Cigar Stories

The Kentucky Horse Park currently is auctioning off a halter worn by Cigar, as part of an on-line auction to benefit the retired Thoroughbred racehorses in the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation (TRF), which is headquartered at the Horse Park. The bidding runs through Dec. 11, 2011.

As this year also marks the 15th anniversary of Cigar’s record-equalling 16th consecutive victory, I thought it would be appropriate to consolidate many of the stories I’ve written about the great Cigar, touch them up a little, and reprint them into a single blog. With Cigar about to turn 22, his memorabilia will be taking on greater importance with each year. 

Garden Party

During a Blood-Horse online chat about five years ago, someone asked me what was my most special moment in racing? Well, needless to say, there are dozens to choose from. But one that ranks right up there at the top did not even occur at a racetrack -- or a training center or a breeding farm. It occurred at, of all places, Madison Square Garden.

Shortly after Cigar’s retirement, Madeleine Paulson announced that Cigar would be honored and paraded at the National Horse Show at the Garden on Nov. 2, 1996. She had a close association with the Equestrian world and wanted to show Cigar off to her “horsey” friends and to a whole new audience.

No one knew how they were going to react, not being followers of Thoroughbred racing. But they were horse lovers first and foremost. Mott was not exactly enamored with the idea of vanning Cigar into the heart of Manhattan, and for good reason. It surely had never been done before and the thought of bringing a champion racehorse into this strange environment with masses of people, taxi cabs, and blaring horns seemed absurd.  Most everyone else was skeptical to say the least. But Madeleine was determined to pull it off and actually arranged for Cigar to have a police escort and for Seventh Avenue to be closed to traffic for approximately 20 blocks.

Madison Square Garden went all out to pull this off. They invited comedian Bill Cosby, members of the New York Rangers and Knicks, and brought in the Knicks’ cheerleaders and the Budweiser Clydesdales to lead Cigar’s van through the streets of the city to the Garden.

Cigar traveled from Belmont Park to Manhattan in a full-sized van, with a huge color mural on both sides depicting the horse in action. Next to the mural in large blue print with white stars was the name “Cigar.” Above it against a red background were the words “Champion and Horse of the Year,” and below it, “America’s Racehorse.”

The van met up with the Knicks cheerleaders, the Clydesdales, and other participants on a quiet side street several blocks from the Garden. There, the proceedings were organized by MSG officials. Lining the street were a number of fans, several holding posters and banners. One of the posters read: “To the Great Cigar. Thanks for the Memories.” Outside the Garden, groups of school children gathered, waiting to get a glimpse of the great Cigar.

Inside the arena, more than 16,000 people awaited Cigar’s entrance prior to the Horse Show, having no idea what to expect.

By now, Seventh Avenue was closed, and it was an eerie sight looking down one of New York City’s busiest avenues and seeing nothing, not a single car in both directions. When everyone was organized the Cigar parade commenced. With bagpipers, the Knicks cheerleaders, the New York City Mounted Police Corps, and the Clydesdales leading the way, the procession turned down Seventh Avenue to the quizzical looks of passersby, who gawked at the huge, ornately decorated horse van and its odd entourage.

At the Garden, Jerry Bailey posed for photos with the children. Finally, the van arrived and Bailey, decked out in Allen Paulson’s silks, hopped aboard and gave Cigar several reassuring pats on the neck. Looking east on 33rd Street, it was quite a sight seeing the van with the Empire State Building as a backdrop. Cigar peered out at the strange surroundings and then was led into the bowels of America’s most famous arena by Mott and assistant trainer Tim Jones.

At 2 p.m., Bill Cosby came riding in on a horse. After dismounting, he held a microphone directly in front of ringmaster Barry Kiger’s coach horn. As a musical crescendo filled the Garden, the crowd erupted in applause in anticipation of Cigar’s entrance.

When Cigar made his appearance, with Bailey aboard, everyone rose and saluted the champion. Bailey then rose slightly in the saddle, and Cigar, as if on cue, broke into a graceful canter worthy of any champion show horse. The crowd went wild. With Cigar striding majestically around the arena as if part of the Horse Show, the public address announcer bellowed: “Ladies and gentlemen, this is Cigar!”

Bailey then brought Cigar to the middle of the arena, where he was draped in a blanket of red, white, and blue flowers and then presented with baskets of carrots and apples by members of the Rangers and Knicks, including Hall of Fame Ranger Rod Gilbert. After the speeches, Bailey dismounted and Cigar was led around the arena by Mott, as a flurry of flashbulbs popped all around the Garden.

Mott turned the horse over to Jones, who continued to lead him around. Then the lights in the arena went dark, and a single spotlight shone down on Cigar. When a solitary trumpet began playing “Auld Lang Syne,” I have to admit I lost it. Soon after, the entire band joined in, adding to the emotional impact and ending the proceedings with a flourish. Standing on the floor of the arena in the dark, I tried to wipe away the tears before the lights came back on. When they did, I turned around, and almost everyone in the seats was wiping their eyes. That was the single most emotional moment I’ve ever experienced in racing, perhaps in part because Cigar, those closest to him, and myself, were so far removed from the world of racing that the moment transcended the sport and seemed surreal.
Afterward, Jones said. “It was all I could do not to break down. The whole experience brought me to tears. I really believe he knew what was going on and he put on quite a show for everyone. When they played that song it was a joyous moment. But it was also very sad because I knew this was really the end.”

A night in Dubai

It was Jones who had accompanied Cigar to Dubai and supervised his early training for the inaugural Dubai World Cup. I was there providing lead coverage of the event for the Daily Racing Form. The Maktoums put on a show that was unlike anything ever seen before, from the outrageous party in the desert to the raucous rock concert to the dazzling pre-race festivities. On race night, a salmon pink and golden sunset, combined with the floodlights from Nad al Sheba, illuminated the ornate mosques off in the distance, making them sparkle like Disney’s Magic Kingdom at twilight.

What no one realized was that shortly before the Word Cup, word spread quickly throughout the media tent that Cigar was going to be scratched due to a foot problem. Everyone waited for the official word, but it never came. It was only when the horses began walking to the paddock from the barn area and I looked through my binoculars and saw Cigar that the rumor was officially quashed.

