The late-afternoon sky over Toronto was a wondrous mixture of
azure and gold when Cigar went to the post against 12 other
horses at Woodbine Race Course last Saturday in what figured to
be the last race of his remarkable career. During a two-year run
to glory, he had been the savior of a troubled sport, stirring
memories of the days when racing challenged baseball as the
national pastime. In July, when he won his 16th consecutive race
to tie Citation's modern record for a North American-based
horse, the fans at Chicago's Arlington Park cheered him wildly.
And at Woodbine on Saturday, a track-record 41,250 spectators
waited to do the same as Cigar ran in the $4 million Breeders'
The crowd sent Cigar off as the 3-5 favorite, which only goes to
show that in horse racing emotion beats logic every time. The
fans wanted this Cigar to be the same horse who had gone 10 for
10 in 1995, earning Horse of the Year honors in a landslide.
They wanted him to be the same horse who went halfway around the
world last March to run in the $4 million Dubai Cup, in which he
held off Soul of the Matter to complete one of racing's most
In the days leading up to this Breeders' Cup, the first run
outside the U.S. since the program began in 1984, it was much
discussed that two other legendary horses also had ended their
careers in Canada. In 1920 Man o' War defeated Sir Barton, the
first Triple Crown winner, in a match race at the Kenilworth
track in Windsor, Ont. In 1973 Secretariat bid adieu with a
seven-length romp in the Canadian International Championship at
Woodbine. Surely, the reasoning went, Cigar would be similarly
touched by destiny. Never mind that he had lost two of his three
Through the early races last Saturday, this Breeders' Cup was
indeed one for romantics. Jenine Sahadi became the first woman
to train a Breeders' Cup winner when Lit de Justice won the $1
million Sprint. Veteran jockey Walter Swinburn, who suffered
such severe head injuries in a February racing accident in Hong
Kong that his career seemed to be in jeopardy, won the $2
million Turf aboard Pilsudski. And those Triple Crown rivals, D.
Wayne Lukas and Nick Zito, each scored in a baby race, Lukas
winning the $1 million Juvenile with Boston Harbor and Zito
taking the $1 million Juvenile Fillies with Storm Song.
But most captivating of all, jockey Corey Nakatani won two
Breeders' Cup races only 24 days after his younger sister Dawn
was strangled to death in the laundry room of her Los Angeles
apartment by an unknown assailant. Nakatani won the Sprint with
Lit de Justice for his first Breeders' Cup win in 13 rides.
Then, in the next race, he rode Jewel Princess to victory in the
$1 million Distaff. "I've got an angel on my shoulder, and her
name is Dawn," said Nakatani. "This is for her. This is for
everyone--my family, my mother and my dad. This is for them."
Did anyone doubt that a day like this was made for Cigar, who
would run in the final race on the card? Enter David Hofmans,
the trainer of an overlooked 5-year-old named Alphabet Soup, a
son of Cozzene out of the mare Illiterate. When Cigar lost to
Skip Away in the Jockey Club Gold Cup on Oct. 5, and then Skip
Away skipped out on the Classic, Hofmans saw his chance.
Alphabet Soup had been entered in both the Sprint and the
Classic, but Hofmans advised owner Georgia B. Ridder to go for
the big one. "We just felt we had a fresh horse," Hofmans said.
Which is precisely what the 6-year-old Cigar was not. Alphabet
Soup's rider, the veteran Chris McCarron, stalked the early
pace, never dropping more than a couple of lengths off the
leaders, until it was time to move on the turn for home. As
Alphabet Soup seized the lead from Preakness winner Louis
Quatorze and Mt. Sassafras on the inside rail, Cigar, under
Jerry Bailey, made his familiar power move on the outside. "A
couple of strides from the wire I thought, Oh, my god, we're
going to get there," said McCarron. Alphabet Soup's time for the
mile and a quarter was 2:01, breaking a track record that had
stood since 1972.
Louis Quatorze held on for second, a nose back, and a head
behind was Cigar, a tired champion who pushed his nose into
second place briefly but was unable to stay there. Cigar had
done so well for so long that he had simply lost a step. "It's
been a long year--a long two years, actually," Bailey said.
"He's had a tough time. Going into the first turn, I was happy
to be where I was. Going into the other turn, I was wide, way
wide. Cigar is still a champion. He never quit."
Cigar will enjoy a well-deserved retirement at owner Allen
Paulson's breeding farm in Kentucky. The immediate future of
racing, meanwhile, is less than rosy. Who is the sport's next
star? One candidate is Lukas's Boston Harbor, who, off his
Breeders' Cup performance, will be declared the champion
2-year-old colt and the early favorite for next year's Kentucky
Derby. But no Juvenile winner has gone on to make a successful
Run for the Roses. Who else is there? Will George Steinbrenner,
fresh from the success of his New York Yankees in the World
Series, have a Triple Crown contender in Acceptable, who
finished second in the Juvenile? Might Storm Song prove to be
the rare filly who can run with the males? Predictions are
always chancy, but one thing is clear: None of these horses have
taken anyone's breath away, as Secretariat and Spectacular Bid
did when they were 2-year-olds.
Racing will miss Cigar terribly. "He's the horse who carried our
banner worldwide at a time when we needed a hero,'' said Lukas.
Indeed, Cigar could not have burst on the scene at a more
opportune moment--the fourth victory in his streak occurred in
February 1995, in the same race in which the 1994 Horse of the
Year, Holy Bull, pulled up lame--and he drew fans to tracks.
Surly railbirds given to jeers and hoots showered Cigar with
cheers and whistles.
"When he was at his very, very best, he would shoot by horses
and open up," said Bill Mott, Cigar's trainer. "In his last few
races he's been wearing them down, not shooting by. If you want
to be a realist, you knew it just couldn't go on. He's just
flesh and blood." But such flesh, such blood. "You'd like to see
horses of this type come in bunches," said Lukas. "But
unfortunately that just doesn't happen."