Though His Winning Streak Ended at 16 Races, Cigar Remains the Very Model of the Modern Major Thoroughbred
From the Print Edition:
Danny DeVito, Winter 96
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While his breeding may not be considered the most fashionable, Cigar still drew a hot hand when his genes were being dealt. Though his dam, Solar Slew, banked only $5,856 in seven fruitless attempts to win a race, Cigar may have picked up some freakish, yet to be isolated winning-streak gene from her, because her sire was Seattle Slew, who was the only horse to go into and come out of the Triple Crown races undefeated. Seattle Slew's sire, Bold Reason, won his first seven races.
Cigar's sire, Palace Music, was a solid racehorse who earned almost a million dollars on the grass. Like his son, Palace Music had what it took to win big on either side of the Atlantic as he notched top-tier turf wins in the United States and Europe.
Still, Paulson's breeding operation produced 140 other well-bred foals besides Cigar in 1990. Though it would be a while before he caught Paulson's eye, Cigar made quite an impression on Josh Pons' Country Life Farm in Maryland, where he was raised.
Because of his predilection for rising on his hind legs and trying to sucker-punch whoever got close to him, the young Cigar earned the nickname "The Hammer," which ceased to be a joke when he landed a glancing, but fortunately harmless, blow to the midsection of Ellen Pons, six months pregnant at the time. Cigar would later put the hammer to himself when, startled by a few deer that had gotten into his pasture at Paulson's Brookside Farm in Versailles, Kentucky, he showed considerable speed running headlong into a fence, ripping a gash down the length of his chest.
Despite the scar, Cigar developed into an impressive physical specimen. Every part of him looks good and all the parts work in concert like a Swiss movement. The tale of the tape has him as a six-year-old bay standing 16 hands, 3 inches (5 feet 7 inches at the shoulder), 1,024 pounds, with a girth of 71 inches.
"He's what we'd call very scopey," Mott says. "His top line is very flowing. He's long and lean with a slender neck. He's not too wide, very streamlined. All of which has a lot to do with his fluid action. And he's well balanced. The back matches the front, the top matches the bottom. Horses like that are hard to find."
Mott knows firsthand how those qualities translate into a smooth ride, because the 165-pound trainer has ridden the horse in the mornings several times. "With a lot of horses you can really feel them run. They'll hit the ground hard and give you quite a pounding," the trainer says. "But with him it's like his legs do all the work--his body doesn't move."
Jerry Bailey, Cigar's jockey for 15 of the 16 streak wins, says, "He has a very efficient stride. His feet barely clear the surface. Ironically, that's considered a turf stride."
Tom Durkin's perspective on Cigar's athleticism comes from on high in the track announcer's booth. "He has perfect balance. He reminds me of the Olympic champion Michael Johnson--ramrod straight, no wasted motion, flawless in execution, perfect, erect and focused," Durkin says. "You call tell how a horse is running, if he's straining or laboring, by how he holds his head. Cigar's head just doesn't move."
What's going on inside that head is also important. "The key to his durability may be that he's very intelligent. He knows how to take care of himself," Mott says. "And he can handle commotion. He seems to enjoy it, he thrives on it."
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