By Rab Hagin
Ivan Rodriguez’s SHARP AZTECA ($1,756,740) romped by 5¼ lengths as the top-weighted favorite among ten in Aqueduct’s $750,000 Grade 1 Cigar Mile Handicap on Saturday, December 2, becoming the fifth Grade/Group 1 winner overall and fourth Grade/Group 1 winner on dirt sired by New York’s 11-time leading turf sire, FREUD. The talented 4-year-old’s surprisingly easy victory boosted Freud’s 2017 Northern Hemisphere progeny earnings to more than $6-million – another record for a New York-based sire – and over $49.3-million cumulatively. Placing second and third behind Sharp Azteca respectively were a Grade 1 winner of more than $2.5-million, followed by a multiple Grade 1 winner, and further back was a front-running rival described as “freakishly talented” by a Daily Racing Form columnist.
Taking command on the turn, Sharp Azteca accelerated through his final quarter-mile, increasing his margin over a strongly-finishing runner-up from three lengths at mid-stretch to 5¼ lengths at the wire.
Freud’s previous Grade/Group 1 winners are GIANT RYAN ($686,841) and FRANNY FREUD ($686,029) – both on Belmont dirt – and Argentine-breds MUST GO ON on turf in Argentina and ALEX ROSSI on dirt in Peru. Giant Ryan and Franny Freud were sprinters, Must Go On was a router, Alex Rossi was a miler.
Sharp Azteca’s performance exceeded all expectations for winning trainer Jorge Navarro: “He came out (of a game runner-up effort in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile on November 3) tired,” recalled Navarro, who concluded with, “and you know what, I wasn’t expecting this big of a performance. He ran his eyes out.”
Asked about running Sharp Azteca in the $16-million Pegasus World Cup going 1 1/8 miles at Gulfstream Park on January 27, Navarro replied, “After this performance, why not? (But) We are going to see how he comes out of this first.” Later reports indicated that Sharp Azteca exited the Cigar Mile in good shape.
Winning jockey Javier Castellano, who race-rode Sharp Azteca for the first time in the Cigar Mile, was impressed: “I didn’t push him all the way. We’ve known this is a special horse for a long time. You don’t see too many horses do this…going in the Breeders’ Cup…then a short rest (and) a mile race against a good field of horses. I think he’s very impressive.”
Only Sharp Azteca has contested – AND won or placed in – all four of the world’s premier dirt mile races: Godolphin Mile in Dubai (third among 13), Metropolitan Mile at Belmont (second among 12), Las Vegas Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile at Del Mar (second among ten), and Cigar Mile. He is the world’s top dirt miler.
New York-conceived, Kentucky-bred (by a Texan), and owned by a Venezuelan native who has a farm in Florida, Sharp Azteca is the second offspring and second winner produced from his unraced dam and is his dam’s first offspring of Freud and first stakes winner or stakes-placed runner. His dam had sold for $2,500 as a broodmare prospect at Keeneland in January of 2011 but went for $230,000 at Keeneland in November of 2016 after Sharp Azteca, a $220,000 sales purchase by his current owner as a 2-year-old, had become a graded winner. Sharp Azteca’s distaff background is like that of two of Freud’s other 2017 open company standouts: graded-winning mare FOURSTAR CROOK ($693,166), who races for Michael Dubb and Bethlehem Stables, and undefeated multiple stakes-winning juvenile THERAPIST ($157,200 in three starts), a homebred for Oak Bluff Stables. All three are the first of Freud’s offspring produced from non-black type mares and are those mares’ first stakes winners. Fourstar Crook’s dam was unplaced in seven starts. All three dams had been bred to pricey Kentucky-based stallions prior to visiting Freud.
