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Friday, October 10, 2014

The Unbeatable Cigar: My Story


It was a cold, dark day in October back in 1994,  long before the age of computer wagering so if you didn't venture out of the house, you couldn't wager. I found my way to simulcasting on a daily basis in my youth, (go figure, lol) and this day was no acception. There was nothing that had really caught my eye with prior handicapping, I was just going to bet a few races looking to get lucky.

As the 6th race on October 28 went off, I was watching my horse who would eventually lose. As the field came off the far turn, a horse separated himself from the pack with tremendous ease. As the winner crossed the wire, my jaw was on the floor and the hair on my neck was standing straight up. Never before had I recognized such a brilliant, smooth, and powerful stride where it affected me and every molecule of my existence. I looked around and nobody was paying attention, nobody saw what I saw that day, I saw an absolute monster and had no idea who he was. As I scrambled to see his name in my DRF, the name Cigar was forever burned into my memory.

Starting the next day, I saved every spare dollar I had. I couldn't wait to bet Cigar's next race and was going to have the bank roll to do so. In late November of 1994, the entries came out for the NYRA Mile. I could barely contain my enthusiasm. I bet every cent that I saved on Cigar. My eyes and wallet were generously rewarded with a $21 win, by far the most Cigar ever paid in his life, and I cashed out handsomely. I also cashed out while telling everyone who would listen that he would win the Donn Handicap in 1995 facing the huge favorite Holy Bull. It actually looked like a relay race, as Cigar drew even with Holy Bull, Holy Bull pulled up and Cigar went on to an undefeated season.

The last memory I will share was on the morning of his last workout in Saratoga prior to the Pacific Classic in 1996. I was there. There was 7,500 people there that morning, all to see Cigar, sending him off with tremendous exuberance, until Mary Ryan announced "please don't clap, you may scare the horses". Obviously Mary didn't know 30,000 people attended the races daily, cheering loud and proud, and the horses never blinked an eye. What an awesome experience and I can so relate to the crowds that gathered at Philly Park to watch Smarty Jones train.

All the glee was extinguished with one of the worst rides of Jerry Bailey's career in the Pacific Classic. I remember being in front of the TV saying "what the hell is he doing? He can't win going that fast." Obviously Jerry Bailey thought he was riding a motorcycle that day pushing Cigar into fractions of 45 - 1:09 - 1:33 getting swallowed up by Dare and Go. My seething hatred of Jerry Bailey from that day forward led to many run ins with Jerry as I freely expressed my opinions to him, much to his dismay.

Cigar will always be my favorite horse simply because he raced years prior to Zenyatta. There is no comparison between the two other than every single horse born after they raced will always be in their shadows of greatness.

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