By Chip Gehrke / HR Nation
After Sharp Azteca’s runner-up Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile finish, trainer Jorge Navarro knew things would have to go perfectly for his stable star for him to run in Saturday’s Grade 1, $750,000 Cigar Mile.
“On the day after the Breeders’ Cup when I went to see him, he looked pretty tired — the first time Sharp Azteca showed me signs of getting tired,” Navarro explained. “I said if we are going to make the Cigar Mile, we are going to have to do this step by step and he is going to have to let us know”
After Sharp Azteca shipped back to Florida, Navarro started to feel better about his star pupil, who was “showing signs of feeling good and he was back to his normal self.”
A strong workout last Saturday with jockey Javier Castellano in the irons confirmed the trainer’s belief that Sharp Azteca was ready to go. “He looked better than when I had him at the Breeders’ Cup,” Navarro said.
Having arrived in New York on Tuesday, Sharp Azteca will shoot for his first Grade 1 win on this weekend at Aqueduct. There, he’ll face off against fellow Breeders’ Cup runners. Mind Your Biscuits comes in off of a third-place finish in the Sprint, and Practical Joke finished five lengths behind Sharp Azteca when fourth in the Dirt Mile. Toss in Tom’s Ready and Americanize, both of whom come into the race off of stakes wins, and it’s a relatively deep field.
Sharp Azteca has run in three Grade 1 races, experiencing tough luck each step of the way. Last winter in the seven-furlong Malibu at Santa Anita, Sharp Azteca set a blistering 3/4-mile pace of 1:08.10 only to get caught in the final steps by Mind Your Biscuits.
Sharp Azteca got back to the winner’s circle with dominant victories in the Monmouth Cup in July and the Kelso Handicap in late September. Sent postward as the second choice in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile, Sharp Azteca ran a remarkable race considering the strong main track bias evident throughout the weekend. The rail was dead and the only horses who overcame it were Sharp Azteca in the Dirt Mile and Gun Runner in the Breeders’ Cup Classic.
If all goes well this weekend, racing fans could see Sharp Azteca back at home in late January for Gulfstream Park’s $16 Million Pegasus World Cup.
“I got nothing but respect for Gun Runner,” Navarro said. “We have the same style of running.”