I watched the race at the top of the small grandstand with Ray Paulick, then the editor of the Blood-Horse. When Cigar battled back in deep stretch after appearing to be beaten to win by a half-length over fellow American Soul of the Matter, Ray and I jumped up and down like school kids and hugged each other, and then tore through the crowd down to the winner’s circle. Needless to say, that was another surreal moment provided by Cigar; one that no one had ever experienced before.

Jet setting

But it was earlier that year at the 1996 Eclipse Awards dinner at the Hotel Del Coronado, just across San Diego Bay, that I really became close to Cigar. Not only was I assigned to cover the event, I was also flying from San Diego to Fort Lauderdale that same night on Allen Paulson’s Gulfstream 4 jet, which at the time held the speed record for traveling around the world. The following day, Cigar was scheduled to make his 6-year-old debut in the Donn Handicap.

The other passengers were Allen and Madeleine Paulson, Madeleine’s beloved Jack Russell terrier Oliver, Bill and Tina Mott, Jerry and Suzee Bailey, and my DRF colleague, the legendary Joe Hirsch. My first thought was, if the plane went down I’d be a mere footnote at the bottom of the story.

Normally, Paulson would fly the plane himself, but because of the overnight flight, scheduled to arrive in Fort Lauderdale at about 5:30 a.m. and the big day ahead, he decided to hire a crew and go as a passenger. After boarding the plane, Paulson undid his suspenders, rolled up his sleeves, and took a seat in the front row. Soon after takeoff, Madeleine, reverting to her days as a flight attendant for Pan Am, took drink orders and put out plates of cakes and pastries and platters of food.

Mott and Bailey sat up front handicapping the Saturday card. Mott turned to me and said, “Well, what do you think, Steve? This is a tough assignment, but I guess somebody’s gotta do it.”

About 100 miles west of Tampa, the plane was scheduled to fly over Checkpoint Cigar, for which the horse was named. “Do you want to go up to the cockpit when we fly over it?” Madeleine asked me. “You can go up there anytime you want.”

After beginning to doze off, I looked up through half-closed eyes to see Madeleine covering me with a blanket, bless her heart.

When I awoke, the lights were off and everyone was asleep. Although Cigar would be a heavy favorite in the Donn, Mott was cautiously optimistic. Here he was going to Cigar’s debut and having to stare at the Horse of the Year Eclipse Award trophy that was sitting right in front of him. “I don’t like this scenario of getting all these Eclipse Awards, and everyone is happy, and then, all of a sudden it’s D-Day again in less than 24 hours,” he said earlier. “We’re setting ourselves up for a bunch of long faces.”

At 4:20 a.m., Paulson began to stir. He walked to the back of the plane and told me were getting close to Checkpoint Cigar. About 55 miles from Sarasota I made my way to the cockpit, having to gingerly step over Oliver. The view of the Florida coastline was magnificent, as if we were in a simulator. Although the lights kept getting closer it seemed as if we weren’t moving. “Isn’t that beautiful?” the pilot asked. “It’s like a big video screen. We’re flying 80% the speed of sound, but this plane flies faster than this.”

We quickly passed over the darkness of the Everglades and descended on the lights of Eastern Florida. The landing was smooth as silk, and after the plane came to a halt, Paulson got up, put his suspenders back on, rolled down his sleeves, and said to Mott, “Ready to go to work, Bill?”

Several yards from the plane, Paulson’s limo was waiting to take us all to our respective hotels. As I stepped down from the plane, Paulson reminded me, “Well, you just flew in the fastest plane in the world.”

It was only appropriate, because later that day I’d be watching the fastest horse in the world.

Back home

One of my fondest memories of Cigar was the day he arrived at Belmont Park following his historic victory in the inaugural Dubai World Cup. He hadn’t felt a cool breeze in his face in four months, having been in Florida and then Dubai. Now he was back home, walking up Secretariat Avenue, passing rows of trees and grassy paddocks, and hearing the occasional crowing of a rooster and the chirping of sparrows, as a brisk April wind ruffled his mane.

Judging from the way he pulled assistant trainer Simon Bray and groom Seth Gregory while returning to his old home, Barn 25, after 36 hours in quarantine, there was no doubt he was happy to be back in familiar surroundings.

Although he had lost a little weight and a bit of shine to his coat, it didn’t seem as if the long trip to Dubai, the hot, humid days in the desert, and his gut-wrenching victory in the Dubai World Cup took too much out of him.

Leaving the quarantine barn, Cigar continually gnawed away on his lip chain. The farther he walked the more on the muscle he became, bouncing along on his toes and trying to prop on occasion. This was the first blast of cool air to hit him in months and he was loving every minute of it.

“Man, this horse is pumped; he’s really pulling on me,” Bray said.

As they turned down one of the horse paths, a van blocked the way and Bray and Gregory had to walk Cigar in circles until the van driver could be located. He finally emerged from a nearby barn, and as he got into his van, a truck pulled alongside. The driver of the truck opened the window and shouted to the van driver: “You gotta move that van for the mighty Ceeegar, the greatest horse of all time.”

When Cigar arrived at Mott’s barn, he was reluctant to go in his stall, balking several times. That was the last place he wanted to be, but finally he gave in. “There you go, buddy, back in stall 3,” Bray said to him as he removed his lip chain and gave him a friendly whack on the rear end.

Once free, Cigar let it all out, rolling several times in the straw, grunting and squealing. After getting up and pawing at the ground, he charged the webbing and thrust his head out the stall door, scattering whoever was standing nearby.

As Bray and Gregory returned to the quarantine barn to get Cigar’s pony, Snowball, who had gained fame himself while in Dubai, Cigar stood at his stall door with his head up and ears cocked, staring out the barn window and up and down the shed with that familiar white eye.

“You got your favorite window and your favorite stall back,” said day watchman Jimmy Camic. “I’m just glad he’s back safe, thank God. I’ll sit here with a two-by-four if I have to, and God forbid if any s.o.b. gives me a hard time.”

