Cigar, the two-time Horse of the Year whose 16-race winning streak matched one of racing’s greatest achievements, has died. He was 24.
A release from Kentucky Horse Park said that Cigar died Tuesday night at Rood and Riddle Equine Hospital from complications following surgery for severe osteoarthritis in his neck. