The three-year-old Practical Joke will be running his last race on Saturday in the $750,000 Cigar Mile H. (G1) at Aqueduct, a race his proclivities suggest he has a strong chance of winning.
“He’s undefeated around one turn and we’re hoping he ends his career that way,” trainer Chad Brown said.
In 11 starts, the Ashford Stud-bound son of Into Mischief is five-for-five in races contested around one turn and zero-for-six at two turns. A non-competitive fourth in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (G1) at Del Mar in early November, he could find the Big A layout much more to his liking as he seeks to tally a fourth Grade 1 victory.
“We were proud of his effort in the race,” said Brown of the Dirt Mile. “He tried very hard, as always, but he just couldn’t get the job done over that surface, with that setup, against those horses on that day.”
The youngest of the 10 Cigar Mile entrants, Practical Joke captured the Hopeful (G1) and Champagne (G1) at two, and this season has won the Dwyer (G3) and H. Allen Jerkens (G1). While some of his two-turn attempts have been game — close losses in the Blue Grass (G2) and Haskell Invitational (G1) stick out — bettors have come to rely on his prowess in the shorter events.
He has a tough cast to beat in the Cigar. Sharp Azteca is no slouch himself at the one-turn mile, with blowout wins in the Gulfstream Park H. (G2) and Kelso H. (G2) among his three stakes wins on the season. Unlike Practical Joke, he’s strut his better stuff around two turns as well, as evidenced by his narrow beat in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile to Battle of Midway.
Also exiting a solid Breeders’ Cup performance is Mind Your Biscuits, third behind Roy H and Imperial Hint in the TwinSpires Sprint (G1). Unplaced in his only try at a mile, the four-year-old’s highlights include wins in the 2016 Malibu (G1), and the Dubai Golden Shaheen (G1) and Belmont Sprint Championship (G2) this term.
Three of the top four from the October 28 Bold Ruler H. (G3) — Tom’s Ready, Beasley, and Seymourdini — return for the Cigar, while Bold Ruler runner-up Stallwalkin’ Dude has already franked the form a bit by winning last week’s Fall Highweight H. (G3). In the seven-furlong Bold Ruler, Tom’s Ready rallied from last and 11 lengths down to win by three parts of a length. He’ll head to stud at Spendthrift after Saturday’s run.
Of the remaining four, the improving Americanize might be the most intriguing candidate following a win in the $200,000 Damascus at Del Mar on Breeders’ Cup Friday.
The $200,000 Go for Wand H. (G3), for fillies and mares at one mile, features a field of seven. Highway Star, winner of the Gallant Bloom H. (G2), Ruffian (G2), and Distaff H. (G3) this season, could go off favored despite a recent 11th-place effort in the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint (G1).
“She came out of her Breeders’ Cup race fine,” trainer Rodrigo Ubillio said. “We were a little bit closer to the pace than she wanted. I don’t think that trip suited her style at all, but we’re looking to regroup and move forward. I’ve always thought a mile was her best distance. We’ll see how the trip works out, but we know she likes Aqueduct and is doing well, so we’re optimistic.”
Verve’s Tale, who won the Comely (G3) here last November, was most recently second in the October 28 Turnback the Alarm H. (G3) under Joel Rosario, who subsequently lost the mount on another Charles Fipke-owned mare, Forever Unbridled, in the following week’s Breeders’ Cup Distaff (G1). As was the case in the Distaff, John Velazquez takes over riding duties on Verve’s Tale.
“Last time, I thought the jockey moved too soon around the turn and we got caught at the wire,” trainer Barclay Tagg said. “This time we’ll have Johnny Velazquez aboard, so as long he looks at the past performances and studies up I think we’ll be in good shape.”
Also lining up are multiple graded stakes winner Lucy N Ethel, winner of the $100,000 Pumpkin Pie last out, and the three-year-old Jamyson ‘n Ginger, exiting a sharp allowance win over the track and distance on November 9.