A gallant second in his three prior Grade 1 tries, Gelfenstein Farm’s Sharp Azteca seized an overdue laurel in Saturday’s $750,000 Cigar Mile (G1) at Aqueduct – with an assist from new rider Javier Castellano’s tactical adjustment aboard the 8-5 favorite.
The Jorge Navarro trainee has typically mixed it up on the front end, and his early exertions have told in his Grade 1 placings. Just denied in last December’s Malibu (G1), Sharp Azteca most recently lost a heartbreaker to Battle of Midway in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (G1). His loss in the Metropolitan Mile (G1) on Belmont Day came by a far bigger margin – six lengths – to Mor Spirit, who ran a career-best that day.
With plenty of speed signed on for the Cigar Mile, Sharp Azteca could have endured another tough beat. But Castellano was too astute for that. Although Sharp Azteca broke sharply, Americanize and Seymourdini were intent on going forward. Castellano sensibly eased Sharp Azteca back into a stalking third. Thus he masterminded the ideal trip, sitting in the proverbial catbird’s seat watching a pressured Seymourdini reel off fractions of :22.78 and :45.97 on the fast track.
Sharp Azteca made his move leaving the far turn, readily overtaking the leaders at the six-furlong mark in 1:10.90, and the 125-pound highweight pulled 5 1/4 lengths clear down the stretch. The rallying Mind Your Biscuits, who’d caught Sharp Azteca in the Malibu, couldn’t get close enough to threaten in the rematch and settled for second.
The final time of the Cigar Mile, 1:35.17, was more than two full seconds faster than Indulgent’s 1:37.75 posted in the Go for Wand (G3) earlier on the card.
Practical Joke, left with a lot to do by racing in last early, made late headway to grab third from Americanize. Sustaining his first career loss around one turn, Practical Joke now retires to Coolmore’s Ashford Stud for the 2018 breeding season.
The top three were all exiting the Breeders’ Cup. Mind Your Biscuits had been third in the Sprint (G1), while Practical Joke was fourth in the two-turn Dirt Mile. Since the Dirt Mile produced the first and third in the Cigar Mile, the victorious Battle of Midway got a form boost ahead of his new stud career at WinStar.
Tom’s Ready, likewise making his finale before taking up stud duty at Spendthrift, never factored in fifth. Next came Just Call Kenny, Vulcan’s Forge, Beasley, Seymourdini, and Summer Revolution.
Sharp Azteca has now bankrolled $1,756,740 from his 16-8-5-1 record, compiled at 10 different racetracks. At three, the son of Freud captured the 2016 Pat Day Mile (G3) at Churchill Downs and the City of Laurel along with runner-up efforts in the Malibu at Santa Anita and Louisiana Downs’ Prelude. Sharp Azteca opened his four-year-old campaign by romping in the Gulfstream Park H. (G2). Taking his game further afield for the Godolphin Mile (G2) on the Dubai World Cup program at Meydan, he was swamped late and relegated to third. After his Met Mile second upon return, he aired in a track-record Monmouth Cup (G3) and the Kelso (G2) at Belmont Park on the way to the Breeders’ Cup at Del Mar.
Bred by Cloyce C. Clark Jr. in Kentucky, Sharp Azteca first sold for $35,000 as an OBS August yearling, but commanded $220,000 back at OBS as an April two-year-old. The dark bay was produced by the Saint Liam mare So Sharp, an unraced half-sister to Grade 2 winner Mint Lane and Grade 1-placed Sister Girl Blues, the dam of 2015 Sunland Derby (G3) track record-setter and Kentucky Derby (G1) runner-up Firing Line. Another of So Sharp’s half-siblings, Remembered, is responsible for current multiple Grade 2-placed stakes scorer Bowies Hero. Sharp Azteca’s fifth dam is Canadian champion and Kentucky Broodmare of the Year Kamar.
Navarro indicated that Sharp Azteca could stretch out to 1 1/8 miles for the $16 million Pegasus World Cup (G1) on January 27 at Gulfstream Park.
Quotes from NYRA
Trainer Jorge Navarro on Sharp Azteca: “I bought him. I picked him. It means a lot. When the horse was a 3-year-old, I mentioned that he was one of the top 3-year-olds and another trainer came up to me and said, ‘Are you kidding, do you know what you are talking about?’ Here it is. He is the only (member of the 2016 three-year-old class) still around.
“Everything with him is details. He came out (of the Breeders’ Cup) tired. We paid attention to every little thing. We wanted to do the right thing. And I know we were sitting on that Grade 1, and you know what, I wasn’t expecting this big of a performance. He ran his eyes out. What else can I ask?”
On possibly trying the $16 million Pegasus World Cup: “After this performance, why not? We are going to see how he comes out of this first.”
Winning rider Javier Castellano: “There was a lot of early speed with the horses in this race. I was really impressed by the way he did it. I just asked him to win the race back, I didn’t push him all the way. We’ve known this is a special horse for a long time. You don’t see too many horses do this; when they’re going too fast in the Breeders’ Cup, then they have a short rest and the way they perform today. A mile race against a good field of horses, I think he’s very impressive.”