Cigar Street, owned by Jake Ballis and NBA star Rashard Lewis, was eager to run early but waited until midway around the far turn before taking command and turning back a late charge by 6-5 favorite Departing to impressively win Saturday’s second running of the $135,500 Homecoming Classic at Churchill Downs by 1 ¾ lengths.
Conditioned by Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott and ridden by Shaun Bridgmohan, Cigar Street ran 1 1/8 miles on a fast main track in 1:49.86 and paid $6.80, $3.40 and $3 as the 2-1 second betting choice in the field of six older horses. Departing, with Robby Albarado up, returned $3 and $2.60. Call Me George, the pacesetter and 35-1 longest shot in the field, was another half-length back in third under Leandro Goncalves and paid $4.
Pick of the Litter, Ack Ack Handicap (GIII) champ Carve and Perfect Title completed the order of finish.
“He’s a big, powerful horse,” Bridgmohan said. “We had a perfect trip. All I had to do was be a mere passenger.”
Cigar Street, a lightly-raced 5-year-old with a history of setbacks, displayed the similar form of his two-length romp over multiple stakes winners Take Charge Indy, Pants on Fire and Golden Ticket in the 2013 Skip Away (GIII) at Gulfstream Park. Off 17 months to recuperate from a variety of ailments, he returned to action last month for an allowance optional claiming race at Saratoga and finished a good second to Pick of the Litter.
Call Me George, the longest shot in the field, set a modest pace in Saturday’s Homecoming Classic through fractions of :23.96, :48.39 and 1:12.12. An eager-to-run Cigar Street tugged at Bridgmohan in the early stages and raced close to the leader down the backstretch before he asserted himself on the far turn. Departing, the millionaire and three-time graded stakes winner who tracked in fourth early on, made a three-wide move at the head of the stretch to threaten Cigar Street, but the big dark bay horse repelled that bid and cleared the field late. Call Me George fought gamely for the show and was a neck ahead of a closing Pick of the Litter.
The victory was worth $83,170 and pushed Cigar Street’s career earnings to $283,908 from five wins and one second in only eight career starts.
“I’m a three-point shooter so I’m going to say it was a three-point shot – it was three points and not two points,” said Lewis, who attended Churchill Downs for the first time. “Just the fact that he got the win was big and very important to us. Even though it was only his second race back, we think he’s continuing to get better every race out. We want to take it one step at a time, and today was really big for us.”
The connections said Mott ultimately would decide Cigar Street’s next start, but a trip to the Breeders’ Cup World Championships at Santa Anita in five weeks on Oct. 31-Nov. 1 – either the $5 million Classic (GI) or $1 million Dirt Mile (GI) – could be under consideration.
Bred in Kentucky by Marvin Definer, Ted Folkerth and Brookdale, Cigar Street is a son of 2007 Kentucky Derby winner Street Sense out of the Deputy Minister mare Arcadiana.
For Mott, it was his record-extending 680th career win at Churchill Downs and 89th local stakes triumph.
HOMECOMING CLASSIC QUOTES
SHAUN BRIDGMOHAN, jockey of Cigar Street (winner) – “He’s a big, powerful horse. I’m just happy they selected me to ride him. (Trainer) Bill (Mott) and the owners Jake (Ballis) and Rashard (Lewis), they’re great. We had a perfect trip. All I had to do was be a mere passenger.”
JAKE BALLIS, co-owner of Cigar Street (winner) – “He ran huge. It was everything we could have hoped for. From being injured for so long, it’s frustrating, especially when you know you have one of the better horses. He had a conjular fracture after the Skip Away and kept having minor setbacks. But we’re so happy that we’ve got him back and that he’s healthy and today was awesome. Bill Mott is one of the best horsemen in the world. He’s been patient with him and we just kind of give him the keys and let him drive because we have so much faith in him. I’d obviously love to go to the Breeders’ Cup, but we’re just going to enjoy this win and talk with Bill and we’ll see what happens.”
RASHARD LEWIS, co-owner of Cigar Street (winner) – “Just the fact that he got the win was the most important thing for us – even though it was only his second race back. He looked great and we just hope he continues to get better. We want to just take it one step at a time but today was a good day.
“It makes it a lot more fun when you win a race. I told myself I wanted to come to Churchill Downs for the (Kentucky) Derby first time to be here. But my horse was running today and I wanted to be here to support him. This is an awesome time.
“It’s more nerve-wracking than anything. Like they say, it doesn’t matter if you’re a longshot or the favorite, anything can happen. Any horse can win any given day. We were so nervous going into this race. We know he’s a good horse, but we were nervous going into this race. It’s a good thing he was able to pull this out.
“It most definitely was a slam dunk. But I’m a three-point shooter, so I’m going to say it was a three-point shot – it was three points and not two points. Just the fact that he got the win was big and very important to us. Even though it was only his second race back, we think he’s continuing to get better every race out. We want to take it one step at a time, and today was really big for us.”
AL STALL JR., trainer of Departing (runner-up as the favorite) – “We had no excuses. We had enough of the racetrack in front of us from the quarter pole home. Cigar Street had a very moderate pace and ran like a good horse, and he might be a good horse. But he tried. We’re not thrilled that he didn’t win, but we’re happy that we’re back in the game a little bit.”
Q: Where does Departing go now? “I’d say probably the Fayette at Keeneland. We might look down the road at the Clark. That makes a lot of sense.”
ROBBY ALBARADO, jockey on Departing (runner-up as the favorite) – “He ran hard. I was flanked against the winner the whole way around there. We had an opportunity to get to him and get by him and they both ran to the wire. That’s a nice horse that won, but my horse ran good.”
Q: His run was a good bit better than his disappointing effort in the Whitney at Saratoga … “I’m just glad he came back to run a little better coming off his last race. He bounced back well.”
JESUS CASTANON, jockey on Carve (fifth) – “He didn’t fire today. I was in a good spot. We were where we wanted to be early and I figured that when we got to the half-mile pole I’d start to let him out and let him do his game, but today he just never really showed up.”