11/21/2013 5:26PM

No 'butts' about it: Cigar was untouchable during two-year reign

Barbara D. Livingston
Cigar, ridden by Jerry Bailey, won the 1994 NYRA Mile, a Grade 1 race at Aqueduct that now bears his name.

As Cigar turned into the stretch of the sixth race at Aqueduct on Oct. 28, 1994, with a five-length lead, track announcer Tom Durkin, high in his perch atop the grandstand, trained his binoculars on the heretofore unknown and modestly accomplished horse widening his lead with every stride. Just behind Durkin, on his desk in the announcer’s booth, the cursor on his Apple Macintosh laptop flickered at the end of a catchphrase he had composed earlier that day just in case what was transpiring before him should come to pass.

As the horse flashed across the finish line under Mike Smith, well in hand and eight lengths to the good, Durkin bellowed across the public-address system, “It’s Cigar, no but[t]s about it.”

Wordlessly, Durkin put down his binoculars, strode over to his desk, and, shaking his head, hit the delete button on his keyboard repeatedly until the scripted phrase disappeared from the screen.

It would not be the last time Durkin would call Cigar’s name first to the wire. However, the need for superlatives would become greater.

Little did Durkin, or anyone, for that matter, know that the race he had just witnessed was a conception point in Thoroughbred racing history.

That night at The Meadowlands, Smith ran into Jerry Bailey, a regular patron of Cigar’s trainer, Bill Mott. “Do you remember that horse Cigar we were talking about?” Smith said to Bailey. “I rode him today at Aqueduct.”

“Yeah, how did he do?” Bailey replied.

“He ran off the screen,” Smith said.

Four weeks later, Mott, who instinctively switched the turf-bred Cigar to the dirt for the Aqueduct allowance after his grass form began to decline, boldly entered him in the Grade 1 NYRA Mile, where he would face the top handicap horses Devil His Due and Bertrando.

Despite the impressive allowance victory, Cigar was the sixth choice at almost 9-1 in the field of 12. Though it was a steep rise in company, Cigar – this time under Bailey, subbing for the previously committed Smith – dispatched his Grade 1 opponents with the same haughty disdain he had the allowance field just a month earlier.

Mott put Cigar away for the winter. He knew he had a real horse on his hands and prepared him for a major campaign in 1995. He brought him back to the races Jan. 22 at Gulfstream Park against a quality allowance field, and despite a little bit of rust, Cigar won by a clear margin.

Next up, however, was a far steeper climb than even the NYRA Mile had been. Cigar was entered in the Donn Handicap at Gulfstream, where he would face reigning Horse of the Year Holy Bull, who coincidentally had made his own 1995 debut on the same card as Cigar and had looked much more impressive. Cigar was once again pooh-poohed in the wagering, going off as the clear 4-1 second choice but still 13 times Holy Bull’s 3-10 odds.

Whether Cigar was the equal or better than Holy Bull that day will never be known. Turning down the backstretch while challenging Cigar for the lead, Holy Bull broke down and was pulled up. Cigar shook off a stretch challenge from longshot Primitive Hall and scampered off to an easy victory.

“It was like the baton had been passed” from one Horse of the Year to the next, said Durkin, who also called the races that afternoon at Gulfstream.

Cigar went from strength to strength, barnstorming around the country and picking off Grade 1 victories along the way. There wasn’t a track he couldn’t handle: Oaklawn, Pimlico, Suffolk Downs, Hollywood, and Belmont all were his playground, and the competition fell before him.

When he got to his season finale, the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Belmont Park, he was in rare form. That fall, he had already knocked off the Woodward and Jockey Club Gold Cup, and a win in the Classic seemed a foregone conclusion. There was, however, a major, unforeseen stumbling block he would have to surmount.

Intermittent rain had been falling throughout that Breeders’ Cup day. Cigar had raced infrequently on wet tracks, and it hardly brought out the best in him. He had never raced on a track worse than good, and the surface was deteriorating as the Classic was about to be run. The official track condition was muddy.

