Race of the Week 2017

How the NYRA Mile became the Cigar Mile

Cigar BC 615 X 400
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.


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Older Comments about How the NYRA Mile became the Cigar Mile...

EP if when i look at the race and think she is best ,i will be right there with you rooting for her.I am sure for different reasons.But the end result will be the same .Unfortunately,i think due to her immense populatity and her success last year. I seriously doubt ,i will be looking in her direction. But she is an incredible race horse. She shocked me in winning at S.A. recently.
Saw two of Cigars wins in the Mass Cap...looking forward to this year's edition of Cigar Mile and placing a bet or two down...
Tmallios- She is gonna get them this year :)
Goldencents might not be on the lead what with the pace
if he ever dropped fractions like that in the Cigar Mile,Groupie Doll would be the least of his worries.
If Goldencents tries to throw up fractions like the BC, he will gas out by the 3/4 pole. Setting it up for the Doll to mow them down.
Maybe if the race where transfered from the Main Track to the Belt Pkwy,you might get your wish regarding the fractions.Winning is another story.
Here is to Goldencents running similar fractions and winning the Cigar Mile on November 30th.
Holy Bull lived, that's more than a lot of others can say.
I was just itching to see Holy Bull/Cigar in the Donn. As they say the rest is history.
Cigar. Who by the way looked great when I saw him at the Kentucky Horse Park
"The incomparable, invincible, unbeatable, Cigar!"

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