A Horse Named Cigar
A Thoroughbred Named Cigar is on Track for "Horse of the Year"
From the Print Edition:
Jack Nicholson, Summer 95
It was a classic day at the track. Under clear March skies at southern Florida's Gulfstream Park, a field of 11 horses queued at the post. The horses were assembled for the track's annual handicap race, a tough mile-and-a-quarter grade-one run with a purse of $500,000. The horses' names were as fanciful as any in racing: Northern Trend, Mahogany Hall, Bonus Money, Serious Spender, Proud Shot, Conveyor, Dusty Screen, Pride of Burkaan, Fight for Love, Primitive Hall and, at post 9, Cigar. That's right, Cigar.
"The name? It's something you smoke, isn't it?" asked trainer Bill Mott rhetorically. "Actually, my hunch is that it has something to do with aviation."
It's a hunch that owner Allen E. Paulson confirms. Founder and former chairman of the Los Angeles-based Gulfstream Aerospace Corporation, a manufacturer of high-performance aircraft, Paulson claims to have "spent as much time in the air as I have on the ground." Cigar, he explains, is an aviation checkpoint in the Gulf of Mexico. "It seemed like a great name for a horse," adds Paulson, who holds 24 around-the-world flight speed records and was named pilot of the year in 1987 by Professional Pilot magazine. "Sometimes it's hard to come up with the right handle."
He should know. Together with his wife, Madeleine, Paulson owns nearly 700 thoroughbreds, over 100 of which race in any given year. The Paulsons won the 1993 Eclipse Award as outstanding breeders and are regularly in the top-four category of races and money won nationwide. In fact, for several years total winnings have exceeded $3 million a year. The winnings are a nice offset to the huge expense of maintaining their 2,000-acre Brookside Farms in Kentucky, as well as an 800-acre training farm in Florida and a 360-acre farm in Southern California.
"About 20 years ago, I bought three horses, and I just got more and more seriously involved in the business," says Paulson. "I like being around thoroughbreds. They are beautiful animals."
Over the years, Paulson's horses have won some impressive victories: the Breeders' Cup Juvenile and the Breeders' Cup Mile at Churchill Downs; the Grand Criterium and the Prix de la Salamandre at Longchamp; the Breeders' Cup Turf at Hollywood; the Oak Tree Invitational at Santa Anita; the Oaklawn Handicap; and the Man o' War Stakes, to name a few. "Right now, we are pretty excited about Cigar," adds Paulson. "We think he's got a shot at being a real star."
With good reason. Cigar has won all five of his last races, and, as trainer Mott notes, the horse's victories have been impressive. "He's won easily and in a very stylish fashion," says Mott. "He's looked like a top horse in all his winning races, and I'd say you'd have to consider him in the top five or six horses in the country today."
Things have not always been so rosy for Cigar. A five-year-old who, because of his lineage, ran on turf for most of his career, Cigar was a lackluster performer until he was switched to dirt tracks last autumn. "His sire and his grandsire were both good turf runners," says Mott. "But I guess he just didn't like running on grass."
John Lee, a publicist for the New York Racing Association, was on hand at the Aqueduct Racetrack in Jamaica, New York, last November when Cigar won his first big grade-one race, the NYRA Mile. "Cigar really woke up when they switched him to dirt," says Lee. "It's not something you see everyday. He was a horse who had barely won $100,000 in his entire previous career, and his second major run on dirt he outdistances the pack to pick up a $250,000 purse. It was quite a performance."
Grade-one races are the Grand Prix of the thoroughbred world. They regularly pay the highest purses and include such well-known runs as the Kentucky Derby and the Belmont Stakes. Competition in grade-one racing is fierce, and only the best horses in the world make it to the winner's circle.
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