But as he had done nine times before that year and 11 times stretching back to that allowance win at Aqueduct, Cigar methodically, imperiously disposed of the competition. As Cigar ran by L’Carriere in midstretch, Durkin girded himself for the coup de grace.

“I was thinking before the race what would be the right word to describe him,” Durkin said. “Unconquerable, invincible, unbeatable ...”

He went with all three. Almost in cadence with the horse’s powerful strides approaching the wire, Durkin delivered one of the most recognizable finish calls in racing history: “The unconquerable, invincible, unbeatable ... Cigar!”

The great horse seemingly had no worlds left to conquer, but Mott and owner Allen Paulson had other plans. They were wooed by Sheikh Mohammed al-Maktoum, the ruler of Dubai, to race in the inaugural running of the $4 million Dubai World Cup. Despite being forced to miss his final prep, the Santa Anita Handicap, with a quarter crack, Cigar showed incredible tenacity to hold off Soul of the Matter and win the richest race of all time, a mere half a world away from his stall at Belmont Park.

Cigar’s winning streak was now at 14, putting him just two wins away from the immortal Citation’s longstanding modern-day record of 16 consecutive victories, recorded almost a half-century earlier. Though carrying a rare 130-pound impost in both the Massachusetts Handicap and the Citation Challenge, Cigar had encountered little trouble winning either race. All that stood between him and breaking the DiMaggio streak of Thoroughbred racing was the $1 million Pacific Classic at Del Mar.

It could have been the trip to Dubai, the steady three years of training, or the fact that at age 6, Cigar had passed his peak as a racehorse. But certainly chasing fractions of 1:09 and 1:33 in a 1 1/4-mile race did not help his chances. Cigar’s streak was over, done in by the vastly inferior Dare and Go.

Perhaps it was poetic that the streak ended with Cigar in a tie with one of racing’s greats. The remaining three races in his career were admirable if not anticlimactic. In his penultimate race, the 1996 Jockey Club Gold Cup, he lost narrowly to Skip Away, who symbolically took the baton from Cigar and ran with distinction over the next two racing seasons.

Cigar ended his career with a gallant defeat, succumbing in a three-way photo in the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Woodbine.

The next year, when fall came around, Aqueduct ran the NYRA Mile for the ninth time but with a new name with a nice ring to it – the Cigar Mile.

Infertility denied Cigar a stud career when his racing days came to an end. Cigar, now 23, spends his days in the Hall of Champions at the Kentucky Horse Park, where he is regularly paraded before throngs of visitors. One of them this past spring was Mott.

“He’s finally showing his age,” Mott said. “For so long, he looked massive but athletic, like you could throw a saddle on him and he’d be like any other 7-year-old.”

For two years following that fall afternoon at Aqueduct, there were none like him.

