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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For track announcer Tom Durkin, who called Cigar's races in New York and Florida, the epic race was win No. 5, the Gulfstream Park Handicap. "To me, that was his most visually impressive race. Jerry Bailey at no point asked him to run and Cigar absolutely humiliated the best horses around," Durkin says of Cigar's seven-and-a-half-length win. "Horses just do not win $500,000 Grade 1 races that easily."
For many observers, however, it was streak win No. 6 that shifted Cigar from pretender to contender. In the Oaklawn Park Handicap in Hot Springs, Arkansas, Cigar ran into a fair sampling of those misfortunes that fall under the heading "racing luck," miscues that can leave the best horse in a race a loser.
"The Oaklawn race told me he was a champ," Paulson says. "The race drew the big horses from all over the country, horses like Concern [the 1994 Breeders' Cup Classic winner] and Silver Goblin [who was on an eight-race winning streak of his own]. It's not just that he beat them; it was the way he beat them."
Mott saw it the same way. "Oaklawn was his first big test. He was up against a well-rounded field, horses that could do anything. There was early speed and there were closers," he says. "He got carried wide into the first turn, he gets up on the pace and then is pinched back. He goes again and makes one big move."
But was the move big enough to get by a hard-charging Silver Goblin, who hit the top of the stretch alone on the lead?
"As I turned for home I went to the whip," says Dale Cordova, Silver Goblin's rider that day. "When I raised the whip Cigar was nowhere; half a jump later the whip is coming down and [Cigar's] right there. I couldn't stop. I hit him hard...like the whip wrapped around his nose. He threw his head up. Another horse might have quit, but he just took off. My horse was running hard. A normal horse would not have passed us, but Cigar is not a normal horse."
Bailey remembers the whip incident just as clearly. "That might have stopped another horse, but it was like he took the negative and turned it into a positive. He goes and runs one of his biggest numbers so far."
In race No. 7, the Pimlico Special in Baltimore, Cigar won wire-to-wire, on his own, with no prompting from his rider. Race No. 8 at Boston's modest Suffolk Downs would provide one of the emotional highlights of Cigar's victory tour. Suffolk had floated a half million dollar bonus plan designed to lure Holy Bull, but there were no regrets when Cigar showed up to claim the prize. "It wasn't a hard race, but it was a lot of fun. And Suffolk set the precedent for how to promote Cigar," Bailey recalls.
Paulson also remembers the Boston trip fondly. "It was such a nice experience, such a nice crowd," Paulson says. "That was the main reason we wanted to go again." (Which they did on June 1 of this year for streak win No. 15.)
Cigar was then due for some down time, but his owner said race on.
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