by NYRA Press Office
Mendelssohn, the 2-1 morning-line favorite for Saturday's $750,000 Cigar Mile presented by NYRA Bets, enjoyed his first steps over the Aqueduct main track on Friday morning as he continues his quest for a Grade 1 win on a dirt track.
The regally-bred Scat Daddy bay, a half-brother to both champion mare Beholder and leading sire Into Mischief, cleared quarantine at Belmont Park on Thursday before shipping to Aqueduct later that afternoon.
On Friday morning, a vociferous Mendelssohn, piloted by Alan Crowe, in company with maiden winner Family Tree, under Craig Bryson, trotted once around the track before picking up the pace.
"They just went around from the 7 1/2-furlong marker on the main track on the bend. It was just a gentle canter back around past the winning post, just to stretch his legs," said T.J. Comerford, assistant to trainer Aidan O'Brien. "He's had two days off in the barn. That's him now, he was just stretching his legs more than anything."
While Mendelssohn will be the first starter at Aqueduct for O'Brien, the barn is familiar with the facility, having previously stabled horses at the Big A ahead of starts at Belmont.
"It's a nice track here at Aqueduct. We used to come and quarantine here, and we might ride out a bit here before going to Belmont to race. It's a grand track and saddling area," said Comerford.
The well-traveled Mendelssohn, bred in Kentucky by Clarkland Farm, has competed in Ireland, England, Dubai and the United States while posting a career record of 4-2-2 from 12 starts including scores in the Grade 1 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf and the Group 2 UAE Derby.
Comerford said that Mendelssohn, who boasts $2,497,137 in purse earnings, has settled in well at Aqueduct.
"He's been very good. I'm very surprised how relaxed he is. He let a few shouts out this morning, which is good for him. Anytime I've brought him away that's a trait of his. He's in good order," said Comerford.
After three consecutive Grade 1 starts at 1 1/4 miles, including a second in the Runhappy Travers, a third in the Jockey Club Gold Cup and a solid fifth, after setting a swift pace, in the Breeders' Cup Classic, Mendelssohn will cut back to a one-turn mile on Saturday as he looks to best a talented group of eight.
Comerford said the colt, who will stand at Coolmore America's Ashford Stud in Kentucky in 2019, has the speed to get the job done.
"He's won over farther in Dubai and he gets a mile and a quarter, but he's a very quick horse and I'm sure he'll get the mile very well. We'll know a lot more tomorrow. Aidan is very pleased with him and he seems to be in good order," said Comerford.
Ryan Moore, also making his first appearance at Aqueduct, will guide Mendelssohn out of the inside post.
The lucrative Cigar Mile card, which includes the Grade 2, $250,000 Remsen for 2-year-olds, the Grade 2, $250,000 Demoiselle for 2-year-old fillies, and the Grade 3, $250,000 Go For Wand Handicap for older fillies and mares, features a special first post of 11:30 a.m. with gates open to the public at 10:30 a.m.
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Lightly raced Copper Town just keeps getting better
Trained by Todd Pletcher for an ownership group closely resembling the one that campaigned 2018 Triple Crown winner Justify, Copper Town will be making just his fifth career start over the space of two and a half years, and his first in the graded stakes ranks, when he contests the Grade 1 Cigar Mile Handicap presented by NYRA Bets.
Despite the unusual trajectory of his career, Copper Town has remained steadfast in his ascent to graded stakes contender. His racing odyssey commenced with an inauspicious debut on February 25, 2017 at Gulfstream Park, when he finished second beaten three lengths, and the effort was immediately followed by a lengthy hiatus from the track.
Making his next start nearly seven months later, a completely different Copper Town showed up on September 10 at Belmont Park, already well into his sophomore season. The son of Speightstown blitzed a field of six other maidens, defeating eventual Grade 2 winner Backyard Heaven by 3 ¾ lengths in the process. For an encore, he upped the ante with another gate-to-wire score on October 7 at Belmont, this time prevailing by 6 ¼ lengths over fellow Cigar Mile entrant Patternrecognition, but again the star-crossed bay was forced to hit the sidelines, this time for more than a year.