Soon, Gregory’s parents and brother arrived at the barn to take their son back to a hero’s welcome in their hometown of Garrattsville, N.Y., 16 miles from Cooperstown. Gregory had accompanied Cigar to Dubai when the horse’s regular groom, Juan Campuzano, was unable to get his visa processed in time.

“Seth, the guys at the pharmacy all said to send their congratulations,” Gregory’s mother told him. “I was in there yesterday and they were so excited. They can’t wait to see you.”

“I don’t know why I’m such a hero,” Gregory said. “He did it all.”

But Cigar had a way of making heroes out of all those close to him.

Attention, shoppers                                               

Tom Durkin’s voice bounced off the walls in resounding fashion. “Cigar! Cigar makes his move and he sweeps to the lead with a dramatic rush…the invincible, the incomparable, the unbeatable Cigar.”

This historic call of the 1995 Breeders’ Cup Classic wasn’t being heard at a racetrack or a simulcasting facility or any place even remotely associated with racing. On this occasion, three months after the race, pant legs shook, shirt buttons popped, and ties stiffened at the sound of Durkin’s unforgettable call. You see, the race was being shown in the men’s department at Sears in Lawrenceville, N.J.

Following the race, Cigar’s presence seemed to be everywhere – from department stores, helping to sell team apparel, to Sports Illustrated’s “Sportsman of the Year” issue, to GQ, to Cigar Aficionado magazine, to a full page ad by Macanudo Cigar Co. in the New York Times, which read: “From One Cigar to another. Macanudo salutes the winner of the 1995 Breeders’ Cup Classic on his 12th consecutive victory.” The cost of the ad: $58,000. 

The world loves perfection, and in 1995, Cigar was the epitome of perfection, as he traveled some 12 miles of racetrack real estate, covering nearly 10,000 miles by van and plane, while visiting six racetracks in six different states. Whether on fast, wet-fast, or muddy tracks, all Cigar’s rivals saw of him were the black and gray streaks of his tail. Among those inhaling Cigar’s smoke were the winners of the 1995 Kentucky Derby, Belmont, Travers, Santa Anita Handicap, Pacific Classic, Whitney Handicap, and the Juddmonte International and Eclipse Stakes in England, as well as past winners of the Breeders’ Cup Classic, Santa Anita Handicap, Pimlico Special, Hollywood Gold Cup, and Oaklawn Handicap.

And through it all, Bill Mott was the perfect host, granting interviews to anyone who asked and handling everything with class. He even put my then 12-year-old daughter up on his pony and led her around the shedrow and outside the barn. While the entire Cigar experience and the 16-race winning streak would have stressed out  many trainers, Mott might as well have been sitting on a rocking chair back in Mobridge, South Dakota whittling away on a piece of hickory. If ever a horse and trainer fit each other it was Cigar and Mott.

Saying goodbye

It was Cigar’s final race, and the script called for him to go out a winner in the 1996 Breeders’ Cup Classic. But a nose and a head separated him from the storybook ending. The sun had just begun to descend behind Woodbine’s clubhouse turn as Cigar walked off the track for the last time. Shafts of light beamed down on him from an amber sky, creating a setting that was meant for a triumphant farewell. But Cigar’s weary legs and cracked feet, that had carried him some 25,000 miles across the United Stakes and to Dubai, could not carry him those final few inches.

Back at the barn, Cigar stood facing the back of his stall, as if he knew he had lost. Allen and Madeleine Paulson stopped by for a final visit before heading off to dinner, but Mott remained. For several minutes, he stared almost hypnotically into Cigar’s stall. When he spoke, his voice couldn’t hide the emotions that were obviously building up inside him. This was no time to be dwelling on defeats or having any regrets that Cigar’s career did not end in triumph. The only images Mott was seeing as he stared into the stall were of cheering crowds and magnificent victories.

“There’s nothing I can say about Cigar that can tell you how I feel about him and the whole experience,” Mott said in a quiet monotone voice. “There’s no reason that getting beat a short head would make me feel any differently about him. I’d be pretty damn greedy if I did or if I had any ill feelings about anything. When we decided to run him again this year I knew as a trainer that trying to have a repeat year was going to be a tough task come Breeders’ Cup time. He just lost that little step, that little turn of foot, and that’s been the difference. Before, he could have overcome having to go five-wide. Today, he just couldn’t…he couldn’t overcome it.”

Just then, 82-year-old Georgia Ridder, owner of the victorious Alphabet Soup, came over to Mott, who congratulated her.

She replied, “Congratulations on the greatest horse of many years. It was just our luck today.”

“Well, you had a good day and I’m happy for you,” Mott said. “I hope you have many many more.”

So ended the remarkable career of Cigar. In “For Whom the Bell Tolls,” Ernest Hemingway wrote: “But did thee feel the earth move?”

Cigar’s greatness was felt as much as it was seen. Just ask anyone who was there when Cigar rocked the grandstands at Arlington Park, Suffolk Downs, and Belmont Park. Just ask anyone who was there when Cigar made the sands of Dubai shake. Just ask anyone who was there when Cigar jolted the hallowed walls of Madison Square Garden.

Although Cigar’s accomplishments and statistics speak of greatness, they are just one aspect of his legacy. He took the torch passed to him by Holy Bull and made thousands of new racing fans around the world. He made believers out of skeptics. He made poets and artists out of 7-year-olds and 70-year-olds. He made people cheer and he made people cry.

But most of all, he made the earth move.


Leave a Comment:


Steve, You always do such a great job. Thanks so much for this story about the great Cigar. Together, Cigar and Jerry Bailey have given racing some of its greatest moments. I still tear up every time I watch the 95 Breeders Cup. Thanks for remembering this great champion.

03 Dec 2011 6:24 PM

I remember the day Cigar raced at Arlington. I got there early for breakfast At Arlington With Bill Mott and Jerry Bailey. All day I went back and forth from the track to the paddock.

