10/08/2014 3:50PM

The unconquerable, invincible, unbeatable CIGAR


CIGAR (b.h., 4/18/90 - 10/7/14, by Palace Music - Solar Slew, by Seattle Slew)

I'm not generally comfortable writing about myself.  I had nothing to do with CIGAR's heart-stirring 16 consecutive wins, his narrow losses, his strutting ways, his bold white-rimmed eye.  I was just a spectator with camera-in-hand and running shoes on, chasing the distinctive bay son of Palace Music - Solar Slew through 17 of his final 20 starts.   I chronicled Cigar touching hearts at Aqueduct, Gulfstream, Oaklawn, Pimlico, Suffolk Downs, Belmont, Saratoga, Arlington, Del Mar, Woodbine, and Churchill Downs - and got goosebumps when the lights dimmed to black at Madison Square Garden, when the spotlight shone just for him.

Memories lie thick on days like these.  I write about Cigar as if he were my horse because, well, he felt like my horse.  When he turned that famous eye my way, he drew me in and became a part of me.  He did that for countless others, too, giving people all of himself that he could.  He was theirs, and they were his.

There has not been a Thoroughbred since who could wear the title of 'America's Racehorse.'  Nor, I fear, will there be again.

Above:  It's doubtful 4-year-old Cigar turned many heads before the 1994 NYRA Mile (despite the usual cheery demeanor of Aqueduct fans).  The colt's first 13 starts were nothing to write home about.Cigar's 14th was an Aqueduct allowance win October 28, 1994 - the first of his 16 straight victories.  This day, Cigar was the 8.90-1 fifth choice in the betting.

Above:  The NYRA Mile on November 26, 1994, was win #2 in Cigar's streak.  With Jerry Bailey aboard, Cigar won by 7 lengths and paid $19.80. (the NYRA Mile was later renamed the Cigar Mile).

Above:  The NYRA Mile winner's circle seems to have been a low-key affair.  Assistant Simon Bray and jockey Jerry Bailey during the trophy presentation by racing fan David Cassidy.

Above:  Cigar's third straight win was a Gulfstream allowance on January 22, at .50-1 odds, by 2 easy lengths.  By later that day, this win seemed inconsequential in comparison to champion Holy Bull winning the Olympic Handicap.

Above:  Many considered the 1995 Donn Handicap Holy Bull's for the taking - I know I did.  Here he and Cigar lead the first time past the stands.  Holy Bull suffered a career-ending injury in the race, and Cigar cruised home by 5 1/2 lengths - as if the baton had been passed.

Above/below:  Cigar wins the 1995 Donn Handicap.

Above:  Owner Allen Paulson, regular rider Jerry Bailey, and Bill and Brady Mott in the Donn winner's circle.  Perhaps Bill's unenthusiastic look was due to how severe Holy Bull's injury appeared.

Above:  After a win in the Gulfstream Park Handicap, Cigar shipped to Oaklawn Park for the Oaklawn Handicap.  Here, he trains the day before the race with Tim Jones aboard.

Above/below:  Cigar won the Oaklawn Handicap on April 15, 1995, by 2 1/2 lengths over Silver Goblin.  He paid $5.40.

Above:  Cigar at Pimlico, May 1995.

Above/below:  Cigar won the Pimlico Special on May 13, 1995, for his seventh straight win.

Above/below:  Cigar was shipped to Suffolk Downs for the 1995 Massachusetts Handicap.  He won the June 1 event by 4 1/2 easy lengths at odds of .10-1.

Above:  Next came the Woodward at Belmont on September 16.  While the venue had changed, the result was the same.  At .10-1, the chart read, "Cruised in hand."

Above:  On October 7, Cigar added the Jockey Club Gold Cup to his resume.  He was 'only' .35-1, due in part to the presence of Thunder Gulch.  Cigar won by a length, while Thunder Gulch faded to fifth.

Above:  Cigar at Bill Mott's Belmont barn during 1995 Breeders' Cup week.

Above:  Cigar wins the 1995 Breeders' Cup Classic in a scintillating performance, winning by 2 1/2 lengths in 1:59.58, paying $3.40, and inspiring Tom Durkin to exclaim, "the unconquerable, invincible, unbeatable Cigar!"

Above:  Cigar in the 1995 Breeders' Cup Classic winner's circle.

Above:  Letting down in the autumn at Belmont.  Gerard Guenther rides, and Simon Bray is alongside.

Above:  Bill Mott hams it up with his to-be champion Cigar on January 7, 1996 at Payson Park.  Cigar won 10 straight races in 1995, bringing his win skein to 12.  Cigar was named the 1995 Horse of the Year and champion older horse.

Above:  My favorite portrait of Cigar and Bill.

Above:  Cigar, with Bill Mott on Cigar's popular buddy Snowball, at Gulfstream Park on February 7, 1996. 

Above:  Cigar, Jerry Bailey aboard, wins his second Donn Handicap, on February 10, 1996.  Good thing, because the sign in the background would have otherwise looked silly.

