The official chart of last Saturday's $1 million Pacific Classic
at Del Mar racecourse outside San Diego will forever testify
that Cigar's 16-race winning streak--the one that had made him
the most popular and charismatic thoroughbred performer in North
America since Secretariat in 1973--ended at precisely 3:40 p.m.
That was the moment when a 40-1 shot named Dare And Go, a son of
Alydar whose sore hind ankles had conspired to leave him winless
since March 6, reached out and strode powerfully under the wire
in 1:594/5, 3 1/2 lengths ahead of the game but tired champion.
Not to quibble with the historical record, but Cigar's streak
had really ended, except for the groaning, almost a minute and a
half earlier. That was when his jockey, Jerry Bailey, found
himself caught in one of those tactical traps from which there
is no easy way out--in fact, no way out at all. Fearing that he
might be hemmed in on the rail if he took Cigar back, Bailey
chose instead to press the fiery pace set by the second choice
in the race, a reformed sprinter named Siphon. Consequently the
jock got sucked into a speed duel that left Cigar with nothing
in the tank to hold off Dare And Go, a stretch runner who got
very brave and aggressive chasing two better but wearier horses.
"You can go only so fast and still have anything left at the
finish," said Bill Mott, Cigar's trainer. "We became the victim
of that today. The fact is, we finished second. It's all history
now, and we can't do it over. A good horse won the race....But
I still think Cigar ranks as one of the alltime greats."
Of this there is no doubt. There may have been faster and more
brilliant American racehorses in recent history--judged on
running times alone, Cigar has not been the equal of
Secretariat, Seattle Slew, Affirmed and Spectacular Bid--but
such a judgment does not diminish by a whit what Cigar has done.
None of those giants of the 1970s ever strung together 16
straight victories against the best horses in the world. Cigar
built his streak on nine racetracks, and he won at distances
from one mile to the classic mile and a quarter. In those 16
races he ran a total of 30,140 yards, earned $8,819,815, won
both on the lead and from off the pace, twice carried the top
weight of 130 pounds and defeated 28 Grade 1 winners.
August 18, 1996
If there was a crowning moment in the 21-month streak, it came
on March 27, midway through the long stretch in the Dubai World
Cup. Against the eerie, mosque-lit backdrop of Nad Al Sheba Race
Course, Cigar forever secured his place in history. At the
eighth pole, Soul of the Matter charged to Cigar's flanks. For
an instant the bay looked beaten. Alas, he was only shifting
gears. Grabbing the bit once more, Cigar battled back and went
on to win by a long neck. When he returned to the winner's
circle, so exhausted that his head was hanging, he was widely
proclaimed the Horse of the World.
Back in the States, Cigar got two months off. Mott brought the
six-year-old back on June 1, in the Massachusetts Handicap at
Suffolk Downs, and he won a laugher by 2 1/4 lengths. That was
his 15th straight victory, one short of the modern record of 16
set by the 1948 Triple Crown winner, Citation, in 1950. When
Arlington Park in Illinois offered to stage the Citation
Challenge, Mott and Cigar's owner, Allen Paulson, shipped the
horse to Chicago. A near-record crowd of 35,000 showed up on
July 13 to see him perform. Racing five wide on two turns, Cigar
bounded to the lead off the last turn, charging past Dramatic
Gold and winning by almost four.
Now all he had to do was take the Pacific Classic to gain sole
possession of the record. Mott shipped Cigar straight from
Chicago to Saratoga, in upstate New York. The horse's growing
celebrity was never clearer than it was at 6:45 a.m. on Aug. 7,
when more than 5,000 people showed up to see him in his final
Eastern workout. The fans were lined five deep around the
clubhouse turn and along the homestretch fence. When Cigar left
the next morning for Del Mar, he had never seemed sharper.
The 44,181 souls who squeezed into the track by the Pacific had
come to witness a coronation. Mott had trained and managed Cigar
brilliantly through his 16-race streak, and Bailey had been
flawless on his back. But nothing could have prepared them for
what developed on the first turn at Del Mar. Trainer Richard
Mandella had a potent one-two punch waiting for Cigar--even
after Soul of the Matter, his most accomplished runner, was
scratched from the race on Wednesday with a career-ending
ligament injury. Mandella had intended to send Siphon to the
lead and save his stretch-running Dare And Go for a late charge.
Cigar was stalking Siphon, the natural speed in the race, when,
to make his task even tougher, Dramatic Gold ranged up on the
outside. Siphon was clearly Cigar's most dangerous foe; an
extremely fast sprinter, he had recently won the 1 1/4-mile
Hollywood Gold Cup by getting loose on the lead. So Bailey was
suddenly faced with a fateful choice. "I contemplated taking
Cigar back at the first turn," the jockey would say afterward,
but he rejected the idea out of hand. No, he would let his horse
run to keep Siphon honest and to avoid being boxed in by
Dramatic Gold. So Cigar began to press too heated a pace.
Dramatic Gold was prompting him to run, and Cigar in turn was
prompting Siphon, who was rushing through the first half mile in
a blistering :45 4/5. Mott glanced at the Teletimer. "Too fast,"
By the time the horses had swept into the backstretch, Bailey
was committed to the duel. At the three-quarter pole, nearing
the far turn, Siphon was smoking through six furlongs in 1:09
1/5, with Cigar just a half length away, and already Bailey
could feel his horse beginning to labor. In the box seats
Mandella could see that Cigar was caught in a suicidal fight
with Siphon. "I was surprised at how fast they were going,"
Mandella would say later. "Siphon is too fast to chase like
that." Meanwhile Dare And Go, under Alex Solis, was running
Cigar took the lead around the last turn, but by then he was as
ripe as a summer melon, and Bailey knew it. They passed the mile
mark in a sizzling 1:33 3/5, just two ticks off the track mark,
and Cigar was flying a very wet sail when Dare And Go came to
him in the stretch.
Bailey and Mott tried to take the heat for what happened out
there, blaming strategy and tactics--"Human error," said
Mott--but the fact is, Cigar fell prey to circumstances out of
their control. The trainer and jockey hope to return to the
winner's circle when Cigar runs in one of the fall classics at
Belmont next month before finishing his career in the Breeders'
Cup Classic on Oct. 26.
What was left, when the day was over, was a history of one of
the most remarkable feats of speed, strength and stamina ever
witnessed on the American turf. And that, excuses be damned, is
quite enough to leave behind.