I bought a poster, a program and Cigar baseball cards. Then we all stood in line for jerry to sign out tokens for the day.  He was very nice and accommodating to the fans. The girl in front of me asked me to take a picture of her with him. He agreed and I did. He even stayed longer than expected and told Arlington employees to tell the crowd when he would be leaving.

When the race got closer we were packed 10 or 12 or more deep buy the paddock fence. There were 2 guys who drove from Indiana and a woman who had a big bag of popcorn as her only meal that afternoon. When the horse made his appearance it  was like a rock star arriving. I took several photos of Cigar and the Paulsons. When he went to the track everyone thinned out.

I foolishly had not purchased a seat. I tried to see the race from one of the entrance ways but wasn't able to do so. When the race was over I hurried back to the paddock to see Cigar going back to the barn. I took several more photos of him going through the beautiful paddock at Arlington and thought what a great day it was. I don't think there was ever a human that I would have waited so long to see, but I did for Cigar.

I told myself I would go one day and visit him at The Kentucky Horse Park, but haven't gotten there yet.

I would like to do it one day, before he or I die. But if I don't I will be content with the memories and photos of that day!

03 Dec 2011 6:47 PM
steve from st louis

Steve, anytime you're travelling with Joe Hirsch, you know you are on the "A List". Thanks for the memories. They were great.

When I think of Cigar, I immediately think of him finally getting beat at Del Mar and how badly I felt after that race. Completely on empty, as if he were my colorbearer. What guts that horse had!

03 Dec 2011 6:50 PM
Lindsey S

Tears in my eyes.  It's hard to believe he'll be 22 soon.  I've visited him many times at the Kentucky Horse Park, and he truly has the look of eagles.  He doesn't look at you...he looks through you.  I adopted a horse through TRF two years ago, and I love him SO much.  I adopted from the Secretariat Center, which is the branch attached to the Horse Park.  They do great work!  Amazing writing Steve, as always!

03 Dec 2011 7:05 PM

Steve - Thank you for the memories!  Cigar was, and remains, my favorite race horse.  I never got to see him in person during his 4-year campaign, but I watched every televised race.  Toward the end, I found I couldn't watch "live"; instead, I had to record the race and watch the playback after making sure nothing untoward happened during the running.  When he lost the Pacific Classic I was devastated but knew he would be back to fight another day.  His final race was another story.  Knowing there would be no "tomorrow", to see him come up short after traveling wide and therefore, many more feet than Alphabet Soup and Louis Quatorze; well that was a heart-breaker. Through the long stretch, he never stopped trying and never stopped coming.  For a moment I thought he was hopelessly defeated and then I thought he might just do it.  To come up short, by a nose and a head; well, I cried like a baby.  And I swear you could see the dejection in Cigar as he walked off.  But I got to see the televised coverage of the Madison Square Garden appearance and saw that clearly, he was not bowed down by defeat, but was in fact, majestic and full of himself.  I was bitterly disappointed to learn Cigar was sterile and that we would not see "Little Cigars" on the race track. And, I was truly offended when I read that Allen Paulson briefly considered putting him back on the track.  What a travesty that would have been.  I then heard Bill Mott talked him out of it. My admiration for the trainer, for standing up for the welfare of the horse, knew no bounds.  In 2006, I was fortunate to be in Kentucky and visited Cigar at the Kentucky Horse Park.  My companion during that visit was appalled to find him out in the paddock, with a long coat and muddy.  She thought he deserved better care than that.  For myself, I was thrilled to see him allowed to "be a horse".  Cigar either had access to his stall from his paddock, or was brought in; I can't remember which, but in any case I found myself separated from the great horse by only a door and mesh screen.  The look in his eye said it all.  It was the "Look of Eagles" you hear about.  This is going to sound silly, but I put my hand up against the mesh.  Cigar licked my palm, and if were possible, I would never have washed my hand again!  

03 Dec 2011 7:15 PM

Gosh, Steve, I lost it too.  Only you can create such a stirring masterpiece from a horse's tale and a bit of straw. Thank you so much.  I remember NYC when Cigar said his farewell, and I've never seen anything as emotionally stirring.

03 Dec 2011 7:15 PM
backside sweetie

Steve,thank you so much for these wonderful stories of the Great Cigar!!It took me awhile to read them as I couldn't see through my tears.I never got to see him in person but you allowed me to see him and his greatness through your words.I also hope to see him at the horsepark before he or I depart this world,but thanks to you for giving me more of him and his team,I've missed them !!!

03 Dec 2011 7:32 PM
Mike Relva


Thank you for always illustrating much class and wonderful, insightful writing. Cigar is one of my all time favs. Was at the Horsepark two weeks ago to visit Cigar and as always bring mints. Can assure you he still looks great, seems to have aged well like fine wine. As always when I have mints he hears the paper rattle and his ears perks up as if to say, "give me one of those". After visiting him, I always feel lucky to be able to spend time with a legend.

03 Dec 2011 7:54 PM

This is storytelling at it's best by the greatest turf writers of all time.  I just love these "Cigar Stories."  Cigar and the parade into MSG is one of my favorite stories!  And Cigar is going to be 22 yrs. old (Dave DeBusschere's old # we lost Dave way too soon).  Man, oh man, as I say I was in and out of the Garden in NYC so much in the 90's but missed the Cigar MSG thing somehow and kick myself everytime I read it!  Those were the Starks, Ewing Knick days and I was immersed in it and I guess I was "swishing and dishing" so much I missed the event.  Thank goodness for Steve to relive it for us.  I was kind of hoping, and I know it was a

BIG hope, that Mo would get to do the same thing, win the BCC Classic and have Mike Repole show him off in MSG.  Oh well, not meant to be but I can dream.

Is the Simon Bray you mention the very Simon Bray commentator on TVG?  He's very good and I was not aware of his background but if they are one in the same now I know.

Ah yes, a Saturday evening somewhere, and I am imagining all of us sitting in front of a beautiful fireplace with a blazing fire, glasses of wine, wide-eyed like little kids at Christmas listening to Steve weaving his magical thoroughbred storytelling for us................but I'll settle for rereading this article a few times and checking out what the ponies are up to at Los Al on Saturday night in CA.

