main speed under Ramon Dominguez. Trainer Bruce Levine expects his horse to get pressure from Vineyard Haven, whom he labels the horse to beat.

Bribon finished third in the Cigar Mile last year after racing mostly in allowance company. This year, Bribon has competed in mostly stakes, winning the Grade 3 Westchester and Grade 1 Metropolitan Handicap. He comes off a fifth-place finish in the Grade 1 Woodbine Mile on turf.

"Last year I had a fresh horse just getting good," trainer Robert Ribaudo said. "This year, I've got a horse that's been good all year and raced hard all year."

Though trainer Shug McGaughey believes Vacation is a better horse on synthetic or turf, he entered the horse in the Cigar Mile because of how well he appears to be training.

"My option would be to send him to Calder next weekend in a grass race, but if something good could happen here it could be a career-maker," McGaughey said.