When trainer Barclay Tagg talked owner Charles Fipke out of running Jersey Town in the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile, it was with the idea that the Grade 1 Hill 'n' Dale Cigar Mile would come up an easier spot.
Much to Tagg's surprise, Saturday's $250,000 Cigar Mile came up extremely tough, with four horses exiting Breeders' Cup races. In the end, however, Jersey Town proved tougher prevailing by a head over Jockey Club Gold Cup winner Haynesfield despite drifting out in the stretch. It was one-half length back to Girolamo in third.
It was the first stakes win of any kind for Jersey Town, a 4-year-old Kentucky-bred son of Speightstown out of the Grade 1 winner Jersey Girl.
For Tagg and Fipke, it was their second victory in the Cigar Mile, having won it in 2008 with Tale of Ekati, who got placed first by the stewards. Jersey Town, who finished second to Bribon in the Bold Ruler, was the longest shot on the board at 34-1, returning $71.50. He ran a mile in 1:34.53. Bribon, who was the 3-1 favorite in the Cigar Mile, finished fourth.
Jersey Town broke on top, but was reined by Cornelio Velasquez to sit third as Vineyard Haven ran a quarter in 22.69 seconds and a half-mile in 45.27 while being pressed by Haynesfield, under Javier Castellano. Turning into the stretch, Haynesfield took the lead from Vineyard Haven, but Jersey Town was in hot pursuit.
At the eighth pole it looked like Jersey Town was going to go by Haynesfield easily, but the New York-bred Haynesfield was game along the rail while Jersey Town began to drift out. Despite that drifting, Jersey Town prevailed.
"The last three-sixteenths I had a lot of horse," Velasquez said. "I asked him and my horse he passed that other horse. Today, he wanted to win. [Haynesfield] run a big race too."
Said Castellano of Haynesfield, "He fought all the way to the wire, he didn't want to get beat. Unfortunately, the other horse was a little better."
It was a long road to Grade 1 glory for Jersey Town, who won his first start for a claiming price of $25,000 in March 2009. After racing with modest success in New Jersey for Tagg, Jersey Town was sent out west to run in the British Columbia Derby at Hastings Park, where he finished second for trainer Barbara Heads.
Upon returning to Tagg, Jersey Town suffered a hind leg fracture that required some time off. Fipke then elected to send the horse west again, where he won an allowance race and finished second in the Longacres Mile for trainer Tim McCanna.
When Fipke sent the horse back to Tagg, he wanted the trainer to run him in a prep race and then Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile. Tagg talked him out of that.
"I said, 'Let's go to the Cigar Mile. It'd be a lot easier and it's still a Grade 1,' and they were thinking of trying to make a stallion out of him," said Tagg, who ran the horse in the Kelso and Bold Ruler. "He was all for it, then it came up so tough I thought, 'Boy, we made a mistake here.' "
It was not a mistake at all.
"He's all business - he just goes out there with his game face on everyday and does his job, no fooling around," Tagg said. "He does everything the way you like a horse to do it."
Tagg was unsure whether Fipke would retire Jersey Town or bring him back to race next year.