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Lion Tamer wins the 2004 Cigar Mile

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2004 Cigar Mile

Lion Tamer wins over Badge of Silver and Pico Central in the 2004 Cigar Mile.

Walter Pitcher
Updated November 29, 2004
Saturday afternoon's 16th running of the Grade 1, $350,000 Cigar Mile was a chance for Brazilian-bred Pico Central to stake a serious claim as the top sprinter of 2004. He had beaten eventual Breeders' Cup Sprint winner Speightstown during a campaign in which he became the only horse to win three of New York's top, Grade 1 sprint and middle-distance distance races: the Carter Handicap, the Metropolitan Handicap (Met Mile) and the Vosburgh.

With Speightstown retired, and California-invader Kela scratched because of a temperature spike on Saturday morning, Pico Central seemed in an ideal spot to put his argument to rest in the Cigar Mile. But trainer Todd Pletcher had a closer in his barn named Lion Tamer and the 4-year-old son of Will's Way got the trip and the pace scenario to flatter his style and scampered to a 1 1/4-length victory over Badge of Silver, who nosed Pico Central for the place. Pico Central, breaking from the rail, had taken the lead soon after the start and got the first quarter mile in :22 2/5. He was soon joined by several horses, but continued to show the way after a half in :44 1/5 and three-quarters in 1:08 1/5.

It was tough enough that Pico Central had to carry top weight of 123 pounds, but he was going at a testing pace. "He took the lead easy the first quarter," said jockey Victor Espinoza. "After that, everyone came next to me. I still had a lot of horse when I turned for home, but at the eighth-pole, he put his head up and he didn't feel very comfortable. When I got off him in the paddock, I saw he lost a shoe."

While Pico Central was having his troubles, Lion Tamer was taken wide by jockey Jose Santos and made a huge back-to-front move that carried him to the victory in 1:33 2/5. "I told a bunch of the valets that this race set up perfectly for this horse," Santos said. "He likes Aqueduct. His way is coming around horses and he did that today. He ran a tremendous race." Lion Tamer, owned by Michael Tabor, also may have done some good for his stablemate, Speightstown, according to Pletcher.

"You know that Pico Central is a game horse," Pletcher said. "I was just worried that maybe Lion Tamer had gotten there too soon. But when you have momentum like that, you don't want to take it away. He was rolling along. That was the strategy: to make one run. I always thought he was the horse good enough to win a Grade 1. I really didn't plan on going in here with him, but he ran so well in the Sport Page (second, October 31st), he obviously liked the track and he was training so well afterwards. We decided to take a shot.

"When you break it down, going into this race, Speightstown had beaten Kela and Kela had beaten Pico Central, so everyone had one loss on their record. Now, Pico Central has two. As far as champion sprinter goes, I think the one race that really solidifies the championship is the Breeders' Cup (Sprint). When you show up on a neutral playing field against everybody and win, if it is close, that's what separates the closeness. I obviously have a biased opinion, but I think if there is anyone out there that was on the bubble, maybe this sways them the other way."

Paulo Lobo, Pico Central's trainer, refused to concede the election. "He lost his right-back shoe," Lobo said. "With the rail, there is no option. We talked before the race about trying to leave one or two horses in front of him, but from there, it was impossible. Aldebaran did the same thing last year, and he was sprint champion. Pico won the Vosburgh, Carter and the Met Mile. He ran the first three-quarters of the Carter in less than 1:08 (1:07 2/5). Now, we'll have to wait until January [for the Eclipse Awards announcements]. We have no plans with him right now, but he will run next year."

On to the Remsen Stakes
On to the Demoiselle Stakes

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