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October 09, 2014

Cigar in Heaven

Racing Hall of Fame member Cigar, whose 16-race win streak from 1994-96 included victories in the Dubai World Cup (UAE-I) and Breeders' Cup Classic (gr. I), died at age 24 Oct. 7 at Rood and Riddle Equine Hospital in Lexington.

Cigar, who died from complications following surgery for severe osteoarthritis in his neck, had resided at the Kentucky Horse Park Hall of Champions since 1999.

In all, the son of Palace Music—Solar Slew, by Seattle Slew, won 15 stakes including 11 grade/group I scores. Cigar earned Horse of the Year honors in 1995 and 1996, and was named champion older horse each of those years.

"Cigar had been experiencing arthritis-related health issues over the past six months and was in outstanding physical and mental condition other than the osteoarthritis he was suffering from in several of his cervical vertebrae," said Kathy Hopkins, director of equine operations for the Kentucky Horse Park. "Medical therapies had failed to relieve the pressure that the arthritis was causing on his spine, which had resulted in instability in his hind legs."

A homebred for Allen Paulson and trained by Bill Mott with Jerry Bailey as his regular rider, Cigar retired as the richest Thoroughbred in United States racing history with $9,999,815 in earnings. Curlin   is the only U.S.-based horse to pass that mark.

Each April 18, Maryland's Country Life Farm has put out a sign wishing Cigar a happy birthday, and fans stop by for photos and leave cards and gifts at the farm where the Racing Hall of Famer was born.

"He was definitely one of a kind. It sort of launched us onto the national map just being named with him," said Country Life broodmare manager Christy Holden. "We didn't have a big part in his racing career but we gave him a start in life. Having him here his first few months was a big deal."

Country Life co-owner Mike Pons said it was "like a meteorite landed" at the farm.

"It's really cool to have a little piece of one of the greatest horses of all time," Pons said. "It's a huge thing. That was really a fun ride to see him win 16 in a row and go to Dubai and win the first Dubai World Cup. All the things he did generated so much positive energy, publicity, and attention for horse racing. He was like a big magnet. We could use one like him today."

In Cigar's 1995 Breeders' Cup Classic win at Belmont Park, he edged L'Carriere by 2 1/2 lengths. Bailey told The Blood-Horse the champion was so smooth, he couldn't sense his acceleration.

"It's a strange feeling," Bailey said. "I never really sense any change in his speed or the way he is traveling. It's just that I look around and the horses who were beside me are suddenly far behind."

Five months after that win, he captured the first edition of the Dubai World Cup by a half length over Soul of the Matter.

"I can't tell you how many times I remind the people who work for me just how special this is," Mott told The Blood-Horse at the time. "It's like we've been chosen for some reason to be around this horse for this moment in time and we should never forget how fortunate we are."

Cigar won 19 of 33 career stars and placed second or third in nine other efforts. He twice won the Woodward Stakes (gr. I) at Belmont Park, the Donn Handicap (gr. I) at Gulfstream Park, and the Massachusetts Handicap at Suffolk Downs.

Bailey said Oct. 8 that Cigar changed his thinking about the sport.

"He was a very, very charismatic horse. Everybody knows how fast he was, how dominating he was, the length of time he dominated. Look, when I got into this game I wanted to be a football player. I couldn't; I was too small. Being a jockey was a means to an end for me. And for the first half of my career, until Cigar, I had like a doctor-patient relationship. I rode the horses. I worked them out in the morning, and I went home. There was nothing else, until Cigar," Bailey said. "He made me fall in love with horses."

His win streak came to an end when he finished second to Dare and replica breitling watches Go in the 1996 Pacific Classic Stakes (gr. I) at Del Mar. Cigar closed out his career with a third-place finish that season in the Breeders' Cup Classic (gr. I) at Woodbine. Cigar's 15 stakes wins came at eight different tracks.

