Photo: NYRA / Bob Coglianese
In the fall of 1994, an athletic gray speedster named Holy Bull dominated his older competition in the Woodward Stakes so authoritatively that the year’s award for Horse of the Year became a foregone conclusion by the time he crossed the wire. It was a memorable performance, at a packed Belmont Park, that served as a coronation for a young king. There was no such fanfare the day before when a horse, one year older than Holy Bull, finished 7th as the favorite in a turf allowance at the same track. His name, of course, was Cigar, and after one more failed attempt on turf, he would begin one of the most amazing streaks in modern racing.
0-for-4 on the grass since being transferred to a new barn on the East Coast, his new trainer, Bill Mott, figured there was little to lose by trying something different. An October 28 allowance race on the main track at Aqueduct would fit the bill. Mott remembered that Cigar had broken his maiden in a dirt sprint at Hollywood Park a year-and-a-half earlier, before embarking on a turf career. The experiment worked.
The horse with tons of turf breeding (Palace Music-Solar Slew, by Seattle Slew) would take to dirt like a fish to water for Mott and owner-breeder Allen Paulson. Making his first attempt on the main track in twelve races, Cigar was sent off at 7-2 in the six-horse allowance field. He rushed right to the lead through demanding fractions of :22 2/5, :44 3/5, and 1:09 4/5, and instead of wilting from the pace, he only lengthened his advantage down the lane. With Mike Smith in the saddle, Cigar won by eight lengths that October afternoon, and just like that his turf career was over.
Knowing that he had seen something special, Mott brought his new dirt horse back four weeks later in the Grade 1 NYRA Mile. Only in its fifth year, the rich, late-season affair at the Big A had become an important test; a second half of the year version of the popular Met Mile. It was a bold step up for Cigar, the winner of only an allowance race, but once again, his trainer’s instincts would pay off.
Any doubts as to whether Cigar had the class to run with grade 1 horses quickly vanished as he stalked a strong early pace and exploded on the turn. This time under Jerry Bailey, Cigar had command by the time the 12-horse field hit the homestretch. Widening his lead down the lane, just as he had done in the previous month’s ‘experiment’, Cigar cantered home the easiest kind of winner. His seven length romp over the top handicap horse, Devil His Due, and the rest, was nothing if not impressive.
14 dominating wins later and Cigar would became a glorious part of American racing history. No wonder the NYRA Mile became the Cigar Mile the year after his retirement.