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Breeders' Cup 2017

HRN Original Blog:
Past the Grandstand

Breeders' Cup Flashback: Cigar

Cigar BC 615 X 400
Photo: NYRA / Bob Coglianese


The magnificent bay horse jogged over the muddy surface at Belmont Park, his large frame garnering the attention of a large portion of the 37,000-plus people gathered at Big Sandy. The toteboard in the infield of the expansive track reflected his very low odds, which were far lower than those of the other ten elite Thoroughbreds entered in the 1995 Breeders’ Cup Classic. His name had been uttered around the track all day and now it rested on the lips of the restless crowd as the field approached the starting gate: Cigar.

Exactly a year prior, the Maryland-bred son of Palace Music had begun an exhilarating winning streak, taking an allowance at Aqueduct. He now had won ten consecutive races, eight of which were of the grade one variety. Despite encountering a competitive Classic field that included seven horses that had captured grade/group ones, he was hailed as the most likely winner of America’s richest race. But the pressure was even more intense than that placed on just any odds-on favorite. The weight of the hopes of racing fans was resting on Cigar’s shoulders. The winning streak had become a race of its own and a loss in the championship race would be crushing to racing enthusiasts, as it would spoil Cigar’s perfect 1995 season.

But the conditions set out to conquer Cigar. Not only was he facing a very tough group of Thoroughbreds, but he was contesting over a muddy track – a surface over which he had never raced – and was breaking from the tenth gate in a field of eleven over a track that was favoring the horses that raced on the inside.

Nonetheless, the hope that Cigar would emerge the winner soared. The anticipation surrounding the brilliant horse extended beyond the fans gathered at Belmont and those glued to their television screen; it was evident in the voice of the man at the top of the grandstand, Tom Durkin.

As the horses broke from the gate, Durkin announced the early positions of the leaders and once he took note of Cigar, who had surged on the outside to contend for the leader, his voice intensified: “And CIGAR is keyed up today!”

Durkin spoke the truth. Cigar was fighting jockey Jerry Bailey’s restraint as the Hall of Fame rider struggled to keep his mount in third as the horses began to enter the backstretch. Again, Durkin’s voice carried a deeper, more suspenseful tone as he described this situation: “Jerry Bailey with a hard hold on the pent-up power of Cigar, restrained in third!”

Gradually, Cigar became slightly more relaxed, allowing the difference between him and the leader, Star Standard, to increase despite the rather unhurried pace. But as the field neared the far turn, the gap between the favorite and the pace-setter began to diminish despite Bailey’s endeavor to hold back Cigar. The excitement was building, which was reflected in Durkin’s words as the backstretch began to surrender to the final bend: “And CIGAR wants to go to the lead! But Jerry Bailey says ‘NO, NOT YET!’”

Suddenly, Cigar allowed his “pent-up power” to release as he began to vanquish his rivals, surging on the outside as he seized the lead on the curve. The gifted horse’s narrow but growing lead quickly caught Durkin’s attention and the volume of his voice rose as he narrated the build-up to the end of the story: “CIGAR! Cigar makes his move! And he sweeps to the lead with a dramatic rush with three furlongs to go! And Jerry Bailey turns him loose and he guides him down to the rail as the field turns for home!”

The massive homestretch of Belmont Park now loomed before Cigar and Jerry Bailey, but its threat was no greater than that presented by the Thoroughbreds struggling to keep up with the conqueror of the field. It was clear that no effort could match Cigar’s as the stunning bay accelerated with style, extending his advantage on his adversaries. Perfection waited at the finish line and, in the words of Tom Durkin, there was “a quarter of a mile between Cigar and a perfect season.”

Cigar’s superiority reigned over his opponents as he powered through the mud down Belmont’s stretch, maintaining his lead with authority as Bailey rode with all his might to achieve victory. The rallies of his competitors proved insufficient as Cigar drew away with ease, attesting his prowess as he coasted to a 2 ½ length triumph. Few can describe this moment of glory with the same dynamism and emotion as Tom Durkin, who concluded the 1995 Breeders’ Cup Classic with some of the most memorable words in racing history: “And here he is: the unconquerable, invincible, unbeatable CIGAR!”


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Older Comments about Breeders' Cup Flashback: Cigar...

It was a weak field. Great horse, and call, but a weak field.
One of the great race calls in the history of Breeders' Cup by Tom Durkin! Love it.
hardly a syrprise, well managed, healthy horse that was far and above any and all fields he met that year

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About Mary Cage


Mary with champion Classic Empire

Mary Cage, a 21-year-old avid fan of horse racing, has been around horses all her life, having owned, shown, and judged them for as long as she can remember. She began writing her own horse racing blog, Past the Grandstand, in August 2011 and has since been published in America's Horse, American Racehorse and the Appaloosa Journal, as well as with the websites of The Blood-Horse and The Equine Chronicle. She has also had photos published with Paulick Report and Thoroughbred Daily News. In addition, she works as one of the social media coordinators for the Texas Thoroughbred Association and has interned at WinStar Farm with a marketing focus - with projects involving photography, videography, giving tours, data entry, etc. 

In her personal horse experience, Mary has been around horses all her life and has won several Appaloosa National Champion and Reserve World Champion titles in the show ring. She has also worked as a hotwalker and groom.

Mary has always aspired to have a career with horses and since her love for horse racing began, she has dreamed of pursuing a career in the Thoroughbred racing industry, possibly as a writer/photographer and marketing/communications specialist. She is currently attending the University of North Texas, where she is a journalism major with a concentration in advertising and a minor in marketing. With this blog, she hopes to show readers horse racing through the eyes of a young fan and transport you to some of racing's biggest events through her photos and words.

University of Louisville College of Business Equine Program

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