When he again resurfaced, on October 13 of this year at Keeneland, the Pletcher trainee picked up right where he left off, waltzing to a five-length victory over second-level optional claiming foes as the 3-5 favorite.
"He was a very forward horse and did everything right from Day 1," said Pletcher's assistant, Byron Hughes. "We were always high on him and he definitely did not disappoint us. His morning workouts transferred over to the afternoon. He hasn't done anything wrong for us.
"He ran very well in his comeback, especially coming off the pace the way he did," Hughes added. "He's trained well heading into the Cigar Mile, so we're expecting another big race from him. It wasn't necessarily the plan coming into the year, but it worked out timing-wise and, given how impressive he was off the layoff, we thought that he would definitely be able to step up and take on this level of competition."
Working in Copper Town's favor on Saturday is the current hot streak the Pletcher barn is on, as well as the trainer's past success in the Cigar Mile. As of November 29, Pletcher sits tied atop the trainer standings for the Aqueduct fall meet with 11 wins from 41 starters - a noticeable turnaround after a slow middle portion of the year by the prolific horseman's standards - and he has won the prestigious one-mile dirt event four times, starting with Left Bank in 2001.
"We didn't exactly have our best Saratoga meet, that's for sure, but we had a solid Belmont fall meet and we're having a good meet right now, so hopefully we can close it out on Sunday and get the win here," said Hughes.
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Brown holds strong hand on Cigar Mile card
After capturing the last three meet titles on the New York Racing Association circuit, trainer Chad Brown, currently third in the Aqueduct trainer standings with 10 wins entering Friday's card, will attempt to make a run at winning the Aqueduct Fall meet title, which comes to its conclusion on Sunday, with a strong contingent of stakes contenders for Saturday's Cigar Mile card.
In the Cigar Mile, Brown will saddle a formidable pair in Patternrecognition, for Klaravich Stables and owner William Lawrence, and Timeline, for Woodford Racing. Both are exiting the Grade 2 Kelso on September 22 at Belmont Park, which Patternrecognition won and Timeline ran third with fellow Cigar Mile-entrant Sunny Ridge in second.
Brown said he expects the pair to move forward off of their Kelso efforts.
"They both have continued to train good heading into this race," said Brown. "Patternrecognition seems to really be coming into peak form, winning his last two starts, and Timeline as well seems to be doing fine."
In the Grade 2 Remsen for juveniles, Brown will send out Network Effect for Klaravich Stables. Brown and Klaravich Stables teamed up to win the Remsen in 2014 with Leave the Light On. The Mark Valeski colt won his debut on August 11 at Saratoga by three lengths and followed up that victory with a second-place finish in the Grade 3 Nashua on November 4 at the Big A.
"His last race was a good prep race for him," said Brown. "He got a touch sick coming off his maiden win, but he's rounding back into form very nicely."
In Saturday's Grade 3 Go For Wand, which will see the East Coast return of Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert's Marley's Freedom following a fourth-place finish in the Grade 1 Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint, Brown will saddle Pacific Wind, for owners Peter Brant, Sharon Alesia, Ciaglia Racing and Dominic Savides, as well as Your Love for owner Paul Pompa Jr.
A 4-year-old daughter of Curlin, Pacific Wind has made five starts this year highlighted by a victory in the Grade 2 Ruffian at Belmont on May 6. Last out, she ran third in the Grade 1 Spinster on October 7 at Keeneland. Your Love, a 4-year-old daughter of Flatter, finished a game second in the Grade 2 Gallant Bloom in her last start.
"The Go For Wand came up tough, much more so than I expected," said Brown. "But they're each doing well, and we feel the cutback from one and one eighth miles in the Spinster should benefit Pacific Wind, as well as the stretch out in distance for Your Love coming off her second in the Gallant Bloom."
