10/08/2014 9:46AM

Cigar, two-time Horse of the Year, dies at 24

Barbara Livingston
Cigar, shown winning the 1996 Woodward Stakes, was voted Horse of the Year in 1995 and 1996 and earned just under $10 million for his career.

Two-time Horse of the Year Cigar, arguably the greatest racehorse of the 1990s and a member of the National Racing Hall of Fame, died Tuesday evening at age 24, from complications following surgery for severe osteoarthritis in his neck at Rood and Riddle Equine Hospital in Lexington, Ky. The horse resided at the nearby Kentucky Horse Park's Hall of Champions.

Cigar had been under the care of a team of veterinarians from Rood and Riddle, as well as the Hagyard Equine Medical Institute, who determined that a surgical correction for the arthritis was the best option after more conservative medical treatments over the last six months failed to provide relief.

“Medical therapies had failed to relieve the pressure that the arthritis was causing on his spine, which had resulted in instability in his hind legs," Kathy Hopkins, director of equine operations for the Kentucky Horse Park, said in a release.

The surgical correction was performed by Dr. Steve Reed of Rood and Riddle, who pioneered the procedure performed; Dr. Brett Woodie of Rood and Riddle; and Dr. Laura Werner of Hagyard.

“Cigar developed a compression of his spinal cord in the lower part of his neck,” Dr. Reed said. “The most severe compression was between cervical vertebra 6 and 7, with additional compression between cervical vertebra 5 and 6. This was an acquired problem related to arthritis, and bony remodeling in the neck. The severity of this spinal cord compression became so problematic that all parties were left with few options, the best one being surgery. This was a significant surgery involving a prolonged recovery. Unfortunately, during recovery Cigar suffered a vertebral fracture and passed away."

Cigar, a son of Palace Music, was bred in Maryland by the late Allen Paulson, who also campaigned the horse during his on-track career. He was trained by Alex Hassinger Jr. during his 3-year-old campaign, in which Cigar spent most of his time with moderate success on the turf, before being moved to the barn of Bill Mott.

Switched to dirt by Mott late in his 4-year-old season, Cigar became one of the sport’s biggest attractions during a 16-race undefeated streak that spanned from 1994 to 1996 and included wins in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Classic, NYRA Mile Handicap [later renamed the Cigar Mile], Oaklawn Handicap, Pimlico Special, Hollywood Gold Cup, Woodward Stakes, Jockey Club Gold Cup, and two editions of the Donn Handicap and the then-ungraded Massachusetts Handicap.

:: Cigar’s lifetime past performances

At the finish of his 1995 Breeders’ Cup Classic victory, Cigar received the iconic “unconquerable, invincible, unbeatable” stretch call from announcer Tom Durkin, and he subsequently was awarded the first of two Horse of the Year trophies. In spring 1996, Cigar famously won the inaugural edition of the Dubai World Cup.

Cigar’s streak ended with a second-place finish to Dare and Go in the 1996 Pacific Classic at Del Mar, tying the horse with Triple Crown winner Citation at 16 wins in a row. He came back to win his second edition of the Woodward Stakes by four lengths, his final victory. Cigar then finished second by a head to Skip Away in his defense of the Jockey Club Gold Cup and concluded his career with a third-place effort in the 1996 Breeders’ Cup Classic at Woodbine. That campaign was enough to earn him his second Eclipse Award as Horse of the Year.

Cigar retired with 19 wins in 33 starts over four seasons of racing for earnings of $9,999,815, an amount which stood as the record for a North American-based racehorse until Curlin surpassed it in 2008. Fourteen of his wins came in stakes company, including 11 Grade 1 victories. He was inducted into the National Museum of Racing’s Hall of Fame in 2002, his first year of eligibility.

Upon his retirement, Cigar was to begin his stallion career at Ashford Stud in Versailles, Ky. His first book included Grade 2 winner Mariah’s Storm, whom Coolmore purchased for $2.6 million at the 1996 Keeneland November breeding stock sale with eventual European Horse of the Year Giant’s Causeway in utero.

However, Cigar proved to be infertile, failing to get any of the 34 mares he covered pregnant during the 1997 breeding season. It triggered a $25-million infertility settlement from Italian insurance company Assicurazoni Generali S.P.A., which took ownership of the horse after paying Paulson and the Coolmore partnership.

In 1999, Cigar took up residency at the Kentucky Horse Park’s Hall of Champions, on loan from the insurance company. He was a fan favorite during the park’s showcases and resided there until his death.

"The great champion Cigar thrilled racing fans and surely brought new ones to the sport as he compiled win after win in his incredible streak of victories," Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear said in a release. “An example of racing at its best, he continued to serve as an ambassador, bringing joy to countless visitors to the Hall of Champions at the Kentucky Horse Park, where he will be missed."

Cigar will be buried on the Kentucky Horse Park's Memorial Walk of Champions, near the barn where he resided. A public memorial service will be planned at a later date.

"Cigar was an incredible horse who left an everlasting mark on the racing world,” Ted Nicholson, interim executive director of the Kentucky Horse Park, said. "We are honored that Cigar was able to spend so many years of his life here at the park where he was visited by so many fans and will always be remembered.”