The winner of 16 straight races and the leading money earning in Thoroughbred racing history, Cigar was inducted into racing's Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility. Cigar's wins included the first Dubai World Cup and the 1995 Breeders' Cup Classic, and he was a four time Eclipse award winner during his career. Cigar died on Oct. 7, 2014 after a surgical procedure.
By Tom Pedulla, America’s Best Racing
The transformation of Cigar from a horse that showed modest turf ability to one that developed into a legend on dirt illustrates how critical a trainer’s role can be.
The son of Palace Music went unraced at 2 before winning 2 of 9 starts the following season for his first trainer, Alex Hassinger, Jr. He finished his 3-year-old campaign with earnings of $89,175 but was unable to win in stakes competition.
At that point, owner and breeder Allen Paulson made the decision that changed everything. He shipped Cigar from the West Coast to the East, so he could be overseen by Bill Mott, a Hall of Fame conditioner.
Mott, always one to take his time, did not return Cigar to competition until July. After a pair of third-place finishes on turf, Mott shifted Cigar to dirt. The result was an 8-length romp in a 1-mile allowance race at Aqueduct Racetrack on Oct. 28, 1994.
The lopsided victory triggered a 16-race winning streak that allowed Cigar to succeed at various distances and match Citation for the longest such streak by a major American horse. Citation swept 16 in a row from 1948-50.
Jerry Bailey, Cigar’s regular rider, gives Mott much of the credit for that accomplishment. “My belief is that Cigar was a true, natural miler, one of the best I’ve ever been on. He reminded me of a Seattle Slew type,” Bailey said. “In Mott’s hands, he was able to stretch out to a mile and a quarter. We had to coax it out of him. Sometimes it was easier than others to coax Cigar.”
Most fans would say that Cigar’s signature triumph occurred in the 1995 Breeders’ Cup Classic. It capped an unforgettable 10-for-10 campaign that earned $4,819,800 and led him to be honored as Horse of the Year and champion older male.
It was almost as if Cigar understood the magnitude of the Classic because he could not wait to get to the lead. He pulled on Bailey while the rider fought to maintain a tight hold, mindful of the mile-and-a-quarter distance.
“I thought the whip was going to fall out of my hands,” Bailey sad. “In that particular race, the only reason I let him go when I did was I had no more feeling in my hands. My fingers were numb from him pulling on the reins.”
Cigar roared home in a stakes record time of 1:59.58, accompanied by a race call from Tom Durkin that will be remembered through the ages. Durkin exclaimed as Cigar powered toward the wire: “And here he is, the unconquerable, invincible, unbeatable Cigar!”
CIGAR THROUGH THE YEARS
As gallantly as Cigar fought that afternoon, Bailey saw a very different animal when he brought his son, Justin, to the barn the following morning. Cigar put his head down and nuzzled the 3-year-old.
“He was a very charismatic and cool horse to be around,” Bailey said. “Other than race day, Cigar was soft and gentle, as warm and fuzzy as you could want.”
Cigar began 1996 with a 12-race winning streak that quickly turned to 13 when he prepped for the inaugural Dubai World Cup with a repeat victory in the Donn Handicap at Gulfstream Park in Florida. There was enormous uncertainty surrounding the World Cup, for the reigning Horse of the Year was battling foot problems and he would have to withstand a journey to a land half a world away.
Bailey’s fears eased once Cigar engaged Soul of the Matter, his primary rival. “I think he beat a lot of horses before he ever drew away from them with the way he cruised up to other horses and eyeballed them,” the rider said. “Cigar was covering the same ground with a lot more ease. I think inherently the other horse knew he could not keep up.”
Soul of the Matter could not, and the soft-spoken Mott watched contentedly as Cigar dug deep to earn his 14th consecutive triumph on an international stage. Two more victories, in the Massachusetts Handicap and in the Arlington Citation Challenge, the latter created by Arlington Park to fit the occasion, allowed Cigar to equal Citation’s mark.
That set the stage for the Pacific Classic at Del Mar Thoroughbred Club near San Diego. After having things break Cigar’s way so often, nothing went right for him in the Pacific Classic. Cigar and Bailey were caught up in a sizzling speed duel with Siphon and Dramatic Gold, prompting them to go the first three-quarters of a mile in a crackling 1:09 1/5 seconds. It was ruinous for all three as long shot Dare and Go, patiently ridden by Alex Solis, swept by for the upset. Cigar was second.
He would overcome the inauspicious start to his career to win 19 times in 33 races and finish with earnings of $9,999,813. The moment Bailey remembers most, though, is his visit to Cigar in the test barn after the Pacific Classic. It had become his habit to reward him after each race with a peppermint.
Cigar, proud champion that he was, refused the peppermint.