Thoroughbred Racing Legends: Cigar

February 22, 2024

The incomparable, invincible, unbeatable Cigar

Cigar, one of the best we’ve seen

By Geo Sette

Photo: Coglianese Photo, NYRA, Cigar wins The Breeders’ Cup Classic

If you are reading this column, perhaps you have a passion for thoroughbred racing, our Sport of Kings, and whether you are new to the game, or a seasoned veteran like me, there’s a good chance you have a favorite racehorse currently in training, or like most of us you have an all-time favorite.

There’s little doubt that thoroughbred greats like Secretariat, Citation, Kelso and Seattle Slew would be highly considered on every historian’s list, as would champion fillies like Zenyatta, Winx and Personal Ensign. All were sensationally dynamic and made their mark on the history of the sport. They filled millions of hearts with excitement and joy as they displayed their greatness over the racetrack.  No doubt each of them are greatly worthy of praise, as many others are; however, today I am sharing my all-time favorite, the gritty, hard-hitting,  totally game and relentless, Cigar.

Cigar was bred in Maryland by Allen Paulson and foaled in April 1990.  He was sired by Palace Music, out of Solar Slew by Seattle Slew. He sported a beautiful dark bay coat. He never raced as a juvenile, so he began his racing career as a three-year-old in 1993. He was on the West Coast, losing his debut over 6 panels, then graduating from the maiden ranks in his 2nd start at the now defunct Hollywood Park.  Those were two sprints on the soil and then his connections decided to run him on the turf. For most of his three-year-old campaign he was rather ordinary as he was still finding his way as a new racehorse.  There were no Triple Crown races and no big noise whatsoever as Cigar only managed to get to the Winners’ Circle twice in his nine starts during his three-year-old campaign while racing predominately on the turf.

He began his four-year-old campaign with a long layoff, not racing until July. Remaining on the turf, he had a very important change of scenery. He came to the east coast and barned at Belmont Park under the careful and confident conditioning of Hall of Famer Bill Mott.  He remained on the turf and was far from spectacular in his races at both Belmont and Saratoga.  It wasn’t until the fall of 1994 when his light bulb of greatness went off.  He returned to the soil and the new oval that was Aqueduct and dominated an allowance field, winning by open lengths.  He remained at Aqueduct and one month later, he was smashing in the Grade One NYRA Mile, his first graded stakes victory (Today the race is now called the Cigar Mile).    Cigar had arrived as he closed out his racing season and was taking 2 convincing wins into his 5-year-old campaign.

Most people and fans alike have assumed Cigar’s name was associated with the Tobacco product; however, Paulson named him after an aviation checkpoint (Controls, Instruments, Gas, Attitude, Runup = Cigar).  

Arguably the greatest season in horse racing began in 1995.  Cigar proceeded to win all 10 of his starts,  each a Grade One race, each time blowing up the Beyers Scale, all but one over 111. He won Grade One races in Florida at Gulfstream Park, Arkansas at Oaklawn Park, Maryland at Pimlico, Massachusetts at Suffolk Downs, California at Hollywood Park then finally in New York at Belmont Park as he won the Breeders’ Cup Classic in front of a jam packed Belmont Park grandstand with yours truly, that’s right, me in the grandstand. 

Let’s watch this absolutely fabulous moment, and listen to Tom Durkin’s memorable call. If you love our great sport, goosebumps are assured. For best results, volume up:

It was a triumphant victory for Cigar, capping off his perfect season and what would be a unanimous choice for Horse of the Year. This Breeders’ Cup victory stands as the 2nd greatest moment at Belmont Park’s history, perhaps only being out shadowed by Secretariat’s majestic Belmont Stakes romp by the length of the stretch. This speaks volumes considering there have been several Triple Crown winners who won the Belmont Stakes over Big Sandy.

Cigar continued his brilliance into his six-year-old campaign by emerging victorious in sheer dominating fashion to win his first four races, over 4 separate racetracks and two different continents.  Cigar had won 16 consecutive races, something only the great Citation had done from 1948 thru 1950.

Cigar returned to the West Coast for the Pacific Classic where he was defeated, hitting the board 2nd, ending his simply ridiculous winning streak.  He returned to Belmont Park where he was the runaway winner in the Grade One Woodward Stakes.  He then finished his 1996 season with two heart-filled gutty performances, just missing in the Jockey Club Gold Cup and the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Woodbine in Canada.  You need to watch those races to feel every bit of Cigar’s heart and determination.

Although ending his racing career with a pair of gut-wrenching defeats, Cigar was still named Horse of The Year for the 2nd year in a row.

It was the end of Cigar’s racing career as he was all set to retire to stud; however, he proved to be infertile as a stallion. This was a major disappointment, followed by a massive insurance claim as none of the 34 mares bred to him became pregnant.  To this day, Cigar not being able to sire aspiring new superstars has been felt throughout the racing community.

Cigar lived to the age of 24 (Life expectancy for most thoroughbreds is 25-30 years). He was loved for many years and he lived out all his retirement years in Kentucky. In April 2014, he suffered problems with his spine which created pain and instability with his legs, had surgeries but never fully recovered and he passed away on October 7th.

At the time of his death, he was racing’s highest money earner with just a fraction under $10,000,000.00 in earnings.  He finished his career with 19 wins, 4 seconds and 5 thirds, 85% hitting the board overall; however, it was his brilliance and tenacity on dirt that made him a legend. Racing 22 times on the dirt, he won 18, ran second twice, 3rd once and off the board only once. His career was highlighted by his 16-race winning streak and back to back Horse of The Year Honors.

I consider Cigar the ultimate competitor, and arguably one of the greatest racehorses of all time, considering that all of his success had nothing to do with the Triple Crown Races which typically are the stepping stones from which legends are created.

Contributing Authors

Geo Sette

Geo serves multiple roles at Past the Wire. He is a columnist, handicapper, and analyst. Geo has been fascinated with the Sport of Kings since...

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@jonathanstettin @bbopjz Fantastic writing, thoroughly enjoyable read.

Jon Bercher (@JBercher) View testimonials