Tonalist offers big late kick to capture Cigar Mile

Profile Picture: James Scully

November 28th, 2015

Tonalist saved his best for the final furlong of Saturday’s $670,000 Cigar Mile H. (G1), lagging toward the back of the field until offering a dramatic late kick to score by a neck at Aqueduct. Winner of the 2014 Belmont Stakes at 1 ½ miles and the last two editions of the 1 ¼-mile Jockey Club Gold Cup (G1), the Christophe Clement-trained colt displayed excellent versatility on the cutback in distance and pocketed his first stakes victory outside of Belmont Park.

John Velazquez was up on the 4-year-old, who rebounded from a well-beaten fifth in the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Keeneland. The son of Tapit was adding blinkers in the Cigar Mile.

Private Zone sped forward at the break as expected but was rank on the lead, racing well off the rail as he established an opening quarter-mile in :24.15 and a half-mile in :48.50 on a one-length advantage. Tonalist rated well off the pace, fifth among six runners as the field made its way down the backstretch and struggled to hold his place on the far turn as Velazquez urged his mount but received no response.

Private Zone continued to show the way into the stretch, still up by a length after six furlongs in 1:13.04, but suddenly began to weaken after passing the quarter-pole. Tonalist still had plenty of work remaining at this point, displaying little interest while straightening into the stretch, and appeared a better candidate for last-place than the win.

Matrooh moved to take advantage in midstretch but the race still hung in the balance, with Mshawish rallying boldly into contention on the far outside and Red Vine altering course to challenge after being shut off down on the rail by Private Zone.

Tonalist was guided to the extreme outside and discovered a new gear with about a sixteenth of a mile remaining, closing rapidly into contention as the classy colt seemingly awoke from a slumber. Red Vine was also surging, splitting rivals to seize the lead in deep stretch, but Tonalist was going best and struck the front in the final jumps, completing eight furlongs in 1:37.14 on the fast track.

"I got anxious a little bit when we passed the half-mile pole," said Velazquez, who inherited the mount aboard Tonalist six starts ago. "We were going so slow on the backstretch and I could see the horse on the lead keep trying to get back, throwing his head up, and Javier (Castellano, aboard Mshawish) seemed to be taking back. I was thinking that we were just walking with these horses here. I was close enough I didn't worry about it but when we got to the turn, they started to move away from me.

“Now I wanted to do it little by little; I didn't want to shake him up too much and then not get him going, so I got him little by little, where he was comfortable. By the five-sixteenths pole, he started moving so I said, 'OK, now he's moving.' (Full of Mine) came to him by the quarter-pole and he got into the bridle and started running. My job was trying to put him in the clear, run him in the clear. When I got him clear and hit him, he responded right away. The last sixteenth of a mile was really good, very exciting."

Owned by Robert S. Evans, Tonalist was off as the 2-1 second favorite. Red Vine, the 7-2 third choice, edged Matrooh by a neck to complete a Clement exacta. Mshawish came another three parts of a length back in fourth and was followed by the 6-5 Private Zone and 104-1 longshot Full of Mine trailed throughout. Marking was scratched.

"I'm a very lucky man. They both ran very well," Clement said of the 1-2 finish. "Joel (Rosario) came back and said he was very unlucky. The fun thing for me, as a trainer, was having the two best horses in the race."

Tonalist earned his first stakes win in last year’s Peter Pan (G2) and followed with a head victory in the Belmont Stakes, derailing California Chrome’s Triple Crown bid in the process. He split a pair of placings at Saratoga (second in the Jim Dandy [G2] and third in the Travers [G1]) and a belated fifth in the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Santa Anita with a near two-length score in the Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont Park.

The bay Kentucky-bred opened the 2015 season with a facile score in the Westchester (G3) and didn’t run poorly despite dropping his next three outings, finishing second to Honor Code in the Met Mile (G1) and second to Effinex in the Suburban (G2) before a rallying third in the Whitney (G1). He returned to win column with a 4 ¾-length romp in the Jockey Club Gold Cup.

He’s now earned $1,647,000 from a 16-7-4-2 record.

Bred by Woodslane Farm, the blue-blooded Tonalist is out of the Pleasant Colony mare Settling Mist, a half-sister to Grade 3 runner-up The Bink, the dam of multiple Grade 1-winning millionaire Riskaverse and Grade 3 queen Cozzy Corner. This is also the immediate female family on 2011 Horse of the Year Havre de Grace.

Photo courtesy of Adam Coglianese Photography