Originally known as the NYRA Mile, the Cigar Mile Handicap was first run in 1988. The name was changed in 1997 following the retirement of Cigar, the 1994 winner of this race, who would go on to earn two straight Horse of the Year titles following his NYRA Mile victory.
Like its spring equivalent the Met Mile, the Cigar Mile typically features intriguing matchups of the country’s top sprinters and routing handicap horses. That is certainly the case this year as Private Zone squares off against Tonalist.
Private Zone (#7) is clearly the fastest horse in the race, having run speed figures exceeding 130 on three separate occasions during the past year, including his bias-aided winning effort in this race last year. His only early competition figures to come from the lightly raced Marking (#1), who isn’t certain to start in this race. Even if that one does run, he may not be quick enough to seriously pressure Private Zone early.
During his illustrious career, this often underrated gelding has swept the most prestigious sprint and mile races in New York, taking the Vosburgh twice, and the Forego and Cigar Mile once each. His failures in the Breeders’ Cup are some of the few blemishes on his record, but he would surely have to be considered one of the most accomplished sprinter/milers of the decade if he were able to win this race for a second time.
We have the utmost respect for Tonalist (#5) and would love to see him do well in this race. The 2014 Belmont winner would add a great deal to his value as a stallion if he were to pick up a Grade 1 victory over a mile. He nearly accomplished that feat in the aforementioned Metropolitan Handicap this spring, a race in which he beat Private Zone. However, that proved to be Honor Code’s day to shine, forcing Tonalist to settle for a minor prize, as has been the case on a number of occasions this season.
Christophe Clement now puts the blinkers back on Tonalist in hopes that he’ll show more aggression early in the race. The move worked this spring, but those one-turn mile races set up well for horses with his closing style. That might not the case this time.
As far as the others are concerned, Marking (#1) may ultimately turn out to be one of the most talented horses in this bunch, but this may be too much too soon as he tackles Grade 1 company in just his third career start. He did earn an excellent 122 speed figure for his impressive allowance score last time, but he will likely have to run considerably faster than that to beat Private Zone today. Matrooh (#4) came from just off the pace to take the Grade 3 Bold Ruler, but has never faced a field of this caliber on dirt and appears to be overmatched. Tonalist’s stablemate Red Vine (#3) is an effective miler, but he could conceivably run the best race of his life and still do no better than third against this crew.
As handicapping puzzles go, this Cigar Mile appears to be rather uncomplicated:
PRIVATE ZONE (#7) is supposed to wire the field. The Pace Projector isn’t predicting a situation that favors the leaders, but it does show Private Zone clearly in front early. He is one of the gutsiest horses in training and is so tough to get by when he’s allowed to get brave on the front end.
This should be an enjoyable race to watch, but isn’t necessarily a great wagering opportunity. We can’t bet against Private Zone (#7), but we aren’t in love with the idea of wagering on him to win at 6/5. Conversely, we’d need a price of 3/1 or greater in order to support Tonalist in this race, and we doubt we’ll get that.
We would recommend keying on Private Zone (#7) in the late Pick-4. If you’re committed to making intra-race wagers on the Cigar Mile, a horse like Red Vine (#3) could offer value in exactas and trifectas behind Private Zone.