Cigar regains winning form Maryland-bred cruises past field to capture $500,000 Woodward

September 15, 1996|By Tom Keyser | Tom Keyser,SUN STAFF

ELMONT, N.Y. -- The sad feeling of Aug. 10, when the unthinkable happened and Cigar lost, vanished yesterday with a few powerful strides as the revered Maryland-bred won again.

Cigar vanquished four foes in the $500,000 Woodward Stakes at Belmont Park, surging past the leaders on the far turn in the same domineering manner that highlighted his 16-race winning streak. When Cigar took the lead, cruising as if out for a morning run, it was clear that the Horse of the World was back.

"It was great seeing him running the way we're used to seeing him run," said Bill Mott, his trainer.

And Jerry Bailey, Cigar's jockey, when asked his feelings, said: "I think redemption is my feeling. I couldn't wait for the day, and I think Cigar couldn't wait for the day."

On Aug. 10, Cigar was beaten by 39-to-1 shot Dare and Go in the Pacific Classic in Del Mar, Calif.

Cigar's performance yesterday was a relief to racing fans around the world, but especially to his loyal following in Maryland. He was born six years ago at Country Life Farm in Harford County.

Perhaps an even greater relief was this declaration after the race by Cigar's owner, Allen E. Paulson: "Everybody's been hitting me up about selling Cigar to the Japanese. Well, I'm not going to sell him. I think he belongs to America."

Breeders in Japan, where racing is enormously popular and lucrative, have offered Paulson $30 million for Cigar.

"It gets you thinking," Paulson said. "But I've got a lot of beautiful ladies in a barn in Kentucky who would love to see Cigar. I think I'd miss him if I sold him; that's probably the biggest thing."

Although Paulson won't say for sure, he is expected to retire Cigar to his breeding farm in Kentucky after the Oct. 26 Breeders' Cup at Woodbine near Toronto. Cigar's schedule calls for one more race before then, the $1 million Jockey Club Gold Cup on Oct. 5 at Belmont Park.

Mott praised Paulson for the decision.

"I think it was very sporting of him, very brave, to keep him racing," Mott said of Paulson, who could have retired Cigar after his 10-for-10 Horse of the Year performance in 1995. "And I think it's very brave of him to take this expensive horse and not turn him into cash, but take his chances in the breeding shed."

Even the trainers whose horses were trounced by Cigar tipped )) their hats.

"Racing needs a hero," said James Bond, trainer of runner-up L'Carriere. "God bless Mr. Paulson and Mr. Mott for keeping him running.

"Cigar is the only horse I'd root for if I knew I wasn't going to win. This is a special horse. I just hope all the people realize what a special horse they saw here today."

Cigar, at 1-5 odds, won the 1 1/8 -mile Woodward by four lengths in 1 minute, 47 seconds, paying $2.70 to win. L'Carriere at 8-1 finished second, Golden Larch at 40-1 third, Smart Strike at 7-2 fourth and Eltish at 8-1 fifth. Petionville was scratched.

The Cigar-L'Carriere exacta paid $8. There was no trifecta wagering.

The Woodward was the highlight of Belmont's Super Stakes Weekend, which featured three Grade I stakes yesterday and includes two Grade I and one Grade II stakes today.

Yesterday, the 11-1 Diplomatic Jet won the $400,000 Man o' War Stakes for 98-year-old owner Fred W. Hooper, and 2-1 Yanks Music edged 3-5 Serena's Song in the $250,000 Ruffian Handicap.

But Cigar was the star. On an autumn-like day, a crowd of 16,701 greeted him with a burst of applause as he stepped onto the track. Cigar was lively -- "spunky," Bailey said -- prancing during the post parade and warming up in the rich afternoon sunlight.

He broke crisply from the No. 5 post, settling in behind the speedy L'Carriere, the highly regarded Canadian invader Smart Strike, and the determined Eltish, who stumbled at the break. They lumbered down the backstretch three-wide. Alone three lengths back, biding his time, was Cigar.

"It made my job that much easier," said Bailey, referring to the three-way battle for the lead unfolding before him. "At no point was I worried he wouldn't go after them. At no point did he feel like he couldn't go to them when I asked."

First, Eltish succumbed, then Smart Strike, finally L'Carriere. The crowd roared as Cigar thundered down the homestretch. A sixteenth of a mile from the finish line, Bailey shook his first twice in triumph.

Last month, Cigar sulked after missing out on his first trip to the winner's circle in nearly two years. Bailey and Mott said he was despondent. Mott even said he acted embarrassed.

The telling sign, they both said, was Cigar's refusal for several days to eat his favorite treat, a peppermint.

But after yesterday's victory in the Woodward, when Cigar showed again he is the greatest thoroughbred in the world, Mott said: "I'll give you 10-to-1 he'll eat a peppermint tonight."

Pub Date: 9/15/96

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