03 Dec 2011 7:58 PM

Wow.  That is an incredible collection of stories.  Thank you.  What an incredible horse.

03 Dec 2011 8:50 PM
Dr Drunkinbum

Prior to the 1995 racing season the question on everyone's mind was, "Cigar, cigarette, Tiparello?" Well the question was emphatically and dramatically answered by The Great Cigar with a perfect season that included a BC Classic win, eight Grade One wins, and an undefeated season of ten wins which was part the streak of 16 wins. This is a beautiful tribute to one of the greatest horses of all time who gave us a tremendous thrill following Cigar during his win streak. Thanks Steve. I loved it. Cigar's loss in the Pacific Classic where he came in 2nd would have been his 17th consecutive win and thus the term, "close but no Cigar" was coined and has been used ever since to describe a narrow loss.

03 Dec 2011 8:54 PM

Another great story, Steve!  Between kids and other distractions, I somehow managed to MISS Cigar's career, even though I subscribed to a racing publication and thought I watched all the televised races!  (Honestly, I missed a lot of the '90s that way!  I know I must have seen his Breeder's Cup races, but somehow the import didn't sink in and the memory didn't stick.)  When I was able to plunge back into racing a few years ago, I was astonished to see what I'd somehow missed!  Thank goodness for YouTube and columns like this.  

03 Dec 2011 9:40 PM

We were lucky to see Cigar at the Horse Park several years ago, it's something I'll never forget!  Ive got several pics of Cigar looking directly at me - or through me - as so many have said.  I think that God had a reason for Cigar being sterile, for that in creating him, he broke the mold.  If anyone is in Kentucky, by all means go to the Horse Park.  The show in the Champions Arena is wonderful.  Cigar, Thanks for the memories.  We will never forget you.  

03 Dec 2011 10:05 PM
an ole railbird

good story steve. now i wish you would do a story about the begining of cigars race career& how bill mott brought him up to his greatness.

03 Dec 2011 10:07 PM

This is a wonderful article about a true all time great thoroughbred, Cigar. To me that 1996 Breeder's Cup Classic at Woodbine was one of the most exciting ever and Cigar lost absolutely no marks in defeat with that wide trip under Jerrey Bailey IMO. Tom Durkin's stretch call "Cigar ...heart of a champion" I'll never forget. Thanks for another great trip down memory lane.

03 Dec 2011 10:29 PM

I went to BC this yr. Sun morning we left Louisville, off to Lex, my FAV city. But by the time we did Lanes End, Keeneland, & the Old Friend's fund raiser, I was a bit pooped. My friend shopped around the gift shop at the KHP & I was flopped on a bench thinking I was just too tired to trek up the hill to see Cigar (it had been a wild past few days w/BC). But, really, you drove all the way to Ky, you're at the KHP.?  NLTS, I rallied & went to see my most fav horse ever. He was in his paddock grazing. He did his usual pose (neck stretched out, think they have a camera!).

I have so many fav's but Cigar is the one that makes me cry. Race of the Century?  BCC 1995. Race Call-1995 BCC & Tom Durkin. I know every word of that call.  I went to Woodbine in 1996 ONLY so I could see Cigar, never forget seeing him in the paddock as he stared at himself on the big teletrons. I've never forgiven Alphabet Soup.....

04 Dec 2011 12:36 AM

I feel so lucky I saw him at the Kentucky Horse Park.  But never saw him race.  Your stories help me understand what an incredible athlete and star he is.  It's as if I was there.  Thanks so much Steve for all your wonderful recollections.  Have a blessed holiay season and keep these stories coming.  

04 Dec 2011 12:53 AM
Fuzzy Corgi

Thanks for the flashback, Steve. I so clearly remember that familiar white eye as I walked past Cigar's stall every morning at San Luis Rey Downs. Mr. Paulson had a full shedrow and the only horses names that I remember now are Miss Dominique who was in the first stall, and Cigar, who was four or five stalls down from her. Cigar was then about 18 months old and just beginning his racetrack education. Cigar was always at the front of his stall and he loved watching the world around him. The young colt would stretch his neck as long as he could to get my attention as I walked by. I don't think Cigar missed a thing that happened in his range of view. I just liked him because he was a cute and kind of silly boy. Of course no one knew that the little bay colt with the cute markings and the white eye would develop into one of the greatest racehorses in the world.

04 Dec 2011 3:09 AM
Rachel NH

Cigar was the epitome of a great race horse.

04 Dec 2011 8:20 AM

Dr D: As much as I luv ya, "Close, but no cigar." has been around since W.C. Fields.

"It is first recorded in print in Sayre and Twist's publishing of the script of the 1935 film version of Annie Oakley:

"Close, Colonel, but no cigar!"

But it would certainly be nice to think that our hero, Cigar, was the inspiration.

04 Dec 2011 9:07 AM

Several years ago I visited the KY Horse Park... when we walked into the Hall of Champions, giving tribute to John Henry by seeing him in his stall first, then turned across the aisle to see Cigar. I'm not sure what came over me, but my first look at him brought tears to my eyes. He was and still is just an amazing creature! I was honored to be in the presence of such greatness.  

04 Dec 2011 9:29 AM
Dr Drunkinbum


   I think it originated before that. They used to give out cigars as a prize in carnivals. So when you didn't get the prize, it was "close but no cigar." Eventhough we used to say it as kids a lot it still wasn't that popular of a saying until Steve Haskin said it after the Pacific Classic. It really caught on then. Now everyone says it. But the immortal Cigar was known for creating the popularity of other sayings as well like, "you can't win 'em all."

04 Dec 2011 10:04 AM

Steve Haskin always takes us by the hand and leads us into the past so we can thrill at what he's seen and done.  His words are my only way back to those glory days and I am very grateful.

04 Dec 2011 10:31 AM

I was at Churchill Downs for Cigar's retirement ceremony.  It was cold,dreary and occasionally snowy but the feeling was electric,especially when Jerry Bailey let Cigar run.  The great Serena's Song was running her final race later that day, but it was obvious the fans were there that day for the mighty Cigar!  Visited him recently at the Horse Park and he is still just as magnificent.  Long live the mighty Cigar!

