Cigar tops new class of Hall inductees

16-win streak legendary

National Racing Museum honors Md. trainer Delp

Horse Racing

August 06, 2002|By Tom Keyser | Tom Keyser,SUN STAFF

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - As the years pass and one after another of racing's potential stars fade, Cigar's light glows brighter. Yesterday, it glowed most brilliant.

Cigar led the stellar roster of horses and humans inducted into the National Museum of Racing's Hall of Fame in a ceremony at the Fasig-Tipton Sales Pavilion across Union Avenue from Saratoga.

Born in Maryland at Country Life Farm near Bel Air, Cigar launched his Hall of Fame career when his trainer, Bill Mott, switched him from turf to dirt in 1994, when the horse was 4. Cigar rattled off 16 straight victories from October 1994 to July 1996, tying Citation's modern record for consecutive wins.

"Cigar wasn't just a horse," said Les Benton, who introduced Cigar at the induction ceremony. "He transcended racing to become the people's horse."

Benton is chairman of the Dubai World Cup, the world's richest race run each March in Dubai in the Middle East. Cigar won the inaugural running in 1996, becoming what some called the first "horse of the world."

"Cigar became an instantaneous champion, his name resonating around the world," Benton said. "Dubai will never forget Cigar. The world will never forget Cigar."

Joining Cigar as the newest members of racing's Hall of Fame were Maryland trainer Grover G. "Bud" Delp, deceased jockey Jack Westrope, outstanding race-mare Serena's Song and "horse from yesteryear" Noor.

Delp grew up in Harford County about a half mile from where Cigar was born on April 18, 1990. Delp, 69, went on to train Spectacular Bid to 26 victories in 30 starts, and Cigar grew into one of the most popular racehorses of all time.

"I think Cigar started the modern renaissance in this game," said Mike Pons, who runs Country Life Farm with his brother Josh. "He put racing back on the radar screen."

A bay-colored powerhouse who swelled up before races and then looked you straight in the eye back at the barn, Cigar was twice named Horse of the Year - in 1995 and 1996. He retired with earnings of $9,999,815, still a North American record.

Cigar's accomplishment grows in stature as horse after horse, touted as the next superhorse, loses after a handful of wins or retires before fulfilling his potential.

"I think what he did becomes more significant with time, especially when you see a horse like Street Cry get beat in the Whitney," said Mott, Cigar's trainer, referring to the most recent winner of the Dubai World Cup; Street Cry finished second as the heavy favorite in the Whitney Handicap three days ago at Saratoga, ending a three-race winning streak.

"Cigar maybe wasn't the fastest horse, but you don't find many horses more dependable," Mott said. "He just kept showing up. He was very durable, very tough. ... I don't think there are many great horses, but he was one of them."

Madeleine Paulson owned Cigar for the first 15 of his 33 races. After he'd won the first two of what would become 16 in a row, she traded horses with her husband, Allen, and he campaigned Cigar for his final 18 races. Allen Paulson died two years ago. Madeleine accepted Cigar's Hall of Fame plaque at the ceremony.

She said little but summoned Mott and Jerry Bailey, Cigar's regular rider, onto the stage. Like Mott, Bailey is a member of the Hall of the Fame.

"I fell in love with horse racing when I first started riding," Bailey said. "But I never really loved a horse until I started riding Cigar."

When Cigar retired after losing three of four races in late 1996, his fans looked forward to watching his babies race. But the veteran campaigner proved to be infertile.

Cigar ended up as the star attraction at the Kentucky Horse Park, a public park near Lexington. Madeleine Paulson was reluctant about his going there; she preferred that he remain on the quiet Kentucky farm that her husband had owned.

But she visited him recently, and yesterday she assured his fans: "He gets all the love that he can dream of."

Pons said the disappointment of Cigar's not producing runners was tempered by the lasting, and growing, reputation of his 16-race winning streak.

"It's like DiMaggio's streak," Pons said. "It will look bigger and bigger as time goes on. ... We'd all love to see his little babies running around. But the good Lord make one Cigar. That's all he wanted."

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