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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So when Cigar began what was to become one of the most celebrated streaks in racing history, Mott and a few members of his crew were gathered under a wide-screen TV in the first floor of the clubhouse along with the gorgeous mosaic of New York racing fans who call Aqueduct their home away from home."I'm in blue jeans, a windbreaker, I've got a cup of hot chocolate, maybe a hot dog, and I'm looking over someone's shoulder at their program to check the numbers of the horses," Mott says, recalling the prosaic scene.
Mott was at Aqueduct to saddle Cigar for his 14th career start--a career that had netted only two wins to date--but only the fifth start under his training. The race would also be Cigar's first race on the main dirt track after 11 tries on the turf.
Team Mott watched the electronic image of Cigar break from the gate and flow to the lead by the first quarter of the mile race. The trainer focused in on track announcer Tom Durkin's race call: "...and the first quarter was drilled in :22 and 2. It was quick and contentious and Cigar takes charge.... Cigar opens up two and a half lengths...a half mile--could it be?--in 44 and three-fifth seconds!!...perhaps it was too fast!"
Apparently not, because in the deep stretch Durkin would be saying, "Cigar's just waltzing home today. He just crushed his rivals to win by 10!" Durkin then couldn't resist the kind of clever play on words that would make Cigar the darling of headline writers around the world as he concluded his call with, "No butts about it, it was Cigar, much the best."
"I got that out of the way very quick. That name is a pretty easy target. Once was enough," Durkin recalls. "But I couldn't believe my eyes when I saw the half-mile time. With all the races I see, I get a very good idea of how horses are running, and he was running so easy. At that level of competition, horses just don't run a half mile in :44 and change and still win. It would be like a guy from the minor leagues coming up to the majors and pitching a no-hitter."
Mott was lucky he didn't drop the hot chocolate. "We all just looked at each other," Mott says, his eyes bulging and his jaw going slack even in the retelling. "I said, 'Just look at what we had all along!' "
What they had, had only just begun.
Let's not try to sell this as a rags-to-riches story, however. Cigar grew up on the right side of the track. His owner and breeder is Allen E. Paulson, the 74-year-old founder and chief executive officer of Gulfstream Aerospace Corp. A record-setting pilot, Paulson names all his horses after aviation checkpoints. (No, Cigar was not named for the memory of a fine panatela, but for Checkpoint Cigar in the Gulf of Mexico.) He has campaigned a herd of high-end thoroughbreds, including Arazi, Eliza, Estrapade, Fraise and Theatrical, and ranks among the leading money-winning owners in North American horse racing history.
Cigar's trainer, Bill Mott, 43, has been the leading trainer at the prestigious Gulfstream and Saratoga meets, and among the 100 or so horses he trains are runners owned by such racing luminaries as Sheik Mohammed al Maktoum of the United Arab Emirates and Henryk deKwiatkowski, the owner of Calumet Farms in Kentucky. Jockey Jerry Bailey's accomplishments could fill a book, so here are just two highlights: at age 39, he is already in racing's Hall of Fame; and, going into 1996, he had won an almost greedy four out of the last five runnings of the Breeders' Cup Classic, America's richest race.
"Jerry Bailey is perfect for Cigar," Tom Durkin says. "If Bailey had been a horse, he'd be Cigar. They share a lot of qualities, but the greatest thing they share is competitiveness."
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