The Incomparable, The Invincible, The Unbeatable, Cigar

April 27, 2020

Photo Credit: Flickr/Jean/Creative Commons License

Born 30 years ago, he set records like no other horse. The great Cigar is one of only two Maryland-breds ever to be named the nation’s Horse of the Year — and he was named twice. The other to be so honored was 1939 Preakness winner Challedon, who also reigned twice in 1939 and ’40.

Cigar’s perfect season in 1995 is legendary. He became the first American racehorse running against top-class competition to win 16 consecutive races since Triple Crown winner Citation did so between 1948 and 1950. The only horse to surpassed this feat was the amazing mare Zenyatta in 2010.

The Paulson homebred was foaled at Pon’s Country Life Farm in Bel Air, Md., April 18, 1990. Madeleine A. Paulson was the original owner of Cigar. In his 2003 book, Legacies of the Turf, noted race historian Edward L. Bowen wrote that according to Paulson family banter, Madeleine had traded Cigar to husband Allen for the filly Eliza, the 1992 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies winner and that year’s Eclipse Award choice for American Champion Two-Year-Old Filly. Although Madeleine saw a nice return on her trade, Allen savored the motherload.

While it would have been appropriate for the latter Paulson to celebrate with one, Cigar was not named for the tobacco product. The colt was named after a navigational checkpoint for airplanes in the Gulf of Mexico. Owner Allen Paulson was a major figure in American aviation who had owned the Gulfstream Aerospace Corporation, which manufactured Gulfstream private business jets. He named many of his horses after the five-letter-long names given to intersections on aeronautical navigational charts. His bay colt would soon be flying off to uncharted lands hitting many checkpoints along the way. 

1993 Inertia

Unraced at two and originally campaigned on the turf as a 3-year-old under trainer Alex Hassinger Jr., Cigar showed speed and intelligence but lacked a bit of confidence.

Making his first start at Santa Anita on February 21, 1993, Cigar would break his maiden on second asking May 9 at Hollywood Park in a six furlongs maiden special weight race on dirt under Patrick Valenzuela carrying 115 pounds. May 23 trainer Alex Hassinger Jr., then stretched the young colt in a 1 1/16 miles allowance but on the turf where he finished fourth by 1 3/4 lengths. He would copy that performance on June 12 improving his position to third.

After a two months rest and with a new rider, Chris McCarron, Cigar had two more allowance starts on turf at Del Mar at 1 1/16 miles and one mile. He would finish first and second, respectively. Most notable was his speed figures now showing triple figures.

Three weeks later, Hassinger Jr., moved Cigar up in class to the G3 Ascot Handicap at Bay Meadows. In a field of 12 carrying 117 pounds, the now experienced colt worked through a three way fight coming to the wire settling for third a neck behind Nonproductiveasset who lost by a neck to Siebe.

Under Patrick Valenzuela the wily colt finish second in the G3 Volante Handicap at the Oak Tree at Santa Anita beat by two lengths by Mark Hennig-trained Eastern Memories (IRE) ridden by his future jockey, Jerry Bailey. On a beautiful late November day at Hollywood Park Cigar would give the worst performance of his career in his first Grade  one stakes. Competing in a field of 14 he finished eleventh 14 lengths off the pace and outclassed.

The son of turf specialist Palace Music out of Seattle Slew mare Solar Slew ended his freshman year with a record of nine starts, two wins, two seconds and two thirds with quite a respectable Equibase Speed Figure  (ESF) high of 112 and earnings of $89,175.

1994 Test Flights

The following year, Cigar was sent to east-coast based trainer, Bill Mott, who gave him the first half of the year off, bringing him back to racing refreshed in July. Mott would warm up Cigar in allowance races in New York.

Under a new jockey, Mike Smith, Cigar’s first start at Belmont July 8 was disappointing as he finished four of five, nine lengths back in a 1 1/16 miles allowance race on the turf. He improved to a third place finish under the same conditions a month later at Saratoga. Three weeks after, back at Belmont under Jerry Bailey, the colt would finish seven of eleven showing little confidence and, surprisingly, the lowest speed of his career at 86 ESF.

On October 7, Julie Krone would ride Cigar in his last turf race to a third place in a one-mile allowance at Belmont. Conditioner Mott would make a change over the next three weeks marking history. He would switch Cigar to the main dirt track.

The 4-year-old colt made his first start on dirt in almost two years in a one-mile allowance race at Aqueduct. Cigar astounded Mott and jockey Mike Smith winning that race by eight lengths. With an ESF of 120 Cigar told the world he would rather eat grass than run on it. From that day, October 28, 1994, Cigar would not lose another race for 22 months. His trajectory towards immortality had begun.

