Cigar – The Mighty One
Winning streaks in sports are exciting and capture the imagination of fans. Winning streaks become a source of lively conversation in the press, pubs and work place water coolers. In racing an extended winning streak at the top level is rare, but when it happens, the attention of the fans becomes focused on the horse. Beginning at the end of 1994 through to 1996 a well conformed horse by the name of Cigar won sixteen consecutive races against the top level of competition available, and in the process became a beloved champion of the ages.
The fact that Cigar authored this winning streak was like a bolt out of the blue. He had never shown an inclination towards such dominance before. He was a nice well bred horse that had won a few nice races until he discovered his form and went on his widely publicized winning streak against the best horses of his generation. In so doing, Cigar equaled a legendary champion.
Cigar came in to the world on April 18, 1990 at Country Life Farm in Maryland. Allen and Madeleine Paulson bred the bay son of Palace Music – Solar Slew by Seattle Slew. Palace Music was a grade one winning son of champion The Minstrel while Solar Slew was a non winning daughter of champion race horse and sire Seattle Slew. Both of the colt’s grand fathers are cherished names in racing and breeding. In due time, Cigar would add further laurels to his ancestors’s influence.
Contrary to what many would be an obvious honour to his name, Cigar was not named after the tobacco product. No, he was named in honour of a navigational intersection for aircraft. Paulson made his fortune as the owner of Gulfstream Aerospace Corp. which was the company that built the popular Gulfstream private business jets. He was an avid aviation enthusiast and named much of his racing stock in honour of various aviation check points and navigational charts accordingly.
Slow to come to hand, Cigar did not race as a two year old. The Paulsons put the colt in the care of west coast trainer Alex Hassinger. Cigar won two of nine races in his first season of racing, placing third in the grade three Ascot Handicap and second in the grade two Volante Handicap. His final race as a three year old was a disastrous eleventh place finish in the Hollywood Derby. Hassinger tried the colt on both dirt and grass tracks with an equal amount of success on either surface. The Paulson racing team decided to give Cigar a change of scenery for his four year old campaign and sent him to their east coast trainer Bill Mott.
Mott took his time with his new stable occupant. He did not start the son of Palace Music until July at Belmont. A series of allowance races on the turf at Belmont and Saratoga ranging from one mile to nine furlongs brought two third place finishes and a pair of off the board finishes. The four races came once a month until Mott decided to enter Cigar in a one mile allowance on the Aqueduct dirt track two weeks after his previous grass race. In the race, the colt pulverized the field winning by eight lengths and posted a 104 Beyer rating, his first triple digit Beyer in his career. It was if a light bulb went off in his head. He would never finish a race below this rating again.
The performance was so impressive, that Bill Mott wanted to enter Cigar in the grade one NYRA Mile. Paulson agreed and the entry was made. It was a big step up in class. Among the horses he would go up against was the accomplished Devil His Due. Cigar made this grade one field look ordinary as he drew away from them all to win by a commanding seven lengths. These two races were the last of the 1994 season for the new stakes winner, but the first of his incredible journey into racing immortality.
Coming out as a five year old on January 22, 1995, Cigar cruised to a workman like two length win in an eight and one half furlong allowance race at Gulfstream Park. Next up was the nine furlong grade one Donn Handicap and a date with the reigning Eclipse Award Horse of the Year champion Holy Bull. Unfortunately for racing fans, the anticipated match did not materialise as Holy Bull broke down along the back stretch and never raced again. Cigar went on to win the race handily, and thus took the mantle as the top horse in training at the time.
Cigar made his next start three weeks later in the ten furlong Gulfstream Park Handicap. He won by a dominating seven lengths. While this was his fifth win in a row, it also was the first race to start another sixteen race streak. He was made a short priced favourite and would always go off at below even money from now on.
