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Post Time: Will the Big A become the Doll House?

By Gene Kershner

It’s been a wacky week, starting with a run on Twinkies, the Big Ten adding two teams to become a 14-team conference, and concluding with Hewlett-Packard taking an $8.8 billion (that’s billion with a “b”) write-down primarily related to a 2011 acquisition. It’s no different in the world of thoroughbred horse racing as Groupie Doll will attempt to enter the history books. She would become the first filly to ever win the Grade 1 Cigar Mile on Saturday afternoon. In other major race of the weekend, Shackleford will make his final career start in the Grade 1 Clark Handicap late this afternoon at Churchill Downs.

By and away, the Cigar Mile is one of my favorite races of the year. Held at the Big A (Aqueduct Racetrack) in Ozone Park, N.Y., the one-turn mile race is the last of the biggest races on the New York Racing Association calendar. Groupie Doll (8-5), the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint winner, will attempt to win her fourth Grade 1 race of the year and potentially entering the Horse of the Year equation for Eclipse Award voters.

Groupie Doll was assigned 118 pounds, two pounds less than Coil (8-1), a Grade 1 winner, looking to bounce back from his seventh-place finish in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint who was designated the colt carrying the most weight. Trainer Buff Bradley wasn’t even thinking Cigar Mile after the Breeders’ Cup victory. “I wasn’t looking for another race for her; I wasn’t looking for a race against boys,” said Bradley. “I thought that trip [to and from California] might knock her back a little, but they had the parade of Breeders’ Cup champions here at Churchill last weekend and she was just feeling so good. We took her to the track to train her just to let her down a little. I never even thought about the Cigar Mile until that weekend.”

The Cigar will also feature 2011 Travers winner and second choice Stay Thirsty (7-2) and 2010 Cigar Mile winner Jersey Town (4-1) in addition to Coil and Groupie Doll. Hymn Book, Buffum and Associate will round out the seven horse field. Last year’s contest featured a win by To Honor and Serve who held off a late charging Hymn Book after fast early fractions. This year’s edition could prove to be historic should Groupie Doll off the victory. It will be her first start at the distance since she finished second against males in an optional claiming race in Florida in January. 

Stay Thirsty will be looking to add the Cigar Mile to his impressive resume. “It would be a huge win for him,” trainer Todd Pletcher said of the Cigar Mile. “For a horse that’s already accomplished a lot, especially a Travers winner, to also show the versatility to win at a mile would be a feather in his cap.” Ramon Dominguez will ride Stay Thirsty who drew the rail.

The Grade 1 Clark drew a field of 10, including Todd Pletcher’s Mission Impazible (5-1) Florida Derby winner Take Charge Indy (8-1) and Hawthorne Gold Cup winner Pool Play (5-1) a horse who savors the Churchill strip, winning last year’s Stephen Foster Handicap. Those three will be trying to send Shackleford off to retirement on a losing note. Jesus Castanon, who rode Shack in a winning effort in last year’s Preakness, regains the mount after giving way to New York-based riders Ramon Dominguez and John Velazquez in his last four efforts.

The Met Mile winner would love to close out his career with a win at historic Churchill Downs, but some pundits are questioning his connections choice to run in the two-turn Clark, to be run over 1 1/8-miles (5-1-2-0 career mark at the distance) versus the one-turn (3-1-2-0) Cigar Mile.

The Clark also includes former Queen’s Plate champion Eye of the Leopard (20-1), who finished third in the Prince of Wales at Fort Erie Race Track in 2009. Take Charge Indy returns to the scene of his last race, a 19th place finish in the Kentucky Derby where he suffered an ankle chip. He comes off a huge workout over last weekend and will try and regain the form he showed early in his 3-year-old season in Florida.

Another 3-year-old trying to establish himself with a Grade 1 win is Super Derby winner Bourbon Courage, (15-1) who finished second last out in the Indiana Derby. It should be a fun race to watch and see who emerges, last year current Horse of the Year favorite, Wise Dan, won his first ever Grade 1 race propelling him to a wonderful 2012 campaign.

Enjoy the races during this holiday weekend.

The field for the Grade 1, $350,000 Cigar Mile Handicap:








Stay Thirsty 



T A Pletcher




J R Velazquez


R E Dutrow, Jr.




E Castro


T Albertrani



Jersey Town

J Castellano


B Tagg



Hymn Book

J Rosario


C R McGaughey




M Garcia


B Baffert



Groupie Doll

R Maragh


W Bradley


Gene Kershner, a Buffalo-based turf writer, is a member of the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters Association, and tweets @EquiSpace.

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