04 Dec 2011 11:06 AM

Great article Steve. I am moved by the way you present your point of view. One of my wishes is to go see Cigar in person. What I wanted to ask you and every writer of Bloodhorse is that, we all talk big about industry, and how the industry should be brought to mainstream by presenting the goods. Fr example, article like this one, remembering great champions. But why is the horse, which in my opinion, is the best thing happened to American horse racing in 2011, Rapid Redux, not given any special attention. I really believed that you or Lenny would definitely write on it, or discuss it in "And They're Off". But I don't feel like any of the writers think its something important that happened to our industry. Except one small article, I don't see any significance given to this brave little horse who is truely representing blue collar public and horses of our industry. I know that the industry is highlighted by all the millionaire owners and horses of the industry, but you know it better than me that these millionaires are not the only ones which make up our industry. I would love to see an article from you on what Rapid Redux has done for us blue collars

04 Dec 2011 11:23 AM
Mike Relva


Yes, it's the same Simon.

04 Dec 2011 11:50 AM
Stellar Jayne

A worthy and stirring tribute to Cigar, it brought tears to my heart.  I never had the pleasure of seeing him or his races live, but before I kick the bucket (I'm quite senior) my goal is to see that beautiful equine specimen at the Kentucky Horse Park.

Thanks Steve!

04 Dec 2011 12:09 PM

Great story Steve.People would never think how this horses win the affection of people close to them and viversa.

04 Dec 2011 12:09 PM
Karen in Texas

Great collection of memories, Steve. I was privileged to be present to see Cigar during his peak at the 1995 Breeders' Cup. My husband was able to capture on film the transformation Cigar achieved from the time he was led into the paddock until he literally bounded onto the track. He went from quiet and subdued to arching his neck and bucking after being saddled--he knew where he was and fully intended to win that race! That seems like yesterday. How could he be approaching the age of 22?

04 Dec 2011 12:13 PM

Cigar is truly one of the greats that deserve to be kept in our memories. His 16 consecutive victories achieve at numerous tracks is often used as a basis of comparison for similar feats that followed. It really does a disservice to the great champion when these comparisons are made. Those who have accomplished the feat subsequent to Cigar have not done so with the level of competition or the adversities. During the Uncle Mo fiasco it was noted that he had the best strides in racing. My advice to the poster was to view some of the videos of Cigar and he will see poetry in motion. He had the most energy efficient strides ever seen on a big horse.

The Cigar story is an intriguing one that has two parts. One part has been thought provokingly summarized by Mr. Haskin. The other part provided a major lesson in patience. Sadly this lesson has not been learnt by many in the industry. Cigar did not race as a two year old and won only two races as a 3YO. He was sent to HOF trainer Bill Mott who took his time sorting out the then 4YO horse. His first two starts under Mott were losses. His third was the allowance race which resulted in the first of his 16 consecutive victories. He lost nine of his first 11 starts and won the next 16. He did not win a graded until he was a 4YO. Cigar was owned by the wealthy Mr. Paulson who showed a lot of patience with his well bred horse and it paid dividend.  The owners with well bred horses that did not perform as either two or three can revisit the Cigar story before the give up.  May be a different barn, trainer and a lot of patience will pay big rewards.

The records will reflect that Triple Crown winners are not great broodmare sires but Solar Slew came through for TC winner Seattle Slew with Cigar. Ironically BCC & Dubai World Cup winner Pleasantly Perfect joins Cigar to be the only two whose dam was sired by a Triple Crown winner.

Cigar was not able to do it in the breeding shed but he did enough on the track to compensate. May he continue to have a healthy life at the Kentucky Horse Park's Hall of Champions in Lexington.

04 Dec 2011 12:40 PM
Paula Higgins

Steve, this was just wonderful. I am off to research his races on Youtube and see if I can find the Madison Square Garden apearance. What an amazing horse and a great trainer. You open doors for us with your brilliant writing. You are a teacher and writer all in one.

04 Dec 2011 2:15 PM
Gary Tasich

Brilliant! Your words took me there...the sounds....the images...befitting of his it should be. Thanks!!

04 Dec 2011 2:17 PM
Linda in Texas

Talk about a Jet Setter. Steve, did you think you had died and were in heaven? My goodness. Even thoughts of Mr. Paulson piloting his own Gulf Stream beauty are wild enough,but being assisted with a blanket by Mrs. Madeleine Paulson (now Pickens) i cannot imagine. Your feet were truly planted firmly in the air, literally! And then came Cigar. My heart would still be skipping a beat this many years later to be so close to it all.

I love your stories and they are are all true. It is not like when i was very young and went to a sad movie, my mother always consoled me by saying it wasn't really real.

But your stories are all really real.

Cigar has a wonderful personality in that he wants you to notice him. I think that is special and i know he knows he is loved.

And though Cigar was found to be sterile and "Mr. Paulson thought about racing him again." I tend to  think that Mr. Paulson wanted Cigar happy, not to make anymore money from his racing,as he earned $10 Million, is why Mr. Paulson even entertained the thought of racing Cigar again.

Steve, please allow me to mention

Mrs. Madeleine Paulson Pickens as she is one of my heroines. Her continued support of wild mustangs and burros under the uncaring supervision of The Department of BLM is unbelievable. Mrs. Pickens  just recently purchased 2 ranches on which to place the horses to prevent them from going elsewhere.

She bends over backwards in her unselfish quest to protect wild horses and burros.

Thank you Mrs. Pickens, you are a very special lady.

04 Dec 2011 3:10 PM
Linda in Texas

Paula Higgins, if you do find anything on Youtube re: Cigar at Madison Square Garden, please share it with Steve so he can post it for the rest of us. I was preoccupied with a graduating son and all of his senior year activities and going north off to

college. Really north to me, in New Jersey!

Thanks Steve, you are the best. Have failed to mention that lately.

