Unwrapped Cigar a monument to success Bronze statue reflects a brilliant career

February 03, 1997|By Tom Keyser | Tom Keyser,SUN STAFF

HALLANDALE, Fla. -- An erect, alert-looking Cigar reappeared at the racetrack yesterday, three months after retiring as one of the great thoroughbreds of all time.

The Maryland-bred champion did not reappear in the flesh, but in bronze next to the paddock here at Gulfstream Park, just south of Fort Lauderdale. On a delightful, sunny day near 80 degrees, the life-size statue of Cigar was unveiled at the track where he won more races -- four -- than any other during his historic 16-race winning streak.

"He came from the heavens, I think," said his trainer, Bill Mott, gazing up at the statue after the unveiling, broadcast live on ESPN. "He's been a gift to all of us."

Born in 1990 at Country Life Farm near Bel Air, Cigar was retired in October with earnings $815 shy of $10 million, more than any other thoroughbred in history.

As he won race after race -- 16 in a row, tying Citation's 20th century, North American record -- he became the most beloved horse in the world.

He resides now at Ashford Stud in Kentucky, preparing for his first season of breeding that begins next month.

"He's been test-bred, and he's brilliant," said Aisling Cross, director of sales at the internationally renowned Ashford Stud. "He's found a new sport, and he's even perfect at that."

She said a flood of fans have visited Cigar since he arrived in November.

"We're talking thousands of people," Cross said. "And it's not just an American thing. We've had people from around the world.

"Cigar must be the easiest horse to show. You lead him out in front of people and he struts like a peacock."

After spending mornings in a 1 1/2 -acre grassy field, called a paddock, Cigar relaxes the rest of the day in one of five large stalls in a beautiful stone barn. His neighbors are the stallions Thunder Gulch, Southern Halo, Rhythm and Woodman.

He'll be bred to about 80 mares from February to July -- some of the top mares in the world, said Dr. Barry Simon, the farm manager. Cigar's stud fee is $75,000.

"Last year, Thunder Gulch probably had the best first group of mares I've ever seen," Simon said. "I'd say quality-wise Cigar's will exceed that."

Last August, as Cigar's racing career neared an end, the president and chief executive officer of Gulfstream Park, Douglas Donn, hired the Kentucky sculptor Cindy Wolf to create the life-size sculpture. He gave her six months, a job normally requiring at least a year.

Wolf accepted, she said, because Cigar was her idol. She worked 19, 20 hours a day in a race to the deadline nearly as breathtaking as some of Cigar's greatest victories.

She finished -- almost. The statue was unveiled in its natural bronze. The patina that will highlight Cigar's natural bay tones and white splashes will be applied this week.

As assurance that the statue would make it on time to southern Florida, the van transporting it left Lexington on Friday afternoon with four extra tires in case of blowouts and an extra driver in case of illness.

Cigar in conformation pose -- very proper, very upright -- looms high in Gulfstream Park's Garden of Champions, which features 83 bronze plaques dedicated to other champions who raced at this track since 1944. It is believed to be one of only two life-size horse sculptures at North American tracks. The other is at nearby Hialeah Park. It is, appropriately, of Citation, to whom Cigar will forever be linked in the history books.

Last week, Mott, who expertly handled Cigar through two brilliant seasons, said he missed the horse he had often described as unusually intelligent and dedicated to the task of racing.

"But I'm smart enough to know that when they've done enough, they deserve to go on and start their new career," Mott said. "You can only squeeze so much blood out of a turnip. He'd done as much as he could do on the racetrack.

"But if you want to know the truth, I woke up this morning thinking about him. It's been a little slow for us down here. We've had a few winners, but we're not rolling along the way we'd like. I'd really welcome him back in the barn right now."

Yesterday, Mott said he had worried about how Cigar's statue would turn out. He had seen the work in progress, and he said the neck and head appeared to be too upright.

After seeing the monument unveiled, he said: "But I think it's nice. It's very nice."

One of the many fans who crowded in for the ceremony asked Mott about the peculiar, smile-like expression of Cigar's mouth.

"He's pretending he's in the winner's circle," said Mott, smiling.

Standing next to the trainer, Allen E. Paulson, the owner of the Cigar, added: "And he'll be there forever."

Pub Date: 2/03/97

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