February 2, 2023

Zandon shortens up, faces older in Cigar Mile

Zandon wins the Blue Grass Stakes (Photo by Coady Photography)

Three-year-olds have won two of the last three runnings of the $750,000 Cigar Mile H. (G1), a trend Zandon will look to continue on Saturday when the colt cuts back to one turn for the first time this season in the Aqueduct fixture, which anchors a four-stakes program.

Although the Cigar Mile marks Zandon’s first meeting with older rivals, the race does represent a drop in class for the Chad Brown trainee. Winner of the Blue Grass (G1) in April, Zandon has fallen short in four subsequent outings, placing in the Kentucky Derby (G1), Jim Dandy (G2), Travers (G1), and Pennsylvania Derby (G1) while routinely knocking heads with the likes of Epicenter, Taiba, and Cyberknife.

The field’s other three-year-old is White Abarrio, a fading fifth in the Pennsylvania Derby after unexpectedly setting the pace. The gray did his best work at Gulfstream last winter, taking the Holy Bull (G3) and Florida Derby (G1) in back-to-back starts.

The leading older contender is multiple Grade 1 winner Mind Control, a four-time graded stakes winner over the Big A strip. The six-year-old is scheduled to be retired following the Cigar Mile and enters off a third in the nine-furlong Charles Town Classic (G2) and an upset loss in the Parx Dirt Mile.

“He broke badly that day, but he ran a really credible third. The distance was a little out of his realm, but it was credible,” Rick Sacco, racing manager for co-owner Red Oak Stable, said of Mind Control’s effort in the Charles Town Classic. “We wheeled back to the Parx Mile because of the success he had the previous year and those were two quick races less than a month back. So, the idea was to give him all the time for a Grade 1 over a track that he loves and a distance that he’s awesome at. He runs really well fresh, and he loves the surface at Aqueduct.”

Others of note include California invader Get Her Number, the Bing Crosby (G1) runner-up and an allowance winner at Del Mar most recently, and Double Crown, who sprung a shocking 42-1 upset in the track-and-distance Kelso H. (G2) last time.

Battle Bling will put her three-race win streak on the line in the $200,000 Go for Wand (G3), a one-mile test for fillies and mares. Battle Bling shortens up from two turns after taking the 1 1/16-mile Twixt S. at Laurel and the 1 1/8-mile Turnback the Alarm (G3) at Aqueduct, the latter by a diminishing neck.

“We just gave her a couple of light breezes and she’s been real sharp out of (the Turnback the Alarm),” trainer Rob Atras said.

Two rivals that fended off Battle Bling in separate Aqueduct stakes earlier in the season also enter with fine local form. Bank Sting took the March 6 Heavenly Prize S. by a neck over Battle Bling, while Exotic West captured the April 10 Top Flight S. by three-quarters of a length. Love in the Air enters off back-to-back stakes wins against Pennsylvania-breds at Parx.