Bill Mott would later express his inspiration for the surface change to Joe Drape. “I galloped him once myself on the Belmont training track and came back chirping about how talented he was,” Mott said. “But I kept him on the turf for four races, and he kept getting beat. [On the dirt] he won by eight lengths, and the rest is history.”

Following Cigar’s dominating performance, Mott stepped him way up in class in the G1 NYRA Mile (now the Cigar Mile Handicap) at Aqueduct, against top New York stakes winner Devil His Due. Under Jerry Bailey, and running without Lasix as New York still banned the substance at the time, the tenacious colt won by a convincing seven lengths with a wicked ESF of 130. A newly confident Cigar concluded his sophomore campaign with his first stakes win making a loud statement. I’m here!

1995 Full Throttle

Conditioner Mott brought Cigar back after a two month rest in an allowance under Bailey in late January 1995. Carrying 122 pounds the 5-year-old would beat a prophetically named Upping the Ante by two lengths. For Cigar this would kick off a monthly appointment in the winner’s circle.

Three weeks later Mott would embark on a whirlwind campaign with his mature, composed horse. Cigar’s next start would be a brilliant five lengths victory in the G1 Donn Handicap at Gulfstream. Sadly, this accomplishment was a bit overshadowed by Holy Bull‘s career ending injury.

Next up was the 1 1/4 miles Gulfstream Park Handicap in March. Cigar won by a commanding seven and a half lengths. In April, he battled Silver Goblin for the lead and was the better by two and a half in the G1 Oaklawn Handicap. His May challenge was at Pimlico on Preakness Day in the historic G1 Pimlico Special, a race first won in 1937 by War Admiral. Under a steady hand drive by Bailey Cigar beat his former New York nemesis Devil His Due by two and a quarter.

In June the redhot horse traveled farther north to Suffolk Downs to take the Massachusetts Handicap before going back to California to Hollywood Park. Cigar would run in his first $1 million G1 Hollywood Gold Cup beating Robert Frankel’s Tinners Way by 3 1/4 lengths scoring his second consecutive ESF of a scotching 123.

Conditioner Mott would take his poised and productive colt back east to Belmont in September for the G1 Woodward Stakes. On a cloudy late summer day Cigar would beat Nick Zito-trained Star Standard ridden by Pat Day. Cigar’s victory in the 1 1/8 miles stakes would be his 10th consecutive win.

On October 7, 1995, exactly a year to the day when Cigar last lost a race by placing third, he would make a start in the 1 1/4 miles G1 Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont. Riding again against Pat Day, this time on Unaccounted For trained by Flint Schulhofer, Cigar was pushed to the finish to win by a length and racked up number 11.

“Cigar! Cigar makes his move, and he sweeps to the lead with a dramatic rush,” roared the Belmont announcer Tom Durkin, with a tremor in his baritone, as Bailey turned him loose. “Here he is, the incomparable, the invincible, the unbeatable Cigar.”

A perfect 10-for 10, racing from coast-to-coast under jockey Jerry Bailey, the Mott-trained phenomenon captured a record eight Grade 1 events in a single season. This achievement equaled only by Lady’s Secret in 1986 has never been surpassed.

A standout even among those who have been accorded the nation’s highest honor, Cigar became the first undefeated Horse of the Year since 1979 Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner, Spectacular Bid 15 years earlier after his magical 1995 season. The stalwart steed set a single-season earnings mark of $4,819,800 surpassing Sunday Silence‘s mark of $4,578,454. And he had 12 consecutive wins in 14 months. In 1995, Cigar was also awarded the Eclipse Awards for Older Male horse and Horse of the Year.

1996 Breaking the Sound of Speed

1996 started with Cigar’s second run in the G1 Donn Handicap at Gulfstream. Carrying 128 pounds giving his competition 9-11 pounds, the stalwart 6-year-old would show his medal. Flying Chevron set a fast pace with Star Standard as the duo dueled on the backstretch with Cigar and Wekiva Springs. As the leaders tired down stretch Cigar passed his stablemate Wekiva Springs under Mike Smith for his first victory of the year, number 14 of the streak.

After Cigar’s second consecutive win in the Donn, Paulson and trainer Bill Mott stepped up to the challenge to ship their champion to new frontiers. The trip would take Cigar 6,000 miles to Dubai for the inaugural running of the Dubai World Cup at Nad Al Sheba Racecourse, which offered the richest purse in racing history at $4 million at the time. The grandson of Seattle Slew added to his legend with a gritty stretch run holding off Soul of the Matter to win the Cup by less than one length extending his win streak to 14 straight.

Back on U.S. soil, Cigar began a national tour to attempt to match Triple Crown winner Citation’s 16-race win streak accomplished nearly 50 years earlier. At Suffolk Downs on June 1 the largest crowd in the track’s history turned out to see Cigar repeat his win in the Massachusetts Handicap. To accomplish win number 15 Cigar was saddled with the greatest impost of his career carrying 130 pounds in the race. The consistent champ cleared the wire 2 1/4 lengths ahead of Personal Merit with a blistering ESF of 133.

