The 1990’s brought horse racing center stage for most fans of the time period. The Pacific Classic was first run in 1991. Three horses in a row: Silver Charm in 1997, Real Quiet in 1998 and Charismatic in 1999, had a shot to win the Triple Crown while the first Dubai World Cup Festival of Racing was run in 1996. However, it was in 1993 that the star of the decade would step foot on the racetrack. By the end of the 1990’s Cigar was considered be one of the greatest horses in the history of the sport.
Under trainer, Alex Hassinger Jr. Cigar only won twice in nine starts at age three, and he failed to win in stakes competition. Near the end of the year Hassinger switched from racing him on dirt to racing him on turf, but the horse remained a low-grade stakes/high-class allowance horse. As a three-year-old, Cigar earned $89,175.
After Cigar’s three-year-old year, owner and breeder Allen Paulson shipped Cigar from the West Coast to the East, so he could be overseen by Bill Mott, a Hall of Fame conditioner.
The transformation of Cigar from a horse that showed modest turf ability to one that developed into a legend on dirt illustrates how critical a trainer’s role can be.
The brilliance of Bill Mott started with Cigar in the 1990’s. After a couple of decent finishes in allowance races on the turf, Mott put Cigar on the dirt where he romped by 8 lengths in an allowance race at Aqueduct which would be the start of a remarkable journey for the two.
Cigar’s first breakthrough victory was in the 1994 NYRA Mile, a Grade I event. With Jerry Bailey in the irons, Cigar drew off to defeat Devil His Due by seven lengths.
In 1995, at age 5, Cigar won all 10 of his starts and earned $4,819,800, including what most fans would say was Cigar’s signature triumph in the 1995 Breeders’ Cup Classic where Cigar roared home in a stakes record time of 1:59.58, accompanied by a race call from Tom Durkin that will be remembered through the ages. Durkin exclaimed as Cigar powered toward the wire: “And here he is, the unconquerable, invincible, unbeatable Cigar!”
Cigar began 1996 with a 12-race winning streak that quickly turned to 13 when he prepped for the inaugural Dubai World Cup with a repeat victory in the Donn Handicap at Gulfstream Park in Florida. There was enormous uncertainty surrounding the World Cup however, as the reigning Horse of the Year was battling foot problems and he would have to withstand a journey to a land half a world away.
The doubts were quickly silenced as the field broke from the gate in the inaugural running of the race. The rest of the field could not match Cigar’s powering stride as Bill Mott watched contentedly as Cigar dug deep to earn his 14th consecutive triumph on an international stage.
Two more victories, in the Massachusetts Handicap and in the Arlington Citation Challenge, the latter created by Arlington Park to fit the occasion, allowed Cigar to equal Citation’s record for consecutive wins mark and also raised his season earnings to $4,578,454 to surpass Alysheba’s all-time record for a single season.
Cigar was retired following the 1996 Breeders’ Cup Classic with a career record of 19-4-5 from 33 starts and record career earnings of $9,999,815, which was not surpassed until Curlin topped $10 million in 2008.
In 2002, Cigar was inducted in his first year of eligibility into the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame. In the Blood-Horse magazine ranking of the top 100 U.S. thoroughbred champions of the 20th Century, Cigar was ranked #18. In accordance with that ranking, Cigar is the highest-ranked American Thoroughbred during the decade of the nineties (1990–1999) and therefore lays claim to the title American “Horse of the Decade.”
Cigar also won the Eclipse Award Horse of the Year in 1995, and 1996. Also in 1995 and 1996, he was named Champion Older Male.
The 1990’s played host to many iconic events in the world of horse racing, but Cigar stole the show and gave the world a career to remember throughout the decade.