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.
After the NYRA Mile win, jockey Jerry Bailey, who has ridden Cigar on turf as well as in all five of his winning dirt-track races, couldn't help but quip, "Cigar really smoked 'em today. He's a different animal on the dirt."
That March day at the Gulfstream Park Handicap, Cigar smoked 'em again. Though he was expected to face a good run from Serious Spender and Northern Trend, the race wasn't even close. Cigar won by 7 1/2 lengths, covering the mile-and-a-quarter distance in just over 2:02 minutes. Pride of Burkaan, a 36-to-1 long shot, finished a distant second, while Mahogany Hall came from dead last to finish third.
It was the first mile-and-a-quarter run for Cigar, and after the race Mott commented that it was time to make some long-range plans for the horse. "He proved he can go the longer distance," says Mott. "So it's time to look seriously at the future."
So what does the future hold for Cigar? According to Mott, at the age of five the horse has only a half-dozen or so races left in him for 1995. "We might run him in the Oaklawn Handicap, the Pimlico Special or the Metropolitan Mile at Belmont," says Mott. "But our main goal is the Breeders' Cup Classic at Belmont next October. It's like with any athlete, if he doesn't smoke and he doesn't drink and he stays sound, there might be some more good things to come. If he keeps healthy, Cigar could be the next horse of the year."
Winning races aside, Paulson is right: Thoroughbreds are beautiful animals. Cigar, the color of a flawless Cameroon wrapper, sports a white ring around one eye. "We call it a 'keen white eye,'" says Mott. "It gives him a mark of distinction."
Unfortunately, neither Mott nor Paulson will be celebrating Cigar's victories with a cigar. "I don't smoke cigars unless I happen to be given a good one," says Mott. Adds Paulson, "I've never been a smoker, though some of my best friends are. Take Lee Iacocca, for instance. After he met with Castro in Cuba, he came back with some wonderful cigars, supposedly the best you can buy anywhere. If Cigar wins big, Lee will have to do the smoking for me."