Rumors about Cigar not worth repeating Cloning not an option, owner Paulson says

March 14, 1997|By Tom Keyser | Tom Keyser,SUN STAFF Sun staff writer Frank D. Roylance contributed to this article.

Allen E. Paulson sighed, then said: "This has gotten out of hand."

The New York Post, doing its best impersonation of the Weekly World News, splashed across yesterday's front page a large photograph of the striding Maryland-bred champion and this blaring, overbearing headline: "CLONE BUT NO CIGAR! Owner mulls new technique for stud dud."

The owner is Paulson, the 74-year-old aviation tycoon who campaigned Cigar during his 16-race winning streak and two consecutive Horse of the Year titles.

Now that the 7-year-old Cigar, retired to what racing fans hoped would be a successful career as a stallion, is apparently infertile, is Paulson really considering cloning him?

"We're certainly looking into cloning," the tabloid quoted Paulson as saying.

In a telephone interview yesterday, Paulson acknowledged that he is intrigued by the idea of cloning, but that he has no intention of cloning Cigar in hopes of creating other champion racehorses.

"The reporter called me up and said he had this idea about cloning Cigar," Paulson said. "I said, 'That'd be sort of interesting. It might be a fun thing to do."

But Paulson said he understands the rules of The Jockey Club, which registers every racehorse in the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico.

"The Jockey Club doesn't even allow artificial insemination," Paulson said. "I don't think they'll allow you to clone a horse and take it to the racetrack."

Indeed, Jim Peden, a spokesman for The Jockey Club, said the rules state that a foal must be the product of a sire's "natural service with a broodmare." He said the rules prohibit registration of foals produced by artificial insemination or embryo transfer.

"There is little doubt in my mind that the stewards of The Jockey Club will soon call for the addition of the words 'or cloning by any method,' " Peden said.

Paulson said cloning is intriguing as science, as an experiment. And if some cloning scientist wanted an equine subject, why not the best? Why not Cigar?

"You might as well do it on a horse like him than with a nag," Paulson said.

Scientists say the prospects for cloning any horse will remain dim for the foreseeable future.

Dr. Franklin Loew, dean of Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, said recently that in vitro procedures -- many of which have worked for other livestock, zoo animals and for humans -- have proved extremely difficult with horses and "still have not been done reliably."

The reasons remain something of a mystery, but fewer than five foals have been successfully conceived and born in veterinary laboratories, he said.

"Intra-cytoplasmic sperm injection," the mechanical injection of sperm directly into the egg, is a technology that has been successful for years in assisting human reproduction. But the first foal conceived that way was not born until last year, at Colorado State University, Loew said.

The problems are the topic of "fairly intense research," he said. But progress will be hobbled as long as The Jockey Club continues its ban on the registration of thoroughbreds conceived by artificial means or descended from those who were.

"That [the racing industry] is where the money is, obviously," Loew said.

vTC Meanwhile, Paulson said Cigar continues to strike out as a sire at Ashford Stud in Kentucky. In his first season at stud, Cigar has failed to impregnate the first 20 mares to which he's been bred, Paulson said.

Cigar has covered 40 mares in all, he said, but ultrasound examinations have been done only on the first 20. The exams revealed no embryos, and analyses of Cigar's sperm have detected no life, Paulson said.

The action will soon shift to the insurance company that holds a $25 million infertility policy on Cigar. The policy protects the owners -- Paulson, international breeder-owner Michael Tabor and Ireland-based Coolmore Stud, a top international breeding operation. Ashford Stud is Coolmore's U.S. branch. Cigar's fee is $75,000 -- which is only paid upon birth of a live foal.

Asked whether he had thought any further about a racing comeback for Cigar, Paulson said he has not. He said that he first must deal with the insurance company, which would own Cigar after it pays off.

"I want the horse back if we can get him," Paulson said. "We owe him a lot. He needs a nice home where he can be treated like the king that he is."

Paulson said he has not discussed Cigar's future with Bill Mott, the horse's trainer, currently based at Gulfstream Park in Florida. Yesterday, Mott pondered the question of Cigar's return to the track.

"I would feel OK about it, but I'm sure there'd be plenty of critics who'd say that it would be some sort of punishment for the horse," Mott said. " 'How could you do that? He should be retired the rest of his life.'

"But I'm not sure he's any happier being turned out in a pen and locked up in a stall than he would be back at the track. He always liked to train. He liked to race. He was happy and liked the attention. It'd be fun to have him back in the barn."

Cigar was retired last fall after finishing third in the $4 million Breeders' Cup Classic at Woodbine. He earned more money -- $185 shy of $10 million -- than any other racehorse in history.

Although Cigar lost three of his last four races -- after winning 16 straight, matching Citation's record -- he showed no great loss of talent. He raced hard, finished ahead of first-class horses and left observers with the impression that he could still win big races.

Asked whether Cigar would have been retired if he had been a gelding, Mott said without hesitation: "No."

Pub Date: 3/14/97

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