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Hovdey: Cigar’s Classic etched in memory, now cast in bronze
Time doesn’t just fly. It disappears, leaving only traces of the past as delicate, windswept footprints on the memory.
Fortunately, there are a few of the most significant moments in the history of Thoroughbred racing marked forever by solid pieces of remembrance. One of them will be celebrated on Tuesday of Breeders’ Cup week at the Kentucky Horse Park, just north of Lexington, when a bronze statue of Cigar and Jerry Bailey winning the 1995 Breeders’ Cup Classic will be unveiled.
It remains to be seen if the bronze by Douwe Blumberg, which is still under wraps, measures up to the high bar set by the Secretariat of Richard Skeaping at Belmont Park, or the John Henry and Zenyatta statues struck by Nina Kaiser for Santa Anita, or Edwin Boguki’s “Against All Odds” commemoration of the first Arlington Million finish between John Henry and The Bart. When it comes to the life span of those pieces, we’re rooting for forever.
Cigar died on Oct. 7, 2014, and the memorial will adorn his resting place. It also depicts one of the greatest moments in Breeders’ Cup history on the eve of its 20th anniversary, freezing in time that moment on Oct. 28, 1995, when Cigar and Bailey won the 12th running of the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Belmont Park.
They were supposed to win, of course. Cigar was odds-on. Belmont was his home field. He was unbeaten in nine starts that year at six different tracks and on a roll of 11 straight wins dating back a year to the day of the Breeders’ Cup.
Still, the challenges faced by Bill Mott and his crew were considerable. Six days before the Classic, Cigar broke out in a raging case of hives. Puffy welts covered his body. His lips looked like he’d gotten into the Botox. With medication, the hives subsided, but then came the weather.
“That was the main worry, how he would handle the mud,” recalled Simon Bray. “He’d never run on it before. Never even worked on it. The tracks were already wet, and then another storm hit the night before the race.”
Bray, who is scheduled to return to duty as a TVG commentator next week after being diagnosed last June with multiple myeloma, was an assistant in the Mott stable at the time, along with Tim Jones and Ralph Nicks. Bray was at Meadowlands the night before the Classic saddling a Mott horse, which means he got barely a catnap before reporting to the Belmont barn at 5 a.m. Saturday.
“And the barn was flooded,” Bray said. “A real mess. But I do remember vividly taking Cigar to the training track with Bill on the pony to see how he handled it. Bill’s smile told me there would be no problem.”
Later that day, Bray led Cigar over from the barn with groom Juan Campuzano. Mott followed, pulling up his socks and bumming a stick of gum from a nearby turf writer. Allen and Madeleine Paulson were in the paddock to greet them, along with a field that included defending Classic champ Concern, Pacific Classic winner Tinners Way, Whitney 1-2 finishers Unaccounted For and L’Carriere, Burt Bacharach’s Soul of the Matter, and the classy 3-year-olds Star Standard, Peaks and Valleys, and French Deputy.
There was a suggestion that the opposition lacked the major-race credentials of a truly first-class field, but consider the context. The 1995 Classic included the winner of the Donn, Gulfstream Park Handicap, Oaklawn Handicap, Pimlico Special, Hollywood Gold Cup, Woodward, and Jockey Club Gold Cup. They all just happened to be named Cigar.
Bobby Frankel, who trained Tinners Way, stirred the pot with a challenge to Cigar’s shoes, suggesting they were the illegal turn-downs rather than standard-issue racing plates with the ends tweaked, which they were. The protest did nothing but anger Mott and delayed Bray and Campuzano leading the favorite to the track.
Once in the race, Cigar pulled Bailey’s arms numb until the rider said “no mas” on the far turn and let the big horse rock. Up in the stands, Mott saw what was happening and said, “Why not?” leaving Cigar to do the rest, winning by a 2 1/2-length margin that could have been any number.
In the 20 years since Cigar won the Breeders’ Cup Classic, great racetracks have died, champions have come and gone, and horses like Zenyatta, Ghostzapper, Tiznow, Curlin, Invasor, Skip Away, and Pleasantly Perfect have tried to fill the Cigar-sized imprint left upon the Classic. Close, but no Cigar.
Allen Paulson died in July 2000 at the age of 78. He never raced another horse remotely as good as Cigar. In 2005, Madeleine Paulson married Texas oil tycoon T. Boone Pickens. They were divorced in 2012. Madeleine Pickens, a fervent animal-welfare activist, has since developed the Mustang Monument Eco-Resort in northeastern Nevada, a 115,000-acre sanctuary for more than a thousand wild horses who might otherwise be rounded up and slaughtered by the federal Bureau of Land Management.
Since Cigar’s last hurrah at the end of the 1996 season, when he was beaten a nose and a head in the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Woodbine, Mott has trained a Belmont Stakes winner, four champions, and won six Breeders’ Cup races. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1998, while Cigar followed in 2002, his first year of eligibility.
Mott will be back for more at the Breeders’ Cup festivities Oct. 30-31, with a lineup topped by Lea, Harmonize, and Tourist. Bailey, retired since 2006, also will be on the scene with the NBC telecast, knowing full well that even the looming showdown among American Pharoah, Beholder, Honor Code, and Tonalist in the Classic can never match the way Cigar punctuated his 1995 campaign.
“I watched the race from the winner’s circle, and I could hear Durkin call Cigar going to the front,” Bray said of that day. “From there, I knew he had it. I remember running out onto the track with Tim and giving Jerry and Cigar a hug. The horse was so consistent, so reliable. I don’t think we’ll see another one like him.”
Loved your tribute, as always, Jay, but I'm a bit surprised you lumped Zenyatta in with Cigar's "would-be" successors. She stands apart from that group among which you named her. She'll require - and deserve - her own 20-year remembrance in 2029...and may you be there to pen it! Cigar earned the due you gave him...but so did she - as his most worthy successor.
Excellent article Jay! "1995 Classic included the winner of the Donn, Gulfstream Park Handicap, Oaklawn Handicap, Pimlico Special, Hollywood Gold Cup, Woodward, and Jockey Club Gold Cup. They all just happened to be named Cigar."