On to Hot Springs Arkansas and a start in the Oaklawn Park Handicap, this race carried a grade one rating at the time. In the race was Breeder’s Cup Classic winner Concern, a formidable opponent. Jerry Bailey, by now the regular rider of Cigar, kept his mount in a stalking position in fourth place. Once the field reached the far turn, Bailey gave the word and the bay horse began his run at the leaders. Cigar won the race by two and one half lengths, in the good time of 1:47 1/5. His Beyer rating was 121, the highest of his career.
Cigar had now beaten both Devil His Due and Concern, both of which were considered top class handicap horses. Now he became part of the fraternity, and in fact had become the pro tem leader. All three would hook up in the historic Pimlico Special on May 13. This race was famous as the match race for Seabiscuit and War Admiral and has seen many top class horses win or lose throughout history. The 1995 renewal would contain another classic field.
Jerry Bailey took Cigar to the lead from the off and smartly set a leisurely pace around the first turn and down the back stretch. Devil His Due sat behind in second and did not hound the front runner. Cigar cut a pedestrian like 1:11 2/5 for the first six furlongs in the nine and one half furlong race. Concern sat fourth while Kissin Kris trailed the six horse field. Around the turn for home Bailey asked his mount for more, and Cigar obliged willingly. At the top of the home stretch Cigar pulled out a three length lead while Concern mounted his challenge and Devil His Due tried to keep pace. It was all to no avail as Cigar was simply too much horse and cruised under a hand ride to a two and one half length win at the Pimlico finish line.
Following this race Bill Mott brought Cigar to Suffolk Downs to capture the lucrative, but as of then ungraded, Massachusetts Handicap. This race set up for a cross country trip to tackle the best horses in California in the Hollywood Gold Cup. Entered along with the emerging hero Cigar were the fast and consistent Tinner’s Way, Best Pal, Urgent Request and old foe Concern.
This time Bailey let Gary Stevens take Urgent Request to the front to set a very quick opening half mile in 45 3/5, pursued by two other speed types with Cigar stalking in fourth three lengths back. Running with little effort in this position, Bailey just sat chilly down the back stretch in a perfect position to pounce for the lead. Cigar wanted to go before the far turn, so Bailey said go ahead my friend. By the time they hit the top of the home stretch, Cigar was three lengths clear of the fading pace setters and several more lengths ahead of the main challengers Tinner’s Way and Concern. Cigar kept his relentless momentum going through the stretch to win the Hollywood Gold Cup by a commanding three and one half lengths over Tinner’s Way.
With the winning streak now at nine, and a perfect seven for seven during the year, Bill Mott then mapped out a strategy for his emerging superstar toward the Breeder’s Cup Classic due to be run at Belmont on October 28. The plan included a little rest and then come back for the Woodward and Jockey Club Gold Cup races as the preludes to the big event.
The nine furlong Woodward Stakes drew a six horse field but number one Petionville was scratched on the morning of the race thus reducing the field to five. Cigar entered post position five at 1/5 odds on. The main challenge was perceived to be coming from Smart Strike, who broke on the lead at the off and was pursued vigorously by Eltish and L’Carriere. Bailey kept Cigar in fourth some five lengths off the duel up front until the top of the far turn when he unleashed Cigar who responded with a quick move around the turn to take command as they entered the home stretch. Cigar then just continued his run to open up a four length lead. Bailey powered his mount down in the final seventy yards for a comfortable three lengths victory.
The Jockey Club Gold Cup at ten furlongs attracted an eight horse field. Concern was to have started but was scratched, thus reducing the field to seven. Star Standard, who ran second to Cigar in the Woodward, broke on top with Thunder Gulch second and Cigar third. As the field went around the far turn, Star Standard bore away from the rail with Cigar on his outside and drew the Paulson runner wide. Unaccounted For was on the outside of Cigar and these two began to pull away from the field as they straightened down the home lane. Cigar was too much horse on the day and kept Unaccounted For a length and a half behind down the stretch to win the Jockey Club Gold Cup, by that distance.
