OZONE PARK, N.Y. – Two years ago, Independence Hall had his coming-out party at Aqueduct, winning the Grade 3 Nashua Stakes by 12 1/4 lengths. Saturday, Independence Hall will have his farewell party at Aqueduct, seeking to end his career in the $750,000 Cigar Mile with his first Grade 1 victory.
Independence Hall, who will stand stud in 2022 at WinStar Farm, is 0 for 5 in Grade 1 stakes. He is coming off a 7 1/4-length victory in the Grade 2 Fayette, a 1 1/8-mile race run in the slop on Oct. 30 at Keeneland.
“The last race was as good a race as he’s run, period,” said Michael McCarthy, who took over the training of Independence Hall in summer 2020.
In between an allowance win at Del Mar in November 2020 and the Fayette, Independence Hall went 0 for 6, running in stakes from seven furlongs to 1 1/4 miles. Independence Hall, a son of Constitution, has run his last three races in blinkers and that included a runner-up finish to Knicks Go in the Grade 3 Lukas Classic on Oct. 2 at Churchill. Knicks Go came back to win the Breeders’ Cup Classic last month at Del Mar.
With the blinkers, McCarthy said, Independence Hall “is a little more dialed in in his races.”
“He had a tendency to loaf a little, and a little blinker has helped to focus him forward instead of what’s going on inside or outside of him,” McCarthy said.
Though his victory in the Fayette came around two turns, Independence Hall is 4 for 5 in races run around one turn, like the Cigar Mile. In addition to winning the Nashua in 2020, Independence Hall won the Jerome, a one-turn mile race here on New Year’s Day 2020.
“Hopefully, his fondness for that surface flows into Saturday,” said McCarthy, who trains Independence Hall for Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners, Twin Creek Racing, and WinStar.
The competitive nature of the Cigar Mile is evident in David Aragona’s morning line. Six of the eight starters are listed between 5-2 and 6-1, the favorite being Americanrevolution, with a pair of triple-digit Beyer Speed Figures in his last two outs. At 6-1 is Code of Honor, a multiple Grade 1 winner who owns seven triple-digit Beyers in his career.
Americanrevolution is a 3-year-old New York-bred son of Constitution who earned a 108 Beyer Speed Figure winning the Empire Classic, a one-turn 1 1/8-mile race restricted to New York-breds, by 11 3/4 lengths on Oct. 30 at Belmont Park.
“It’s backing up a little bit but, still, if the race unfolds properly, I think it’s okay for him,” said his trainer, Todd Pletcher, who has won the Cigar Mile four times.
Pletcher sends out another 3-year-old in Following Sea, who won the Grade 2 Vosburgh at six furlongs and who finished third in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint at Del Mar last out.
“Following Sea has trained like a horse that will stretch out,” Pletcher said.
Following Sea has gone 1 1/8 miles once, finishing third, beaten 18 1/4 lengths, in the Haskell at Monmouth Park.
“I don’t think the Haskell was a good barometer,” Pletcher said. “He was hot in the paddock that day, the track at Monmouth was not kind to speed or the inside. It was a bit of a throw-out race.”
Handicappers who deemed the inside was no good on Breeders’ Cup Saturday at Del Mar will upgrade Following Sea’s third-place finish in that race. Pletcher said that jockey John Velazquez was anticipating BC Sprint pacesetter Jackie’s Warrior to float off the rail in the Breeders’ Cup, which he did at the top of the lane.
“It looked like the hole was there, but as Johnny went for it, it closed,” Pletcher said. “He had to pump the brakes at a critical point of the race. By the time he re-rallied, he was gaining to be third.”
Following Sea drew the rail for the Cigar Mile.
Ginobili, in from California for trainer Richard Baltas, finished second to Life Is Good in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile four weeks ago. Like Independence Hall, his last three races have come since being equipped with blinkers. Baltas said the equipment change has helped Ginobili get involved early on in his races, and he figures to be prominent early breaking from post 6 under Drayden Van Dyke.
Code of Honor finished 7 1/4 lengths behind Independence Hall in the Fayette. Code of Honor, 5, initially was being considered for the Clark at Churchill Downs last week, but trainer Shug McGaughey opted for the Cigar Mile, which he deemed a bit of an easier spot. Though a multiple Grade 1 winner at 1 1/4 miles, Code of Honor ran one of his best races going a one-turn mile when he won the Grade 3 Dwyer at Belmont as a 3-year-old.
Like Independence Hall, the 6-year-old Plainsman is 2 for 2 at Aqueduct, including a victory in the Grade 3 Discovery here as a 3-year-old. Two starts back, he won the Grade 3 Ack Ack, a one-turn mile at Churchill Downs.
Olympiad and Pipeline are both double-digit odds on the morning line but are not without a puncher’s chance to upset. Olympiad, trained by Bill Mott, is making his stakes debut off a solid allowance win at Belmont in October. Pipeline, trained by Chad Brown, stretches out to a mile off a narrow third-place finish in the Perryville going seven furlongs at Keeneland.
The Cigar Mile goes as the last of 10 races on a card that includes the Grade 2 Remsen for 2-year-olds, the Grade 2 Demoiselle for 2-year-old fillies, and Grade 3 Go for Wand for fillies and mares.