04 Dec 2011 3:21 PM

Steve, thanks for bringing it all back! I had the incredible privilege of meeting, petting and getting my picture taken with Cigar the day before his race at Arlington. It was amazing just to be near him and feeding him a peppermint remains one of my favorite memories. What a tour he took us all on and Dubai will always stick in my mind, too. Still love visiting him at the KHP. He sure doesn't look anything close to 22. Thanks again for your heartfelt piece!

04 Dec 2011 3:56 PM
quarterhossgal always you have a beautiful way of telling a story.  I was there at Woodbine for Cigar's last race, I stood in the saddling area to wait to see him. When he entered the paddock there was no question we were seeing a  HOY,he had the look of a CHAMPION!  He took my breath away!  He still does when I go to visit him at the Horse Park. Thanks for the memories!

04 Dec 2011 3:58 PM

Whenever I read stories like this it makes me realize how much I have missed only getting started back in the sport in the last couple of years.  On the other hand, it is a joyous occasion to be able to gobble up history in big bites through your eyes, Steve. Of course, I had heard about Cigar, I have even looked up his stats, his profile on the internet, but it's only through Steve Haskin's eyes does a horse like Cigar have his story told with such depth of feeling and understanding that only comes from someone who has been there firsthand, that he comes alive and bounces off the pages of history right into my heart. It's reading stories like this that makes me renew my resolve to plan a visit to see some of the famous and not-so-famous horses in and around Lexington.  Thanks as always Steve for your wonderful narrative.

04 Dec 2011 4:37 PM
A Horsey Canuck

Steve, I have been trying to find a link to Cigar's Madison Square Garden farewell for a long time. Still can't find it. Could you please post it for me. Thanks for such a great piece on such a great hero...

04 Dec 2011 4:39 PM

Oh, how wonderful. I love hearing stories of horses from the past, and the present. I was always wondering how he was doing at the Kentucky Horse Park. I miss him, so much, and wish that he was young enough to race again. I was always so thrilled to death about watching him race, and I still replay some of the races he ran in, when he was racing. But, glad that he is not forgotten. I miss you Cigar.

04 Dec 2011 5:16 PM

And where's the pictures of Cigar. I would love to see some of the pictures of Cigar now, how he looks at the age of 22. I'm sure, he still looks beautiful.

04 Dec 2011 5:27 PM
Mike Relva


I visit him few times a year. He looks great, all horses should look that good at twenty one.

04 Dec 2011 7:51 PM

Coldfacts:  you rarely seem to get all the facts...being selective of facts that support only your theories.  

Have you heard about Triple Crown winner Count Fleet..."Count Fleet's daughters produced superhorse Kelso, 1965 Kentucky Derby winner Lucky Debonair, the Canadian star filly Ice Water, and multiple Grade I stakes winner Tompion. Another daughter, Sequence, mated with 1955 Preakness and Belmont winner Nashua to produce Gold Digger, dam of the influential modern sire Mr. Prospector."

TC winner War Admiral who was leading broodmare sire in 1962 and 1964.

or what about Triple Crown winner Secretariat whose daughter Terlingua produced Storm Cat who sired Tabasco Cat among so many others.

The BC and the Dubai WC haven't been around long enough to selectively exclude other TC winners as great broodmare sires.

04 Dec 2011 8:16 PM

I will never forget the race that started Cigar's career. The Met mile

and Devil His Due is who he defeated.

I have a very nice print of him and he was one of my all time favorites.

04 Dec 2011 9:07 PM

Wow Steve, thanks so much for this touching tribute to Cigar.  Loved the story about flying from San Diego, after staying at the Hotel Del (as locals call it) to Ft. Lauderdale to see Cigar in the Donn. What company and what an experience.  You made me feel like I was there with you on the Gulfstream.  

I visited Cigar at the Horse Park when I went to Kentucky for the 2006 Breeder's Cup.  I must confess that I went to see John Henry.  Cathy Robey suggested I go across the hall to visit Cigar.  He was kicking back, taking a nap.  Later they brought him out for visitors.  He was very kind and let people stand with him and pat his face, shoulder and rump.  

I saw Cigar run at Del Mar before he was famous.  I remembered his sire, the white-faced chestnut Palace Music, and made a point to bet on his son.  He sure made us notice him just a year or so later.

05 Dec 2011 12:29 AM
The Deacon

Bravo, bravo Steve what a great Christmas present for your readers. You write stories like Picasso paints a picture, or Mother Teresa eases the soul.

I always find myself wanting more.

I wonder if cigar sales around the U.S. went up when he was racing.....

Merry Xmas Steve to you and your family :)  

05 Dec 2011 1:10 AM

Thank you for this walk down memory lane. I never got to go to his retirement party at the Garden, but would have loved to. Your account of that event was so great I feel like I did go now. Cigar was one of the best I've ever seen and until Zenyatta no other horse made me feel like he did.

05 Dec 2011 9:35 AM

wow. what a hoss!

05 Dec 2011 10:57 AM
Rachel Masen

Cigar was my childhood hero.  I always loved horses, but he got me into horse racing.  When I finally got to see him in 2009, I cried from joy.  Thank you for this reminder.  Very few steal our hearts the way Cigar did.

05 Dec 2011 11:20 AM
calico cat

Thank you Mr.Haskin for another stirring piece on a great horse of the past. I also loved reading the comments from those lucky enough to see Cigar while "he made the earth move". Your blog always brings out the best in people.

I found recent footage of Cigar on YouTube. Nobody told him he's about to turn 22. This one's for you Jockeykid, enjoy!

05 Dec 2011 1:41 PM

They should make a movie about him like they did with Secretariat and Seabiscuit. I would love to see that with these beautiful stories about him :)

05 Dec 2011 4:11 PM
Rachel O

I had the good fortune to meet up with the great Cigar last year just after the 2010 Breeder's Cup and Zenyatta's first and only loss. I stood in front of his stall and spoke to him. He slipped his tongue through the metal grill and gently licked my fingers. He seemed to be saying "I know just exactly how sad you feel about  Zenyatta. Been there, done that myself!"