In the Breeder’s Cup Classic ten horses entered the starting gate as challengers to the mighty Cigar. The connections to the challengers were buoyed with some confidence because the track was listed as muddy, due to a heavy rain the day before, and the post position Cigar drew. Cigar drew post ten, on the outside of a race that would be started on the Belmont club house turn due to the ten furlong distance on the twelve furlong track. If Cigar was to be defeated, then this could be the opportunity.
As the field assembled, the anticipation of the 40,000 plus in attendance reached a fever pitch. Jerry Bailey knew that he needed to get Cigar out smartly to overcome the disadvantage his post position presented. That Cigar was blessed with good tactical early speed was a bonus, and would be a saving grace for the team. When the gate opened, Cigar came away quickly and settled in third behind the front running Star Standard and rail hugger L’Carriere as they straightened out along the back stretch.
Happy with the start, the crafty Bailey then held firm on the reigns and settled Cigar. Bailey would say later that his hands went numb from the tight hold he had because Cigar wanted to go but obeyed his rider’s commands. The pace was a pedestrian 1:12 1/5 for six furlongs. Midway around the far turn Jerry Bailey let the reigns loose and Cigar responded with a burst on the outside of the leaders to take the lead as they entered the home stretch. The move made by Cigar gave Bailey the chance to ease his mount toward the rail, where better footing was had, without impeding any of the other runners. From there he simply powered his way to an historic victory in the biggest race he had run up to now. The final clocking was an impressive 1:59 2/5, a race record at the time. Cigar had run the final quarter in an impressive 23 4/5 to win by a convincing two and one half lengths.
The racing world had been aware of Cigar before his Breeder’s Cup Classic victory. Now after displaying his superiority to a national audience via television, Cigar became recognised as the best horse in many years around the country. He had won twelve races in succession. Nine of the victories came in grade one events. He just completed a perfect ten for ten campaign, was named as the Eclipse Award Horse of the Year, and was coming back for another racing year to compete as a six year old. In a time when superior horses were retired to stud after such a dominating record, Allen and Madeleine Paulson were applauded for keeping their champion in training.
Race tracks around America were falling over each other trying to lure Cigar to their establishments. They knew that by having such a popular horse compete at their tracks, the fans would come out in droves to see a legend in person. Suffolk Downs had already increased the Massachusetts Handicap purse and attracted the superstar to the Boston area facility. The Pimlico Special also received a purse increase, and Cigar showed up. Now with his popularity at a frenzy, Cigar was poised to make inroads outside his native land.
Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum of Dubai was, and still is, a deep pocketed patron saint of the turf. He has built an immense racing and breeding empire that stretches from England to Ireland to Kentucky and Australia and Japan. He also is developing a very lucrative and prestigious racing program in his native country. In 1996 Sheikh Mohammed wanted to inaugurate the rich Dubai World Cup race. The race would be contested at Nad al Sheba on a dirt oval. This new race would be run at the classic American distance of ten furlongs and carry a record purse of four million dollars, making it the richest race in the world. The offer was too tempting to resist.
The Dubai event would be held on March 27, 1996, so Bill Mott decided that Cigar needed a tightening race before hand. He chose the grade one Donn Handicap run five weeks prior to the World Cup. Now saying that a grade one race of the prestige of the Donn is a “tightening” race may seem a bit perverse, but the level of Cigar’s talent and the instant cache of the new World Cup race basically dictate such a view of the Gulfstream event. Cigar won the Donn with a workman like two length winning performance.
The World Cup attracted a very good international field. From the U.S. came Soul Of The Matter and L’Carriere. England sent Pentire and Needle Gun. Australian bred Danewin, Japanese bred Lively Mount, and four horses trained by Saeed bin Suroor for Shiekh Mohammed’s Godolphin Racing Stable in American bred Halling and Torrential, English bred Larrocha and Canadian bred Tamayaz completed the international field. The big draw was however Cigar.
