by Heather Pettinger
Trainer Todd Pletcher will shoot for a record-extending fifth victory in the Grade 1, $500,000 Cigar Mile when he saddles the formidable Anchor Down to lead a spirited field of 10 in the 28th edition of the prestigious race Saturday at Aqueduct Racetrack.
The Cigar Mile, the cornerstone of the Aqueduct fall meet, will headline a stakes-packed day of racing at the Big A, also featuring the Grade 2, $300,000 Remsen for 2-year-olds, Grade 2, $300,000 Remsen for 2-year-old fillies, and the Grade 3, $250,000 Comely for 3-year-old fillies.
Owned by Alto Racing, Anchor Down scored his first win of 2016 with a 6 ¾-length victory in the Grade 3 Westchester in May. The 5-year-old Tapit ridgling returned in the Grade 1 Metropolitan Handicap on June 11 to finish second to Frosted, who took the Met Mile by a remarkable 14 ¼ lengths, and closed out his summer campaign with a six-place finish in the six-furlong Grade 1 Alfred G. Vanderbilt in July.
Anchor Down bounced back in his most recent start, picking up a career-high 108 Beyer Speed Figure for his front running, two-length score in the Grade 2 Kelso Handicap on October 8, completing the one-turn mile in a sharp 1:32 4/5, leading Pletcher to opt out of the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile, held around two turns, on November 4.
"He's been successful at different distances but it seems like his forte is a one-turn mile," said Pletcher, who also won the Cigar Mile with Stay Thirsty in 2012, Purge in 2005, Lion Tamer in 2004 and Left Bank in 2001. "Anytime you can run a solid 1:33 mile, you're in rarefied territory and that's part of the reason why we decided to wait for the Cigar Mile instead of taking him to the Breeders' Cup."
Tabbed as the 2-1 morning-line favorite, Anchor Down will leave from the rail with jockey Jose Ortiz, carrying a highweight of 121 pounds.
Lael Stable's Divining Rod will take his first shot at a Grade 1 since finishing third to American Pharoah in the 2015 Preakness. A three-length winner of the Grade 3 Lexington in April of that year, the Arnaud Delacour trainee returned from a 13-month layoff with a half-length optional-claiming win in September at Parx Racing. A 4-year-old colt by Tapit, Divining Rod followed up with a neck victory in an optional claimer on September 27 before rejoining stakes competition with a runner-up finish to a front-running Noble Bird in the Grade 2 Fayette at Keeneland.
"I was very happy [with the Fayette]," said Delacour. "He was game, he was clearly second best. We ran against a very tough horse, especially at the distance. I still have a question mark with him regarding how far he can go, and that's kind of why we're going back to a mile. He looks very good and makes a middle move, like he's going to get there, and then he hangs a little bit. And that's what he did in his last race at Keeneland, so I'm pretty excited to see him over a mile, because it might hit right between the eyes."
Normally a stalking type of runner, Divining Rod will be testing the one-turn-mile waters while donning blinkers for the first time as well.
"It's an experiment for sure," Delacour noted. "One thing I like about the one-turn mile is that they're going to go pretty quick and he's going to run at a target, which he needs. He's by Tapit so he's got a little bit of a funny side so, I mean, at least there will be enough pace in front of him to have something to aim at. We're putting blinkers on him for the first time and I hope that is going to help too. I think it's a good race to try the blinkers in."
Divining Rod, installed at 8-1 on the morning line, will be ridden from the outside post by Daniel Centeno.
Chad Brown, currently the 2016 leading trainer on the New York Racing Association circuit, will send a trio of 3-year-old contenders in search of his first Cigar Mile victory.
Leading the Brown triumvirate is Paul Pompa Jr.'s Connect, a half-length winner of the Grade 2 Pennsylvania Derby last time out on September 24. The dark bay Curlin colt picked up his first stakes win in July, winning his sire's namesake stakes by 3 ¾ lengths at Saratoga Race Course before running a well-beaten sixth in the Grade 1 Travers on August 27.
"We've always thought a lot of that horse," said Brown. "He ran pretty well in the Travers, but he didn't scope well [after], and hence, in the last stages of the race, he didn't finish like he used to, so I thought he had a legitimate excuse there. Once we got him cleaned up, the horse rebounded with a really strong effort in the Pennsylvania Derby."
Set as the 5-2 second-choice on the morning line, Connect will break from post 7 with Javier Castellano aboard.
Brown will also send Threefiveindia and Economic Model, both stretching out to a mile after running a respective 2-3 in the seven-furlong Grade 3 Bold Ruler Handicap on October 29 at Belmont Park.
Set to make his third stakes start of the year, Threefiveindia has notched an optional-claiming win and two graded stakes placings since transferring to Brown earlier this year.
"I thought his last race was impressive," said Brown. "He didn't get a great trip in there either. The horse encountered some trouble in the race and I thought that if he wasn't stuck inside, he would've won. He's a horse that keeps improving and he galloped out well last time, which gives me the feeling that he'll get a mile, especially a one-turn mile."
Economic Model, owned by Klaravich Stables and William H. Lawrence, posted a career-high 101 Beyer for his June 11 Easy Goer victory and finished a close second in the Grade 3 Dwyer in July. The son of Flatter added blinkers in the summer when he finished second to eventual Breeders' Cup Sprint winner Drefong in the Grade 1 King's Bishop.
"I think blinkers have made a difference, but he's always been a nice horse," Brown said. "I think he's encountered some traffic issues as well in his races so, hopefully, if he gets a clear trip here, he'll show his best."
Threefiveindia, 6-1, will have the services of Irad Ortiz, Jr. from post 9, while Economic Model will be ridden by Joel Rosario from post 2.
Two-time Cigar Mile-winning trainer Barclay Tagg will saddle a pair of runners in Tale of S'avall (20-1), third this summer in the Grade 3 Dwyer, and impressive allowance winner Realm (20-1), while trainer Kiaran McLaughlin, who trained Daaher to Cigar Mile victory in 2007, will send 2015 Grade 3 Sam F. Davis winner Ocean Knight (10-1), third in the Kelso last time out. Rounding out the field for the Cigar are Ralph Nicks-trained Mylute (30-1), fourth in the Bold Ruler, and Mario Serey's trainee, War Story (50-1), who finished a troubled eighth in the Breeders' Cup Classic.