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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Cigar started his career in California with trainer Alex Hassinger Jr. and, like most American horses, his first races were on the dirt. He showed little in his first start at Santa Anita on Feb. 21, 1993, but two and a half months later he was an impressive winner at Hollywood Park. His breeding shouted turf, however, so his next 11 starts would be on the grass. He didn't do badly, running a good fourth and then third before winning over the weeds at Del Mar, the summer playground of West Coast racing. He continued to run well, though without a win, against increasingly tough competition, until the Grade 1 Hollywood Derby on Nov. 20, 1993, when he ran a dismal 11th.
"We had his knees operated on for chips," Paulson says, "and so we thought of sending him east with the idea that the softer turf courses they have there might be easier on him. Besides, we were already sending other horses to Bill Mott."
After Cigar recuperated, Mott put him back on the turf at Belmont Park in the summer of 1994. Cigar showed little in four dull efforts. With the turf racing season in New York winding down, Mott decided to punt. Cigar would give the dirt another go. "For a turf race you want a horse that can relax more," Mott says, "but Cigar gets up on the bridle and a horse can get away with that on the dirt."
Cigar got away with it. After the aforementioned Aqueduct win, Cigar stepped right up to the Grade 1 NYRA Mile, also at Aqueduct, and beat a bunch of proven stakes horses by seven lengths.
Cigar had now gotten Paulson's attention, but Paulson no longer owned the horse, even though Cigar had been carrying colors almost identical to his star-spangled red, white and blue silks.
"I had given Cigar to my wife, Madeleine, but after he won a couple I wanted him back," Paulson admits. "She made me a deal for Eliza--my two-year-old champion filly. She's always wants to get good fillies; they're the factories of the future. But now she says with the way Cigar turned out, I still owe her another."
Mott experienced the thrill of the NYRA Mile victory via long distance. "I was in Japan to run some horses and I called the racing office at Aqueduct to see how the horse did. When they told me that he won and how he won, I said, 'You're kidding!' I was jumping up and down," Mott says. "To go from that little race to a Grade 1 stake! There I was in Japan with the two stars of the barn, Fraise and Paradise Creek. They were both going to be retired and I was wondering if we had a horse who would fill the gap in the stable."
Cigar not only filled the gap in Mott's stable; he filled racing's superstar gap. It had been a long time since Secretariat made the cover of Time. Not that there hadn't been great horses and great races of late; it was just that no good horse stayed good long enough for his fame to spread much beyond racing's all-too-cozy confines. Racing usually draws its superstar candidates from the ranks of the three-year-olds in the Triple Crown races, but the brilliance asked of them in the spring classics may come at the expense of durability and consistency later on.
Cigar was stitching together something that any sports fan can relate to--a winning streak of historic proportions. Every step along the way was important, but some were more epic than others as Cigar raced towards Citation's record of 16 wins in a row.
Victories three through five all came at Florida's Gulfstream Park. In win No. 3, a minor race in late January 1995, Cigar met the challenge of running off a layoff. In win No. 4, Cigar's victory in the Donn Handicap was less significant at the time than the fact that it came at the expense of Holy Bull, then the biggest name in racing, who suffered a career-ending injury in the middle stages of the race.
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