The race became an instant classic and has become one of the premier events on the world calendar. Cigar won the race but was pushed to the limit by Soul Of The Matter in a stirring stretch run that took everything the champion had in his tank. Cigar had missed some training time leading up to the race and Bill Mott was very concerned about the loss of conditioning. When it looked as if Soul Of The Matter was about to pass Cigar in deep stretch, the smooth striding bay champion found a reserve of courage to retake the control of the race and win by a very close half length.
Racing fans around the world watching on television could not stop talking about the great determination and courage shown by the mighty Cigar post race. He brought instant credibility to the Dubai World Cup, credibility that has not been usurped to this day. Cigar demonstrated to the world what a true champion is capable of.
On top of all that, Cigar was now closing in on a legendary record. The great Citation had won sixteen races in succession almost fifty years earlier. Cigar had now won fourteen in a row. Not only was he now the superstar of world racing, he now had a shot at immortality. His millions upon millions of fans had more to look forward to.
Cigar was given a nice break when he returned to the U.S. Paulson and Mott decided to bring him back to the races for the Massachusetts Handicap on the first day in June. Cigar ran his usual precision race in taking the lead around the far turn and pulling away from the field for a two and one half length victory in the nine furlong race. Next up would be a new race to be run at Arlington Park in Chicago, the inaugural Citation Challenge.
The race carried a purse of over one million dollars and attracted the likes of Unbridled’s Song, Eltish and Dramatic Gold. Sitting a little further back than usual, Bailey had his mount ready to pounce around the far turn like he enjoys and Cigar won by a commanding three and one half lengths. He had now equaled a legend for a legendary record, in a race named after the legend he equaled. Cigar had won his sixteenth consecutive race.
The grade one Pacific Classic run at beautiful Del Mar on the pacific coast near San Diego was the next port of call for Cigar. The ten furlong race is one of the highlight events on the track’s racing calendar and has been contested by many of the top stars in training over the years. Paulson was a California resident and after having won the Hollywood Gold Cup the year before, he set his sights on the Del Mar feature event.
Many eastern based horses have had their troubles adapting to west coast tracks in the past. The dirt tracks in California especially have harder footing and quite different to eastern dirt tracks. Legends like Kelso, Seattle Slew and more have come to California looking to add some very important races to their list of accomplishments only to be taken down. The latest superstar on the planet would succumb to the “California Comeupance” in his next race.
Six horses entered the starting gate on August 10, 1996 for the Pacific Classic. Cigar as the overwhelming favourite at 1/9 started from the four spot. In the field were old foes Tinner’s Way and Dramatic Gold as well as Dare And Go, Siphon and Luthier Fever. The champion broke well and stalked the leader Siphon with Dramatic Gold hounding him in third. This order went unchanged until the top of the far turn when Bailey gave Cigar the word to go. Siphon dug in and challenged Cigar through the turn but could not stay with the champion, however looming on the outside was 39/1 shot Dare And Go and he was gathering momentum. Cigar dug in for the home stretch but Dare And Go had the upper hand and became the first horse to cross the finish line ahead of Cigar in almost two years. The streak had ended at sixteen, equal to Citation.
In the face of the obvious disappointment, the connections to Cigar made no excuses. They were defeated fair and square by a very good horse that was totally ignored by the betting public. Cigar lost no dignity in defeat. He only proved that he was mortal after all.
Cigar came back to Belmont to defend his Woodward Stakes crown. He did so emphatically with his patented sweeping move around the far turn to win by four lengths over L’Carriere. On to the Jockey Club Gold Cup and another attempt at defending a race crown. However he came up on the new kid on the block vying for his crown in the form of the excellent grey Skip Away. Skip Away won The JC Cup by fighting off Cigar in the home stretch to a head margin of victory. The press was keen to declare that Cigar had just passed the crown of best horse in training to the younger Skip Away.
There was only one problem in this declaration, Cigar and his connections were not quite ready to pass on the crown just yet. There would be one more race to try and win, the Breeder’s Cup Classic due to be run at Woodbine in Toronto. The Paulsons, Bill Mott, Jerry Bailey and the millions of fans Cigar had charmed wanted no less for their centre of affection. So Cigar loaded his passport and flew to Canada to finish his distinguished career at the same racing establishment where Secretariat had done so.