About 40 minutes after Saturday’s Cigar Mile and more than 5,000 miles southward, Freud picked up his latest (and 58th) stakes winner when Argentine-bred Freud filly TARDE O TEMPRANO won the listed Clasico General Guemes at Palermo in Buenos Aires by five lengths. Owned by Mingo Y La Maruca Stable, recent Group 2 runner-up Tarde O Temprano was favored in the General Guemes – run at 1,000 meters (about five furlongs) on a dirt straightaway – and showed her superiority in the final furlong, when she suddenly pulled away. A multiple listed winner placed second. Tarde O Temprano is Freud’s fourth black-type stakes winner of the current Southern Hemisphere racing season, which began in July.
Sharp Azteca was the latest of Freud’s 11 Northern Hemisphere winners within three weeks, including six-furlong allowance winners SWAYED ($131,978) and PSYCHIC ENERGY ($113,718) on Aqueduct turf on November 24 and 18 respectively and FREUD’S AFFAIR at Finger Lakes on November 15. Swayed, a multiple allowance-winning filly co-owned by trainer George Weaver in partnership with Our Blue Streaks Stable, beat nine rivals in 1:09.98 and is a multiple winner on both dirt and turf. Psychic Energy, a 3-year-old owned by Vina Del Mar Thoroughbreds LLC and Black Swan Stable, won by two lengths in 1:08.99 as the youngest (foaled May 21, 2014) among nine colts and geldings, 3-year-olds-and-up. Freud’s Affair, a multiple open allowance winner owned by trainer and co-breeder Christopher Progno, broke from the outside post as the co-topweight among nine and ran down his fellow co-topweight and runner-up – a son of the current eighth-leading North American sire – in the final furlong.
Freud’s other recent winners include: son TEXT ME against ten going six furlongs at Penn National on November 11 for Robert Falcone and Michael Pedulla; stakes-placed daughter LOON RIVER ($189,551) against seven going a mile and 70 yards at Parx Racing on November 14 for Bull O’ The Woods Stable; son CEREBRAL ($114,702) by 10¾ lengths against seven – including the favored runner-up – going 1 1/16 miles at Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races on November 16 for Darren Viands. All won on dirt. Winning at Finger Lakes at 5½ furlongs on November 13 were Freud’s son SUCKITUPBUSTER on a “good” track for Gold Star Racing Stable LLC and daughter SONG FOR THE SOUL on November 27 at odds-on as the youngest (foaled May 23, 2014) among eight for Ice Wine Stable. Breaking their maidens at Finger Lakes were Freud fillies MARLEY RIDGE for owner-trainer Timothy P. Murphy as the youngest among ten going 5½ furlongs on November 15 and Joseph L. Maloney Racing’s homebred juvenile, MORGAN’S Z VA, by 7¾ lengths against seven rivals going six furlongs on November 21.
In addition to Tarde O Temprano, Freud’s eight Argentine-conceived South American winners during November 11 – December 2 included MUCHA CHANCE and METRONIA at Palermo on November 11 and 27 respectively and ENIGMATICA FREUD and SEXY REALITY at Buenos Aires-area San Isidro and La Plata on November 18 and 25 respectively. Mucha Chance, who has never been unplaced in his nine starts for DAP Stable, romped by eight lengths as the favorite among eight going 1,800 meters (about 1 1/8 miles) on dirt. Metronia, racing for her new owner, La Manana Stable, beat the favored Group 2-placed runner-up at 1,400 meters (about seven furlongs) on dirt. Enigmatica Freud, racing for Trago Amargo Stable, beat 13 female rivals going 1,200 meters (about six furlongs) on dirt. Sexy Reality, a Freud filly racing for new owner El Cartujo Stable, won by 2½ lengths against 11 rivals going 1,000 meters on dirt.
Breaking their maidens at San Isidro were Freud fillies DONA MIRONA going 1,400 meters on turf on November 24 and LA PERGOLA going 1,100 meters (about 5½ furlongs) on dirt on November 29. Dona Mirona, racing for San Benito Stable, beat 12 rivals. La Pergola, owned by Valle Maria Stable, beat 11. An Uruguayan-bred son of Freud, SUPER FREUD, broke his maiden by two lengths against eight going 1,400 meters on dirt at Maronas in Montevideo, Uruguay on November 24 for Los Mareados Stable.