(the marvelous thing about a lifetime of writing about horses, is the opportunity to revisit and relive the excitement generated by these extraordinary animals. Cigar was one of my equine heroes and even today, all these years later, I find it easy to become caught up, once again, in the magic of Cigar.)
… Despite being born among the very elite of Thoroughbreds Cigar exhibited little interest in running faster than need be. At 3, he ambled along in a few races on the West Coast. The following year owner, Alan Paulson, shipped Cigar to Bill Mott, his East Coast trainer. The first thing Mott did was give Cigar 6 months off. Once back in the starting gate Cigar continued to show little sense of urgency at the clang of the bell.
Then in October, as if struck by divine inspiration, Cigar won a mile race at Aqueduct by an astonishing 8 lengths. Over the next two years Cigar won every race he entered-top drawer events including the Jockey Club Gold Cup and Breeders’ Cup Classic in record time.
In the spring of 1996 Cigar boarded a plane and was flown almost 10,000 km to Dubai for the inaugural World Cup. Racing at night under the lights and over desert sands, Cigar needed every inch of his superior framework to win the world’s richest horse race by a little under a length over Soul of the Matter. It marked his 14th straight victory and anointed Cigar Horse of the World. He also matched Man o’ War’s 1920 winning streak.
The next target was Citation’s 16 race streak set in 1948. And so it was that 35,000 fans converged on Chicago’s Arlington Park to see history made. Cigar did not disappoint. When the horse bounded across the finish the cheering was deafening and went on for close to 20 minutes.
A month later Cigar was in California for the Pacific Classic. The first sign things were unravelling was when Cigar balked at going into the starting gate. Many believed he knew it. Cigar finished second. Some of his fans openly wept. While Cigar’s amazing run may have been coming to an end, the magic and excitement had not…
… to be continued