This renewal of the race, the first and only time it has been run outside US borders, attracted a deep field of thirteen quality horses. Many were given hope that since Cigar had lost two of his last three races, the impregnable nature of his reputation had been torn down.
Cigar broke from the gate in smart order and settled back in sixth, a little farther back than usual. Atticus set a torrid pace on the front running the first half mile in 46 2/5. Louis Quatorze followed that one three lengths back with Alphabet Soup and Mt. Sassafras right with him. As the field came to the top of the home stretch, Cigar had to go five wide with his sweeping move. Atticus had enough and dropped back. Mt. Sassafras took the lead with Alphabet Soup, Louis Quatorze and Cigar bearing down. In a blanket four horse finish, Alphabet Soup stayed on in the middle to win by a scant nose over Louis Quatorze, with Cigar a head back in third. Cigar was only a neck in front of Mt. Sassafras.
Although the race was as thrilling as any race could be, there were many shocked looks of disbelief on the faces of the 45,000 plus in attendance at Woodbine. Cigar had gotten into a good position to win, but he hung in the stretch and did not have it on the day. Most in attendance had wanted the champion to finish his career with a grand victory in a big race. It was announced that Paulson had sold a 75% interest in Cigar to Coolmore Stud for breeding, so he was now to be retired from the track and sent to Coolmore’s Ashford Stud in Kentucky.
If the fact that he did not finish his career with a victory was a big disappointment, then what was to transpire would pale that into a mere annoyance. During the first year of his new stud life it became apparent that Cigar had fertility issues. Mare after mare he was bred to did not come in foal. Paulson and Coolmore had insured the horse in case of infertility for twenty-five million dollars. The insurance underwriters, Assicuazion Generali, would not give in and for the next couple of years kept trying to prove that Cigar could indeed sire foals. Finally even they had to concede that the great Thoroughbred race horse Cigar could not pass on his genes to future generations. It has to be one of the most disappointing occurrences in recent racing history. Given his pedigree and race record, Cigar would have been a very popular stallion if only he had the goods. Such is the unpredictability of nature.
Following the payment of the infertility claim, Cigar was then given a lifetime retirement home at the Kentucky Horse Park Hall of Champions. He was transferred from Ashford Stud in 1999. Cigar received thousands of visitors every year. His popularity never waned as time rolled on. He brought new fans to the sport, thrilled established fans with his racing exploits, and became a household name in racing circles. Cigar had that elusive quality known as charisma.
At the age of twenty-four, Cigar began to experience arthritis related issues. The symptoms began in his neck, spreading to his spine. Therapy did not relieve Cigar of the pain, but since he was in excellent health both mentally and physically, a series of operations was ordered to try and eliminate the symptoms. Unfortunately on October 24, 2014, the great charismatic race horse Cigar died from complication following surgery for severe osteoarthritis in his neck. When the news hit, social media exploded with heartfelt essays of recollections and genuine love for Cigar. Pictures taken by visiting fans of Cigar were plastered all over networks such as Facebook, LinkedIn etc.
Honours abound for Cigar. He was a slam dunk inductee into the National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame. He was twice named as the Eclipse Award Horse of the Year. The NYRA Mile, the first stakes race win in his career, was renamed the Cigar Mile in his honour. He was named as the best horse to race during the 1990’s. He made number eighteen on the top one hundred race horses of the twentieth century poll by the Blood-Horse magazine.
Occasionally a race horse transcends the boundary of being popular solely within the sport to being popular throughout the general public that do not necessarily follow racing. Cigar was definitely one of those, on the same plane as Secretariat, Northern Dancer, Man ‘O War, Seabiscuit etc. Horses, much like humans, that have an abundance of charisma can do this to all of us.
When one was around Cigar, one could not get past the feeling that one was in the company of greatness. Perhaps that is what charisma is all about.
(Photo of Cigar source unknown)