Marc Rogala More than 1 year ago
rahman Williams More than 1 year ago
Go to you tube and watch Spectacular Bids strubs stakes 157 4/5 I said 157 4/5! One word DAMN!!!! I wish I could of been a man in terns or twenty's and saw that live. I am in my mid thirties. I wish I could of been old enough to see some of these king of beast like Secretariat, Seattle Slew, Kelso.
priority peeved More than 1 year ago
Just blew your cover "Perl", as in Perloff, you mindless Moron. Now, after you kiss MINE you can plant a lip-lock on your idol Tom Durkin's AMPLE A-Hole. hug the Kool-Aid to wash it DOWN.
nick More than 1 year ago
Cigar was and is a GREAT race horse. Coparing other horses like John Henry or Big Red does nobody good. Its like comparing Babe Ruth to Barry Bonds can't be done. All of my employees at the racetrack have a dental plan with Dental Discount Network. Visit the site. Happy Turkey Day!!
priority peeved More than 1 year ago
Tom "DOWN the Backstretch" Durkin calls races with binoculars in one hand and a can of Heineken in the other, still hasn't LEARNED that thoroughbred horses on THIS side "of the Pond" race UP the backstretch, get it Tom?, UP the backstretch. Bend your fat ear to consummate race callers Vic Stauffer & Tom Imbriale you MIGHT learn a thing or two. CHEERS.
Perl More than 1 year ago
Classless and Clueless, a lethal combination. And it's John Imbriale, you imbecile.
Matt D. More than 1 year ago
A pet peeve of priority peeved. I'm DOWN with that... as in thumbs down. Bottoms UP!
priority peeved More than 1 year ago
M.D You need a Doctor in the house. Stay DOWN, that's where you BELONG...you Bottom-Feeder!
priority peeved More than 1 year ago
M.D. You need a head doctor. Stay DOWN, that;s where you BELONG...you Bottom-Feeder!
Ray Sousa More than 1 year ago
Cigars win streak really was ended by Siphon even though Dare and go won the race,his jockey was afraid the Brazilian horse Siphon would be very tough if he got comfortable on the lead and decided to press him.that move sealed both their fates and Dare and go picked them both up in deep stretch...one things for sure any of these horses would give the current top older horses fits.
TEDK215 More than 1 year ago
I made so much money with this horse back in the day it aint even funny!! him and Bailey
ENAMMELD More than 1 year ago
Ghostzapper arguably the best horse since Spectacular Bid.
Jerseyjoe B More than 1 year ago
What Spectacular Bid did to Flying Paster was merciless. Also, had a walkover in the Woodward.
Blaine MacMillan More than 1 year ago
If Cigar was babied like Ghostzapper was, he would've been doing a disservice to horse racing. No comparison whatsoever.....Cigar made all the stops all over the country....Please....
rahman Williams More than 1 year ago
Ghostzapper ran one unbelievable race in classic. It is about career form for me, ghostzapper only won two grade ones over a mile. Not in Cigar's league
Perl More than 1 year ago
It depends on what you value in a race horse. I believe Ghostzapper's best races were probably faster than Cigar's best races, but Cigar did it many more times and made a lot more $. Both were hall-of-famers IMO.
Gilda Libero More than 1 year ago
Cigar was a champion plain and simple...Throughout the 1st year he dominated, taking command of his races in the 2nd turn with a turn of foot that made everyone else look like they were standing still. I was a patrol judge at the 1/2 mile pole on race one of his streak and knew I was seeing one of the best ever when he passed beneath me taking 1 stride for every other horses 2...I soon joined the Mott barn to be a part of his journey and it was a ride I will never forget. That quarter crack was an issue through out the second season yet he came back from Dubai and went track to track HIDING from NO ONE..and winning under weight. It took 3 to beat him in Delmar and the only setup at Suffolk was to give the PEOPLE of Suffolk Downs, the fans, an opportunity to enjoy him. People forget that Cigar brought life back to racing across the country. Brought it back to the forefront of Sports news. People flocked to see him all over the country..and he delivered right down to the end, carrying the weight of a nation, some fans cheering him on, some fans hoping for his defeat...I will tell you this...standing with all the people in the know,,, the horsemen...the "help" ....at the rail at Woodbine when they came roaring down the stretch as we collectively where screaming our horses home, in those final yards perhaps all but the connections of the 1st two horses under wire called Cigar, Cigar Cigar ...and that was what I walked away with...that even in the heat of battle those that know greatness acknowledged it
RIP Grammar More than 1 year ago
I loved this horse. He proved that breeding doesn't always mean squat... he was bred to the nines for grass, but didn't really like it. Trounced 'em on the dirt though. He was exciting to watch and such a good looking boy. And the males quite often get better with age. In the wild, the boys play for the first 3-4-5 years until they are big enough to fight off others to get the girls. That's the one thing that people in horse racing have forgotten. The fillies usually do well young before their maternal instincts kick in, and the boys usually do better at 5 & 6 (and even older)... nature is a good thing.
Blaine MacMillan More than 1 year ago
Cigar had Seattle Slew as his dam's sire...He broke his maiden on dirt in his 2nd career start in 1:09 and change at Hollywood Park. They just took too long to make the change given how his sire Palace Music just missed in the 1986 BC Mile....