Cigar was inducted into the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame in August 2002, his first year of eligibility. Cigar stood at Ashford Stud in 1997 but because of fertility issues, he failed as a stallion and did not sire a single starter. He moved to the Kentucky Horse Park in 1999.

"His victory in the 1995 Breeders' Cup Classic at Belmont Park capped off an undefeated season, and his triumph in the inaugural Dubai World Cup brought this great champion to an international stage," said Breeders' Cup president Craig Fravel. "Allen and Madeleine Paulson formed a bold and dynamic ownership team, and the Hall of Fame trainer and jockey combination of Bill Mott and Jerry Bailey prepared Cigar to exhibit his greatness each time he went to the racetrack. We join the Thoroughbred community in saluting the memory of this remarkable racehorse." 

With his recent neck issues, Cigar had been under the care of a team of veterinarians from the Hagyard Equine Medical Institute and Rood and Riddle. The team of veterinarians and surgeons had deemed that spinal surgery was the only option to relieve the pressure and ensure the highest quality of life for the horse.

"Cigar had been suffering from a cervical spine instability for which conservative medical therapies could no longer halt the disease's progressive nature," said Dr. Rocky Mason of the Hagyard Equine Medical Institute. "The decision to seek out a more lasting treatment modality was made. Surgery is never an easy decision in a 24-year-old horse, but Cigar had proven himself a regal, classy, and determined patient making the decision to proceed an easier one."

Surgical correction was performed by a team led by Dr. Brett Woodie of Rood and Riddle, Dr. Laura Werner of Hagyard Equine, and Dr. Steve Reed of Rood and Riddle. Reed pioneered the special procedure performed.

"The Kentucky Horse Park was committed to providing him with the highest level of care possible," Hopkins said. "We are heartbroken to lose this great horse, especially as we were trying to do everything we could to improve his quality of life and make him more sound and comfortable. Our park family is immensely grateful to Dr. Reed and the outstanding medical teams at Rood and Riddle and Hagyard Equine for their ultimate dedication to and concern for this unmatched champion."

Reed said the spinal cord compression was in the lower part of Cigar's neck.

"The most severe compression was between cervical vertebra 6 and 7, with additional compression between cervical vertebra 5 and 6," Reed said. This was an acquired problem related to arthritis, and bony remodeling in the neck. The severity of this spinal cord compression became so problematic that all parties were left with few options, the best one being surgery.

"This was a significant surgery involving a prolonged recovery. Unfortunately, during recovery Cigar suffered a vertebral fracture and passed away."

Hopkins thanked fans who have supported Cigar and the Kentucky Horse Park since his retirement. She also noted the efforts of park team members who have taken excellent care of him over the years, including Wes Lanter, Robin Bush, and the late Cathy Roby.

"The outcome was disappointing and very sad for many people; but especially for Wes and Kathy, who remained at his side to the end," Reed said.

Like the other Hall of Champions horses who died in retirement at the park, Cigar will be buried on the Memorial Walk of Champions near Thoroughbreds Alysheba, Bold Forbes, Forego, John Henry, and Kona Gold; Standardbreds Cam Fella and Rambling Willie; American Saddlebreds CH Imperator, CH Skywatch, and CH Gypsy Supreme; and American Quarter Horse Sgt. Pepper Feature.

"Cigar was an incredible horse who left an everlasting mark on the racing world," said Ted Nicholson, interim executive director of the Kentucky Horse Park. "We are honored that Cigar was able to spend so many years of his life here at the park where he was visited by so many fans and will always be remembered."

A public memorial service will be held for Cigar at a future date. Even Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear commented on his passing.

"The great champion Cigar thrilled racing fans and surely brought new ones to the sport as he compiled win after win in his incredible streak of victories," Beshear said. "An example of racing at its best, he continued to serve as an ambassador, bringing joy to countless visitors to the Hall of Champions at the Kentucky Horse Park, where he will be missed."

The Blood-Horse visited Cigar in 2008:

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