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Sunny Ridge, Bonita Bianca give Servis chance to end year on a high note
Trainer Jason Servis will look to put an exclamation point on a sensational year when he sends out Sunny Ridge in the Cigar Mile Handicap presented by NYRA Bets and Bonita Bianca in the Go For Wand on Saturday at Aqueduct Racetrack.
Servis, a West Virginia-born horseman based primarily in the mid-Atlantic, has set career highs in three major categories this year: wins, earnings, and win percentage. His win rate, in particular, jumps off the page as it rests at a robust 32 percent - three points higher than his previous best, which he set in 2017, and sixth best among trainers who have started more than 100 horses in 2018.
Amazingly, Servis has accomplished this feat while establishing a much greater presence on the highly competitive NYRA circuit, which is due in no small part to the backing of one of New York's leading owners, Michael Dubb, as well as his frequent collaboration with the nation's leading rider, Irad Ortiz, Jr.
"I'm glad I can ride first call for a guy like [Jason]. He's a great trainer," said Ortiz, who has compiled $26.2 million in earnings this year from more than 300 winners. "He's given me the opportunity and we've had a great year together. No matter what, his horses come ready to run. He's got a great team."
With more than $1 million in earnings, Sunny Ridge, who will be ridden by Ortiz on Saturday, will look to pad his growing bankroll in the Cigar Mile. The 5-year-old gray gelding has raced somewhat sparingly since debuting in June of 2015, when he was entered for a tag of $40,000, but has enjoyed consistent success despite making a limited number of starts each year.
As a juvenile, Sunny Ridge took down the Sapling Stakes at Monmouth Park and also finished second in the Grade 1 Champagne at Belmont Park and the lucrative Grade 3 Delta Downs Jackpot. In his sophomore year, he won the Grade 3 Withers at Aqueduct and placed third in the Grade 1 Haskell at Monmouth Park, Servis' home track. Last year he won the Jazil and Stymie at Aqueduct to further establish his affinity for the Big A oval, and this year he won the State Dinner and checked in second behind Cigar Mile rival Patternrecognition in the Grade 2 Kelso at Belmont.
"He's a nice horse and he always tries hard," Ortiz said of Sunny Ridge. "It's not an easy race but he's got a shot. He's honest. He always breaks good and puts me in a good spot. He's got the talent, so we'll see."
Sunny Ridge and Ortiz will break from post 2 and are listed at 9-2 on the morning line in a contentious edition of the Aqueduct fall meet's premier dirt race.
After transferring to the Servis barn for her 2018 campaign, Bonita Bianca has continued her winning ways for a partnership comprised of Dubb, Bethlehem Stables, and Michael Imperio. The daughter of Curlin kicked off the year by winning an optional claimer at Monmouth and followed it up two starts later by taking the Union Avenue Stakes against fellow New York-breds at Saratoga Race Course. In her most recent race, the chestnut filly served notice that she was ready for open stakes competition by clobbering a full field of statebreds by six lengths in the Empire Distaff on October 20 at Belmont.
Bonita Bianca was tabbed at 6-1 on the morning line and will leave from post 4 with Jose Lezcano aboard as she seeks her eighth win from 15 starts.
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Toys for Tots returns on Cigar Mile Day
Saturday's Cigar Mile card marks the return of the annual Marine Corps Reserve Toys for Tots Foundation weekend of giving at Aqueduct Racetrack on Saturday, December 1 and Sunday, December 2.
With the holiday season approaching, Toys for Tots will collect new, unwrapped toys, cash contributions, and checks made payable to Toys for Tots, with donation boxes located at the main Clubhouse entrance and the Turf and Field entrance. Saturday will also be the first of two Stocking Stuffer Sales at Aqueduct, with a portion of the proceeds going to Toys for Tots. The sale of past giveaway items will continue on Saturday, December 15.
To learn more about the Marine Toys for Tots program, visit toysfortots.org.