CIGAR MILE HANDICAP | PURSE: $500,000 | 3-YEAR-OLDS & UP | Grade 1 | 1 MILE
Preston Stables' hard-knocking Flat Out took the overland route to victory Nov. 30 in the Cigar Mile at Aqueduct Racetrack, a race worth $753,000 due to the winner's previous Grade 1-winning status.
Racing under jockey Junior Alvarado and a 119-pound impost, the 7-year-old son of Flatter was able to avoid traffic trouble that developed on the rail heading into the final turn, when Clearly Now under jockey Jose Lezcano had to steady after clipping heels with front-runner Private Zone.
The chain effect of that incident caused champion sprint mare Groupie Doll to steady and alter course. She ultimately ran fourth in a field of 10 while Flat Out closed from fifth at the quarter pole to finish 1 ¼ lengths in front. Final time was 1:34.68 for the mile on a fast track.
"This horse, I can't say enough about him," Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott said. "He's just been a real tough, durable horse, a horse that I've always felt may be as good at a flat mile as he is at 10 furlongs."
Flat Out sat reserved in the four path most of the way around, and was never far behind the top tier of runners. Private Zone, looking to rebound from a 10th-place finish in the Nov. 2 Xpressbet Breeders' Cup Sprint (gr. I), established control shortly after the start and drilled through an opening quarter in :22.59 and a half in :45.39. Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile winner and 3-1 favorite Goldencents was in close pursuit with Verrazano and Laugh Track also forwardly placed. Although Private Zone appeared ready to repel them all as he headed into the lane with a half-length advantage, Flat Out loomed.
"He broke very well," Alvarado said of the winner. "I put him in the race and made sure he wasn't too far back. I had a perfect trip. I couldn't ask for anything better than that. For him, I think it was the dream trip -- on the outside, clear, nothing bothering him, the speed was going very fast in front. When I asked him, he definitely gave me all he had. He's a very nice horse and he made a very nice run."
Arriving at the eighth pole half a length behind Private Zone, Flat Out forged his way to the front in the final sixteenth to collect his third Grade 1 victory. He added to the 2011 and 2012 editions of the TVG Jockey Club Gold Cup with his sixth graded stakes score overall.
The Cigar Mile victory was worth $450,000 to Flat Out, who was running for an enhanced gross purse of $750,000 as one of four Grade 1 winners in the field. Bred in Florida by Nikolas Block out of the Cresta Rider mare Cresta Lil, he has now earned $3,645,383 with a 9-5-5 record from 29 starts. He came off an eighth-place finish in the Nov. 2 Breeders' Cup Classic at Santa Anita Park, a race in which he finished third in 2012.
"Although he has won the Jockey Club Gold Cup twice at 10 furlongs, [he's] versatile enough to get up and get the job done at a mile," Mott said.
Flat Out had proven himself at one mile in the spring at Belmont Park when he won the Westchester by a head over Cross Traffic. He was also third in the grade I Metropolitan Handicap in May.
The Cigar Mile was the first graded stakes win away from Belmont for Flat Out, whose victories also include the 2011 and 2013 renewals of the Suburban Handicap. It was the third Cigar Mile victory for Mott, who had last won the race in 2011 with To Honor and Serve. Mott also won the race, then the NYRA Mile, in 1994 with Hall of Fame inductee Cigar. The NYRA Mile was renamed in honor of Cigar in 1997.
There was a stewards' inquiry into the stretch run, but the order was allowed to stand. Flat Out returned $15, $8.10, and $5.20 at odds of 6-1, while 32-1 Private Zone paid $28.20 and $18.40. Verrazano brought $4.40 two lengths back in third. Groupie Doll, Clearly Now, Forty Tales, Goldencents, Saratoga Snacks, Laugh Track, and Capo Bastone completed the order of finish. Praetereo scratched.
Private Zone's jockey, Martin Pedroza, gave credit to co-owner Rene Douglas of Good Friends Stable, the former jockey who manages the 4-year-old Macho Uno gelding. This year Private Zone also won the Vosburgh Invitational for trainer Doug O'Neill.
"He ran a brilliant race, there was no doubt about it," Pedroza said. "I give all the credit to Rene Douglas; he wanted to run in this race. He was right; this horse can go the distance. I think he can go two turns. He never stopped."
Jockey Rajiv Maragh said the traffic trouble was the cause of Groupie Doll's fourth-place finish; last year the two-time Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint winner was second in the Cigar Mile to Stay Thirsty by a nose.
"[Clearly Now] clipped heels and stumbled right in front of me and almost unseated the jockey at the quarter pole," Maragh explained. "Before that we were in perfect position and running really good. I had to alter my course and by the time I got her running again it cost us a lot."
Trainer Buff Bradley said he had no regrets for running the 5-year-old daughter of Bowman's Band after she was purchased Nov. 6 for $3.1 million by Mandy Pope at the Keeneland November breeding stock sale.
"Rajiv had some problems on the backside going into the turn," he said. "You can't [alter course] like that on this track. We took a shot. Mandy did a great job bringing her up here. That's why they load them in the gate. You have a good horse, you have to run."
Groupie Doll and Clearly Now weren't the only runners to encounter trouble in the race. When the gates opened Saratoga Snacks stumbled and was severely pinched, and Goldencents and Capo Bastone also bumped sharply at the break.