11/29/2014 6:41PM

Private Zone impossible to catch in Cigar Mile

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Barbara D. Livingston
Private Zone and jockey Martin Pedroza win the Grade 1 Cigar Mile by five lengths Saturday.

OZONE PARK, N.Y. – Jockey Martin Pedroza changed his normal prerace routine aboard Private Zone before Saturday’s Grade 1 Cigar Mile at Aqueduct for two reasons. First, he wanted to make sure the gelding left the gate quickly from the rail. Second, well, the Southern California-based jockey was cold.

“I usually only jog this horse,” Pedroza said. “Today, I warmed him up good because it’s cold, and I want to make sure he left there running.”

At the end of a chilly late-fall afternoon at Aqueduct, before a crowd of 5,663, Private Zone certainly heated things up with a front-running tour de force in the Cigar Mile, taking command soon after the start and galloping away to a five-length victory.

Secret Circle, the 5-2 favorite, chased Private Zone around the track but had to settle for second, a neck over Bourbon Courage. He was followed by Big Business, Vyjack, Noble Moon, Regally Ready, Transparent, and Itsmyluckyday.

The win was the seventh in 25 starts for Private Zone, a 5-year-old Canadian-bred by Macho Uno. It was his third Grade 1 stakes victory in the U.S., all of them coming in New York. Private Zone won the Grade 1 Vosburgh at Belmont Park in 2013 and again last month. Under the conditions of the Cigar Mile, Private Zone was running for the winner’s share of a $750,000 purse. He earned $450,000 for the win.

The victory also helped avenge a second-place finish in this race last year for Private Zone, who clipped heels with Clearly Now at the head of the stretch.

Aqueduct’s main track was favoring inside speed, and Private Zone had the rail and the most speed. He broke alertly and opened up a 1 1/2-length lead after a quarter-mile in 22.18 seconds and a half-mile in 44.18. While those fractions were fast for this track, trainer Alfredo Velazquez was not concerned.

“When I saw 44, I said, ‘They’re going to have come and get him,’ ” Velazquez said.

Private Zone had a two-length lead after six furlongs in 1:08.34, and despite running a relatively slow final quarter of 26:05, he extended his lead in the stretch. He ran a mile in 1:34.39 and returned $11.60 to win.

“Unbelievable,” Pedroza said. “I expected him to run good, but not that good.”

Joel Rosario said his mount, Secret Circle, stumbled at the break but quickly recovered. He was tracking Private Zone but said he had to ride his horse harder to get his position than Pedroza had to ride to maintain his.

“I thought the horse who won the race was in control the whole way,” Rosario said.

Hilton Gordon, the managing partner of Good Friends Stable, which owns Private Zone, said plans for the gelding are in flux. He said he would speak with Rene Douglas, the former rider who found the horse and put the partnership together, to decide what next to do with Private Zone.

“I’m pretty sure he’ll end up in Florida, either on a farm for a little bit or in light training,” Gordon said.