Cigar tries to rebound today After stunning loss, he goes in Woodward

September 14, 1996|By Tom Keyser | Tom Keyser,SUN STAFF

ELMONT, N.Y. -- With the image still sharp of Dare and Go thundering past Cigar last month at Del Mar, the question today is: Will the Maryland-bred Cigar return to the winner's circle the domineering champion, or sulk back to his barn the susceptible veteran?

The answer is due at 4: 44 p.m., when Cigar and probably four formidable foes burst from the starting gate in the $500,000 Woodward Stakes at Belmont Park.

Cigar's loss Aug. 10 in the Pacific Classic at Del Mar -- ending his 16-race win streak -- raised questions about the 6-year-old Horse of the Year. Is he beginning to show his age? Is he wearing down from recurring hoof injuries or his globetrotting 30-race career during which he's become the best-known horse on the planet?

Ask Bill Mott, his trainer, and Mott says: "From all outward appearances -- the way he acts, the way he looks, the way he's moving -- I think he's as good right now as he's been in a long time."

Ask Jerry Bailey, his jockey, and Bailey says: "He's got a lot of miles on him. He's had a lot of races. But I worked him Wednesday morning, and he felt pretty good. I'm as confident now as I've been in the past."

And, finally, ask an opposing trainer, Everardo Cambray, assistant to James Bond, who handles L'Carriere, and Cambray says: "The only way we can beat Cigar is if he's scratched."

And that doesn't look likely. Mott said he won't run Cigar in a "sea of slop." But yesterday at Belmont Park, it rained only slightly, and today's forecast calls for partly sunny skies.

So the Woodward, the first of Cigar's planned final three races, should supply all answers. After today's race, Cigar's schedule includes the $1 million Jockey Club Gold Cup on Oct. 5 at Belmont and the $4 million Breeders' Cup Classic on Oct. 26 at Woodbine near Toronto.

Cigar's owner, Allen E. Paulson, said he probably will retire the horse after the Breeders' Cup.

Six horses are entered in the 1 1/8 -mile Woodward, the highlight of Belmont's Super Stakes Weekend featuring five Grade I and one Grade II races. But one Woodward entrant, Petionville, is expected to scratch if Cigar does not. The 4-year-old colt with seven wins in 13 starts was entered in hopes that Cigar wouldn't run.

That would leave four horses against Cigar, the 2-5 morning-line favorite. The early second choice is the 9-2 L'Carriere, a 5-year-old gelding who finished third behind Cigar in March in the Dubai World Cup and second behind Cigar in last fall's Breeders' Cup Classic.

But Cigar's main threat may be a 4-year-old Canadian colt boasting a streak of his own. The 6-1 Smart Strike, a regally bred half-brother to Eclipse Award-winning filly Dance Smartly (Mr. Prospector out of Classy 'n Smart), has won six straight, including last month's Grade I Iselin Handicap at Monmouth Park.

Smart Strike's jockey, Craig Perret, mentions him in the same breath as Cigar.

"It's like with Cigar," Perret says. "When he won the 1994 NYRA Mile, no one ever thought he'd win 16 races in a row. When you have a horse bred as well as Smart Strike, and every race is getting better and better, and you haven't gotten to the bottom of him yet, you wonder just how good he is."

The horse Mott and others on the backstretch mention as the live challenger is Eltish, a 4-year-old Cox's Ridge colt trained by Bobby Frankel. A high-strung horse who seems to be learning how to relax early in races, the 8-1 Eltish may be the challenger flying down the lane in pursuit of Cigar.

"If he runs his race," Frankel said of Cigar, "Eltish probably can't beat him. But I don't know if he's going to run his race."

Frankel is one who believes Cigar may be showing the wear and tear of a rugged campaign.

"He's not invincible," Frankel said. "People were thinking he'd never get beat, like they thought Mike Tyson couldn't be beat. If he comes back like Mike Tyson, he's going to be tough. But we're not going to lay down for him."

Said Mott: "There're probably a few more people watching now to see if Cigar will get beat again. Maybe they're thinking: He's 6 years old. Maybe he's over the hill.

"But I still think an awful lot of people want to see him come back and win."

Pub Date: 9/14/96

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