Castellano Has First Date with Sharp Azteca in Cigar Mile Breeze

The Cigar Mile is drawing a solid field that will include Sharp Azteca, Practical Joke, Mind Your Biscuits and Toms Ready. . (photo credit: © Cheryl Quigley | Dreamstime.com)

(NYRA Press Office) Gelfenstein Farm’s multiple graded stakes winner Sharp Azteca turned in a six-furlong breeze Saturday morning at Gulfstream Park West, his final work ahead of the Grade 1, $750,000 Cigar Mile Handicap presented by NYRA Bets on Saturday, December 2 at Aqueduct Racetrack.

Expected to ride Sharp Azteca for the first time in the Cigar Mile, New York-based jockey Javier Castellano flew to South Florida for the early-morning move, guiding the 4-year-old Freud colt through six furlongs in 1:13, according to track clockers. Immediately after the work, Castellano had to catch a flight to California for riding engagements at Del Mar on Saturday afternoon, but trainer Jorge Navarro said his conversation with the Hall of Fame rider yielded nothing but accolades for the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile runner-up.

“He’s not the type of guy that says much, but he sounded impressed with the horse,” said Navarro. “We didn’t have much time to talk right after, but he called me from the airport and he told me he really liked him. He’s never been on him before, that was their first date, and he was very, very pleased with how the horse worked. We know each other from South Florida and we have a pretty good relationship, and it makes everything so much easier for me to hear that from a jockey like Javier Castellano.”

In the Dirt Mile on November 3, the speedy colt led under a pressured early pace but couldn’t hold off a late charge from Battle of Midway, finishing a half-length behind the winner to record his third second-place finish in as many tries against Grade 1 company. Sharp Azteca has finished in the money in all six starts this year, including wins in the Grade 2 Gulfstream Park Handicap, the Grade 3 Monmouth Cup, and, prior to the Breeders’ Cup, a four-length victory in the Grade 2 Kelso Handicap at a one-turn mile on September 23 at Belmont Park.

“One turn, two turns, I don’t think it matters for him. He’s just a straight-up runner,” said Navarro. “I think he’s a horse that shows up to every dance. The only time he didn’t show up was the second time I ran him and he was getting over a foot issue. Aside from that, I can’t remember the last time he ran a bad race. I take my hat off to him for that.

“That’s the way he does things, he goes out there and he shows up, he runs,” he said. “That was a big race at Del Mar, that was a huge race. I was pretty pleased with how he did. How much can I ask? I can’t be upset about it. I want nothing but the best for him. I do want to win that race and I want to win a Grade 1 for him, but I’m sure that’s just around the corner.”

The Cigar Mile had been on the connections’ radar for months, Navarro said, but plans to run Sharp Azteca once more in his 4-year-old season were nearly scrapped in the days following the Breeders’ Cup.

“Before the Breeders’ Cup, he had never shown me signs of being tired,” he said. “But the first two days after the race, I could see he was tired. I could see it in his eyes. When we moved him back to Florida, the plans for the Cigar Mile were on a day-to-day basis. I wanted to see how he came back, how he was acting, how he was eating. If he wasn’t 100 percent, we were going to give him 45-50 days, send to him out to the farm for a few weeks. We want to get that Grade 1, but we also want to make sure he’s happy, doing good. We don’t want to run him just to run him.

“About two weeks ago, he started showing us that he was ready to do something and now he’s back to his normal self,” he added. “I think he’s put on weight since the Breeders’ Cup. He looks amazing. And, the way he worked today, I think Castellano fell in love with him. He’s ready now. Hopefully, he’s not a straight Floridian and he’ll like the cold weather up there.”

Sharp Azteca will ship from Gulfstream Park West early Tuesday morning and is expected to settle in at Aqueduct later that afternoon.

Probable fields for Cigar Mile Day stakes on Saturday, December 2:

Grade 1, $750,000 Cigar Mile – 3-year-olds and up at one mile

Probable: Americanize (Simon Callaghan); Beasley (Mark Hennig); Mind Your Biscuits (Chad Summers); Neolithic (Todd Pletcher); Practical Joke (Chad Brown); Seymourdini (Linda Rice); Sharp Azteca (Jorge Navarro); Summer Revolution (Rudy Rodriguez); Tale of S’avall (Barclay Tagg); Tom’s Ready (Dallas Stewart)

Possible: Just Call Kenny (Patrick McBurney); Vulcan’s Forge (Pletcher)

Grade 2, $250,000 Remsen – 2-year-olds at 1 1/8 miles

Probable: Alkhaatam (C. Brown); Avery Island (Kiaran McLaughlin); Bandito (Dale Romans); Biblical (Pletcher); Catholic Boy (Johnathan Thomas); Tap Rap Strike (John Servis); V. I. P. Code (Phil Schoenthal)

Possible: Marconi (Pletcher); Vouch (Arnaud Delacour)

Grade 2, $250,000 Demoiselle – 2-year-old fillies at 1 1/8 miles

Probable: Daisy (John Servis); Held Accountable (Phil Serpe); Indy Union (Jeremiah Englehart); Layla Noor (Delacour); Maurer Power (John Servis); Silver Bay (William Hickey); Wonder Gadot (Mark Casse)

Possible: Stakes on a Plane (Michael Catalano, Jr.); Steamy Hot (Mary Eppler); Sweet Like Char (Kelly Breen); Vindictive Ways (Francis Abbott, III)

Grade 3, $200,000 Go For Wand Handicap – fillies & mares, 3 & up at a mile

Probable: Flora Dora (Marialice Coffey); Going for Broke (C. Brown); Indulgent (McLaughlin); Jamyson ‘n Ginger (C. Brown); Verve’s Tale (Tagg);

Possible: Felini (McLaughlin); Highway Star (Rodrigo Ubillo); Julerette (Ben Colebrook)