05 Dec 2011 4:35 PM
Margaret Ann

I have a poster of Cigar with Jerry Baily up, striding out after the Breeder's Cup at Belmont Park.  It came in the Blood Horse edition after the Breeder's Cup in 1995.  I taped it up by the corners on my closet and it has never come down.  Usually tape dries out and whatever it holds up falls down.  But not Cigar's poster.  The colours are staying pretty good also, maybe because that side of the room does not get direct light.  But I prefer to believe it is because it is Cigar's poster.  How can time fade that poster or Cigar himself.  When I think of the Cigar Team, I think of this poster, it is a grand picture of Cigar caught at his best.

05 Dec 2011 6:22 PM

Thank you so much for sharing your Cigar stories; reading about this great horse brings tears to my eyes; he is the horse that got me interested in horse racing (as a fan); His popularity clearly transcended horse racing itself, much like Zenyatta.

05 Dec 2011 6:43 PM
Shelby's Best Pal

I loved every word.  

05 Dec 2011 11:22 PM

Cigar makes me want to cry.  I never saw him race during his career.  It was about ten years ago that I discovered him and learned of his greatness.  I have visited him at the horse park over the years since and he is all that you say of him.

Now, Steve you make me want to cry.

Thank you for the best birthday present ever.

06 Dec 2011 1:35 AM
Dr Drunkinbum


  Thanks for the link. Cigar looks fabulous !!! You bet your life he looks good. Real good. You win $50. He also was the secret word.

06 Dec 2011 9:29 AM
Bill Two

What amazes me about Cigar is the fact that his breeding spells T-U-R-F, yet he was unsuccessful on that surface and turned out to be one of the greatest dirt horses we've ever seen. I wonder what his breeder had in mind when the horse was bred??? Surprise, surprise.

06 Dec 2011 9:56 AM

I never saw Cigar race in person, just on tv, but I visited him at KY Horse Park a couple of summers ago.  Funny Cide grazing in the paddock next door, and Cigar rolling in the dirt.  It was late in the day and I was the only one around.

Cigar came over to the fence at one point, with 1 ear pointed back and the other undecided about yet another human with a mechanical thing in their face pointed his way.  He posed for just a few seconds, flipping his ears forward, then apparently felt I'd had my allotment of time and bounced off back down the paddock to the far corner - the one away from people and cameras.

In those few seconds I managed to get a nice portrait of him looking off into the distance...mane blowing in the summer breeze......soul shining in his eyes.

thanks, Steve.

06 Dec 2011 10:37 AM
calico cat


Your last paragraph is pure poetry. "...soul shining in his eyes" so true about all horses, especially the great ones.

Dr D.,

Glad you liked the video. Thank you for the prize. I'll donate it to the effort to ban the slaughter of horses in this country and also to ban the transportation abroad for that dastarly purpose.  

06 Dec 2011 12:01 PM

I have a DVD of CIGAR's MSG farewell.  Also included in the DVD is his win in the Dubai World Cup.  

He is my favorite living TB.  I treasure those days with the late Cathy Roby at the Hall of Champions when she would let me love on him and feed him special treats.  He's not big on the lovey part, but he can hear the rustle of a peppermint wrapper from 20 yards.

Thanks, Steve.  As always, another writing masterpiece.

06 Dec 2011 12:50 PM


Thanks for reminding us what a great horse Cigar was, especially your telling of the MSG festivities.  Sure would like to see a video of that evening, but your words paint a much better picture.  We first watched Cigar as he won the 1995 Donn, after defeating our favorite Holy Bull.  I believe to this day that Holy Bull had never been challenged like the challenge Cigar presented early in that race and that, in part, lead to Holy Bull's injury.  I do need to get to the Kentucky Horse Park soon to see Cigar.

ZooKeeper: thanks for the youtube video link.

Dr. D:  I enjoy your irony.  Any new remedies for Derby Fever?  

07 Dec 2011 4:58 PM
Dr Drunkinbum


  We've been working feverishly in the lab. Numerous concoctions have exploded so alas there is still no cure. The best you can do is manage the symptoms so that you're not totally consumed by the affliction. Or just enjoy the ride. It's a strong group of 2yo's so buckle up, hunker down, take your vitamins, and stock up on coffee and cigars for those late nights devouring the pps, pedigrees and replays. Have fun.

08 Dec 2011 12:39 AM

Steve, I don't even know what to say, you moved me beyond words.  I wish I'd been at Madison Square Gardens that day!

08 Dec 2011 8:50 AM


You missed a very important point about Cigar’s career.  His first two races were on dirt and after finishing 7th in his first race at Santa Anita, he won his second, a 6F dash at Hollywood winning by an easy two lengths in 1.09.2.  It was after that race that he was switched to turf and he would run his next 11 starts on grass with but a single win.

Cigar was meant to be a turf horse, but it turned out that he wasn’t very good on the surface.  As much as I like and respect Bill Mott, he didn’t magically just figure it out.  His first four races with him were the last of those 11 consecutive races on turf.  It was when he decided to switch him back to dirt that the 16 race win streak began.  His first in that streak was an allowance win and his 2nd was the G1 NYRA Mile, (now the Cigar Mile), which he won easily and received a 115 Beyer.

It is also interesting to note that he received a 94 Beyer in his maiden win.  In 11 subsequent turf races (the surface he was bred to run on) his highest Beyer was a 98.  When he switched back to dirt where he ran to the balance of his career (20 starts) he received a triple digit Beyer in all 19 races in N/A and was not given a Beyer in the Dubai World Cup, a race that he won.

Maybe if he would have been kept exclusively on dirt he would have developed sooner.

08 Dec 2011 12:56 PM
Mike Relva


Cathy Roby was very special and miss her when I visit Cigar. When I inquired regarding a horse that was ill, she was kind enough to leave a message on my phone last winter.

08 Dec 2011 4:48 PM

Hey Steve I know this is off topic but do you know where I could look for a Cigar poem or have you written one at all?

10 Dec 2011 5:37 PM

What a wonderful tribute!  I had the honor of seeing Cigar this past November, the day before the Breeders Cup races.  I was so thrilled and took a billion photos of him which I cherish.  He looked terrific and loved.  What a horse!

14 Dec 2011 6:45 PM

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