Above:  Cigar, Judy Nicks up, and Snowball and Bill Mott, at Gulfstream Park in March 1996.  They shipped to Dubai a day or two later, where Cigar won the inaugural Dubai World Cup.

Above:  Cigar's next US race was a return visit to Suffolk Downs for the Mass Cap.  While the crowd had appreciated his visit in 1995, this year, he received full-blown star status, with billboards, major TV coverage, lots of print press, and very enthusiastic fans.  He did not disappoint.

Above/below:  Cigar wins the 1996 Massachusetts Handicap, June 1, 1996.

Above:  Cigar's groom Juan Campuzano helps lead Cigar to the winner's circle.

Above:  Cigar, with Tim Jones, cooling out after the Mass Cap.

Above:  At Belmont Park, July 7, 1996.

Above/below:  Welcome to Arlington Park, Cigar, for the Arlington Citation Challenge!

Above:  On July 13, 1996, Cigar won the Arlington Citation Challenge by 3 1/2 lengths at .30-1, with regular pilot Jerry Bailey aboard.  In doing so, he tied the modern American record for number of consecutive wins, a title held by Citation.

Above/below:  With Gerard Guenther aboard, in late July, at Saratoga.

Above/below:  Working at Saratoga on July 24, 1996, with Dave Wallace up.  

Above/below:  Cigar (above with Bill Mott) being posed on August 17 for sculptor Cindy Wolf, who was commissioned to create a life-sized statue for Gulfstream Park.

Above:  Cigar's final pre-Pacific Classic workout, at Saratoga before 7 a.m., brought out several thousand fans.  In the far background, Bill Mott on Half Pint, and Cigar with Jerry Bailey, going the wrong way before the work.

Above:  Cigar's bid for a 17th straight win fell short when he finished 3 1/2 lengths behind Dare and Go in the Pacific Classic.... 

Above/below:  ...but that loss didn't stop legions of fans from showing up for Cigar Appreciation Day at Saratoga on August 30, 1996.  Dave Wallace and Juan Campuzano led the champion, with Jerry Bailey wearing the familiar Paulson silks.

Above:  Cigar seems none too impressed with an edible key to the City of Saratoga Springs, being presented to him by Mayor Michael O'Connell.

Above/below:  Quiet mornings at Greentree in Saratoga.

Above/below:  More at Greentree, a very picturesque place (above with Erma Scott).

Above:  Cigar and Jerry Bailey, walking the shedrow at Mott's Belmont barn, September 1996.

Above:  Bailey watches Cigar in a quiet moment at Belmont, September.

Above:  Cigar and Jerry Bailey win their second consecutive Woodward at Belmont, this time by 4 lengths.  Cigar paid $2.70.

Above:  Allen Paulson helps lead his champion racehorse down Grade I victory lane.

Above:  The morning after the Woodward, Cigar receives a peppermint of appreciation from Allen Paulson.

Above:  Cigar watches an airplane, with his buddy Gerard aboard, autumn 1996.

Above:  Cigar can't quite catch Skip Away in the Jockey Club Gold Cup on October 5, 1996, yet he still runs a game second.

Above:  Bill Mott with Cigar during 1996 Breeders' Cup week at Woodbine.  By then, the 6-year-old Cigar seemed to be losing a step, but he was still running gamely and well enough to warrant a chance.

Above:  Cigar again can't quite get there, in the Breeders' Cup Classic on October 26, 1996.  The note says, "bid, hung."  His work was done.  Despite his late-season losses, his earlier races secured both a second Horse of the Year and champion older horse titles.

Above/below:  Cigar's connections gamely brought their America's champion to New York City for a farewell appearance at Madison Square Garden on November 2, 1996.  It seems a dream now, but there was even a parade down city streets!  What a grand sporting gesture for racing fans and horse racing in general.

Above:  Madeleine and Allen Paulson, and their buddy Oliver, answer questions from the media.

Above:  Cigar and connections (even Bill Cosby was there, although not in his photo) during his farewell ceremony at Madison Square Garden.  

Above:  Cigar's final morning at barn 25 at Belmont Park, November 3, 1996.  From there, he was shipped to Kentucky....

Above: ...where rider Judy Nicks enjoyed some time with the champion at Churchill Downs.

Above:  Bill Mott with Cigar at a farewell retirement at Churchill Downs on November 9.  It was a chilly day, with an appreciative crowd.

Above:  The last time Cigar galloped down a homestretch, November 9, 1996, with Jerry Bailey up.

Above:  The Churchill Downs' retirement ceremony.

Above:  Two days later, Cigar was shipped to Ashford Stud to begin his stallion career.  

Above:  It was hard to rattle Cigar, but Ashford has a small statue of a horse and jockey that Cigar clearly didn't care for.  He in no way wanted to pose near that statue.

Above:  Bill Mott and Cigar.

Above:  Thanks for the memories, Cigar - America's Racehorse.

                      *                             *                          *                       *

With thanks to Bill Mott and Cigar's entire team for sharing their champion so openly and kindly with all of us.

Above:  The unconquerable, invincible, unbeatable CIGAR:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-9cgu0Y6G7E