On July 13, Arlington Park carded a special race, the Arlington Citation Challenge, for Cigar to attempt to tie Citation’s streak. He faced Dramatic Gold and Unbridled’s Song and again carried 130 pounds. With all the drama of Hollywood the superstar pulled away from Dramatic Gold, Eltish and Honour and Glory nearing the wire to win his 16th race in a row etching his name into history. 

Cigar next attempted to surpass Citation’s record in the G1 Pacific Classic Stakes at Del Mar with another record crowd of over 40,000 in attendance. As in his last race in California, the Hollywood Gold Cup, Bailey took Cigar wide most of the way. However, he was drawn into a three-horse speed duel with the good stakes horses Siphon and Dramatic Gold, going the first 3/4 of a mile in a very fast 1:09 1/5. The duel caused all the leaders to tire, and Dare And Go, ridden by Alex Solis, passed Cigar in the stretch to score the upset, with the champ settling for second. And all at once the streak was ended.

The steely steed was not finished in the winner’s circle. In a field of five carrying 126 pounds and still under his captain, Jerry Bailey, Cigar would go wide as he swept past L’Carriere by four lengths with Golden Larch half a length behind him. It would be Cigar’s second consecutive G1 Woodward Stakes at Belmont Park.

October 5, 1996, two years almost to the day after Cigar’s streak had begun he would go for his second G1 Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont. Carrying 126 pounds, the seasoned 6-year-old would face two 3-year-old colts at 121 pounds, rising star Skip Away and 1996 Preakness winner Louis Quatorze. In a battle of wills, Skip Away dug in and beat Cigar by a head.

(Note: Skip Away was later named Eclipse Champion 3-year-old Old Male in 1996 and twice named America’s Champion Handicap Horse. He was also Eclipse Horse of the Year in 1998. Skip Away won 10 Grade 1 races including the 1997 Breeders’ Cup Classic for $9,616,360 in prize money.)

In a thriller only befitting such a champion, Cigar would face his last contest in the 1996 Breeders’ Cup Classic at Woodbine. In a field of 13 that included Dramatic Gold, Dare and Go and Louis Quatorze, Cigar would swing wide but battle down to the wire with the Preakness winner and 5-year-old Alphabet Soup. As the camera flashed Alphabet Soup would be the victor by a nose over Louis Quatorze with Cigar a head behind. Alphabet Soup paid $41.70 Canadian and Cigar had to settle for third place albeit hard fought. And just like it was yesterday, it was over in October. Incomparable, invincible, unbeatable.

Curtain Call

Despite losing his last two races, tying Citation’s race record was enough to earn Cigar his second straight Champion Older Male and Horse of the Year honors.

As a six-year-old, Cigar won five of eight starts and $4,910,000 surpassing $4 million for a record second year. His third-place finish at Woodbine cost him the chance to be the first horse to win $10 million; he finished with $9,999,815. Until Curlin surpassed him in 2008, Cigar was America’s top money earner.

Cigar’s record on dirt had surged as rapidly as his racing form with 18 wins in 22 starts on dirt including 15 stakes of which 12 were Grade 1s. He ended with a career record of 33 starts with 19 wins, 4 seconds and 5 third place finishes and retired as the richest runner in Thoroughbred racing history, with $9,999,815 just shy of setting a $10 million record. Until Curlin surpassed him in 2008, Cigar was America’s top money earner. The majestic horse was awarded his second golden Eclipse Award as Horse of the Year in 1996.

Cigar made his final public appearance in New York in November 1996, taking a horse van emblazoned with his image to mid-town Manhattan, where it would be led by the New York Knicks’ cheerleaders and the Budweiser Clydesdales down a closed Seventh Avenue to Madison Square Garden, which was hosting the National Horse Show.

TVG’s Simon Bray, who was an assistant trainer to Bill Mott in the mid-1990s, related his experience on TVG.

“Cigar had been retired … so before he went back to Kentucky Madeline Paulson called up Bill Mott one day and said I just want to give him a farewell ceremony. So we’re all thinking maybe a trip around the barn at Belmont Park, parade him at Belmont Park like we’ve seen with Derby winners. Low and behold, about a week later we get a call and Bill comes out of his office and says ‘We’ve got to take Cigar to Madison Square Garden.’ A massive floorshow at Madison Square Garden. Madeline Paulson had commandeered a horse van, she’d painted this side of it with Cigar’s picture, the red, white and blue silks of the late Allen Paulson. And [Cigar] had a police escort from Belmont Park, New York, all the way from Long Island through Midtown [Manhattan] into Madison Square Garden. And at one point the New York City police shut down the Lincoln Tunnel to traffic.”

