Thus went the call of 1996 Arlington Citation Challenge as Cigar once again completely dominated the field. A horse that no one had even heard of as a 3 year old had become thoroughbred racingís newest legend by winning 16 straight starts and tying the great Citationís race record. He had become Americaís horse and had revived the thoroughbred racing industry by instilling new hope in the fans that there could be amazing champions to contend with the memories of horses long ago.
This bay colt, bred and owned by Allen Paulson, was foaled in 1990 out of the mare Solar Slew, by Palace Music. His grandsire was the mighty Seattle Slew on his damís side, and his great-grandsire was Northern Dancer on his sireís. But it would take almost 2 seasons of racing for his heritage to truly show. As a 3 year old, he was sent to trainer Alex Hassinger. He made his track debut in February of 1993, at 6 furlongs on the dirt, but broke his maiden a month later at the same distance. Then Cigar began running on the turf. In May he raced in an allowance but it wasnít anything memorable. He raced in allowance and stakes company for the remainder of the year and managed a first, two seconds, and two thirds. In his first attempt in a Grade I stakes on the turf, the Hollywood Derby, he finished off the board. After his final race of 1993, veterinarians found bone chips in Cigarís knees and performed arthroscopic surgery. Once the colt recovered, he was sent to Paulsonís East Coast stable and trainer Bill Mott.
Mott kept Cigar out of contention until July of his 4 year old season. He put the colt back on the grass but became frustrated when Cigar failed to place better than 3rd in all four starts. In October, Mott switched the colt back to the dirt for an allowance race at Aqueduct. This time, under jockey Mike Smith, he defeated the field with an amazing 8 length victory. Mott was impressed, and entered Cigar in the NYRA mile against multiple grade-1 stakes winner Devil His Due. But with Jerry Bailey in the saddle, Cigar handed Devil a loss with an inspiring 7 length win. This concluded his 4 year old season but was the beginning of his awe-inducing win streak.
Cigar started his 5 year old season with an allowance race at Gulfstream Park in January. Three weeks later, he faced the reigning Horse of the Year, Holy Bull, in Gulfstreamís Donn Handicap. Cigar won by 5 Ĺ lengths, though there were many who thought he won by default, as the great Holy Bull endured a career-ending injury while racing on the backstretch. Even after 4 straight wins, Cigar had to prove himself. During the spring and summer, he won the Gulfstream Park Handicap, the Oaklawn Handicap, the Pimlico Special Handicap, the Massachusetts Handicap, and the Hollywood Gold Cup. His win streak had increased to 9 and many racing fans were anticipating his fall campaign to the Breeders Cup.
The 1995 Breeders Cup was at Belmont Park, so Mott shipped Cigar to New York to prepare. The great 5 year old remained undefeated with wins in the Woodward Stakes and the Jockey Club Gold Cup. Cigar faced the Breeders Cup Classic after a long campaign. He had raced almost every month since the start of the year, so he had no long rests. Cigar would be facing fresh horses and a sloppy track, a year to the day his great win streak had begun. But the public believed that their big bay horse was truly remarkable, and sent him off as the favorite. Cigarís perfect 5 year old season was on the line as the horses went to post that evening. Tom Durkin led the call for the race.
"Cigar makes his move, and he sweeps to the lead with a dramatic rush!... with 3 furlongs to go, and Jerry Bailey turns him loose... and he guides him down to the rail as the field turns for home. Unaccounted For is down inside... a quarter of a mile between Cigar and a perfect season!... Coming down to the last furlong with a two-and-a-half length lead, and Jerry Bailey calls on Cigar for everything he has!... L'Carriere is a weakening second, on the inside, Unaccounted For, on the outside, Soul of the Matter... And here he is!... the incomparable, invincible, unbeatable Cigar!"
There was a new stakes record established that day, as Cigar ran the 1 ľ miles in 1:59 2/5 . He also increased his win streak to 12 and made believers out of any remaining doubters. His season was 10 for 10 with eight Grade I events. He was granted the Eclipse award as the older male champion and Horse of the Year. And while many horses would be retired to stud at the conclusion of such a season, Cigar merely got a break for the winter.
He returned to the track as a 6 year old looking for new worlds to conquer, and a standing win streak to beat. He prepped for the $4 million Dubai World Cup by winning his second consecutive Donn Handicap, although this year he carried 13 more pounds than the year prior. Cigar then shipped to Dubai to race on the sand and under the bright lights. At the top of the stretch, Cigar made his move. He put away the rest of the field, but then a horse was suddenly alongside him, Soul of the Matter. Cigar was briefly headed but fought back gamely to win by half a length, and increase his streak to 14. He had become the unofficial Horse of the World.
Once back in the US, the big bay was give a few months off to heal his quarter crack and rest from Dubai. The June 1st Massachusetts Handicap was his next start. Cigar won again in easy fashion and the question was asked. Could he tie the champion Citationís record? Arlington International hosted the Citation Challenge and sent invitations to the other greats of the year: Dramatic Gold, Honour and Glory, Unbridledís Song, and Eltish, among others. Cigar got a challenge from Dramatic Gold but managed to pull away and match the mighty Citationís win streak at 16.
Cigar attempted to better his win streak to 17 in the Pacific Classic at Del Mar. He was up against the speedball Siphon and the closer Dare and Go. Jockey Jerry Bailey had a tough decision, keep Cigar close to the lead or let Siphon run away with the race. Bailey would later look back at this race as his mistake. He had kept Cigar going neck and neck with Siphon through blistering fractions and when Dare and Go came from behind, Cigar could not withstand his charge. Many fans were in tears as they watched their great champion taste defeat for the first time in almost 2 years. No one had believed it possible for their big bay to be beaten.
A month later Cigar came back with a victory in the Woodward Stakes but was defeated in the Jockey Club Gold Cup by the up and coming 3 year old Skip Away. The 1996 Breeders Cup would be the horseís last start before retirement. Cigar entered the Breeders Cup against a very good field, which included older horses Dare and Go, Dramatic Gold, and Alphabet Soup, as well as 3 year olds Editorís Note and Louis Quatorze. This year, Cigar came off the pace in his stretch run but he made his move too late. He failed to catch Alphabet Soup and Louis Quatorze by the wire, although he was only beaten by a head and a nose. It was time for Cigar to go home.
The bay horse had a grand retirement celebration in New York City. He was paraded to Madison Square Garden as fans lined the streets to get a final glimpse of their grand champion. Cigar received a standing ovation as Jerry Bailey mounted his horse for their final ride together. He was once again bestowed with Eclipse awards for 1996 as the Champion Older Male and Horse of the Year.
Biography by Raelyn Mezger
Cigar's site is part of the Thoroughbred Greats network and part of HodgePodge Blogs