1997 Alternate Landing

The Paulsons had sold 75% of Cigar to Coolmore Stud and Michael Tabor, and this equated to a value of $25 million for him. He was taken to stand at the Ashford Stud, the American division of Coolmore Stud, and began his coverings there in February 1997. An insurance policy on Cigar required that he cover 20 mares twice and get at least 60 percent of them in foal to be considered fertile. He proved infertile as a stallion, as none of the 34 mares bred to him became pregnant.

Cigar lived out his retirement at the Kentucky Horse Park’s Hall of Champions in Lexington. Around April 2014, he began to suffer increasingly from osteoarthritis in his spine, leading to instability in his legs. The 24-year-old horse underwent surgery to correct the problem but complications ensued and he died on October 7 at Rood and Riddle Equine Hospital in Lexington, Ky. Cigar was buried at his final resting place at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, Ky. He is part of the Memorial Walk of Champions.

Cigar had outlived his beloved breeder and owner, Allen Paulson, who had died July 19, 2000 at age 78 but lived long enough to see Cigar fly to the moon and back.

Cigar was named the Racehorse of the Decade of the 1990s. In the Blood-Horse magazine ranking of the top 100 U.S. thoroughbred champions of the 20th Century, Cigar was ranked #18. In accordance with that ranking, Cigar is the highest-ranked American Thoroughbred during the decade of the nineties (1990–1999) and therefore lays claim to the title American “Horse of the Decade.”

On February 2, 1997, a life-size bronze statue of Cigar was unveiled at Florida’s Gulfstream Park on “A Salute to Cigar Day.” Also in 1997, the New York Racing Association renamed the Grade I NYRA Mile, run in November at Aqueduct, as the Cigar Mile. The NYRA Mile was the second race in Cigar’s winning streak. Cigar was inducted into the National Hall of Fame the first year he was eligible, in 2002. 

The best accolades Cigar ever received were from his longtime jockey, Jerry Bailey. Recounting his relationship with Cigar to Joe Drape for a New York Times piece upon Cigar’s death, Bailey said, “He was such a cool horse. He had so much charisma.”

According to Drape’s report, Bailey’s favorite moment was Cigar’s gentlest. After Cigar completed his perfect season in the 1995 Breeders’ Cup, Bailey took his son Justin, then 3, to check on the horse in Mott’s barn. Bailey had the boy in his arms when Cigar suddenly stopped grazing, stepped over and put his nose to Justin’s chest and chin.

“He was just nuzzling on him,” Bailey said. “Less than 24 hours earlier he was on fire, just a machine, and now he was like a pony in the parking lot of the Kmart. He really liked people.”

With number 10 on his saddle cloth, Cigar wins the 1995 Breeders’ Cup Classic to complete a perfect 10-for-10 season. Credit:

Assistant trainer Ralph Nicks and groom Juan Campuzano meet Jerry Bailey and Cigar following his 1995 Breeders’ Cup Classic-G1 win. Credit: Lydia A. Williams/Maryland Thoroughbred Hall of Fame

Trainer Bill Mott with Cigar. Credit: Lydia A. Williams/Maryland Thoroughbred Hall of Fame

The legendary Cigar extended his winning streak to 14 with a hard-fought half-length win in the inaugural 1996 Dubai World Cup. Credit: Eclipse Sportswire

Cigar’s owners, Allen and Madeleine Paulson, center, and the trainer Bill Mott, right, with Sheikh Maktoum Bin Rashid Al Maktoum after Cigar’s victory in Dubai. Credit: B.K.Bangash

Cigar kicked up his heels after arriving at his new home, the Kentucky Horse Park, on May 2, 1999.  Credit: Frank Anderson/Kentucky Horse Park


The legendary Cigar extended his winning streak to 14 with a hard-fought half-length win in the inaugural 1996 Dubai World Cup. Credit: Eclipse Sportswire

Cigar’s owners, Allen and Madeleine Paulson, center, and the trainer Bill Mott, right, with Sheikh Maktoum Bin Rashid Al Maktoum after Cigar’s victory in Dubai. Credit: B.K.Bangash

Assistant trainer Ralph Nicks and groom Juan Campuzano meet Jerry Bailey and Cigar following his 1995 Breeders’ Cup Classic-G1 win. Credit: Lydia A. Williams/Maryland Thoroughbred Hall of Fame

Contributing Authors

MariBeth Kalinich, Senior Editor, Past the Wire

Maribeth Kalinich, Senior Editor, Graphic Designer

Maribeth Kalinich grew up in a family with a love for horses, a passion for Thoroughbred horse racing and a taste for playing the ponies....

View Maribeth Kalinich, Senior Editor, Graphic Designer

That was a phenomenal article Jonathan. Thank you for writing it and sharing it. Ruffian was my second love (after Man O' War) and I simply cannot stop the tears from falling every time I read about this magnificent black beauty.

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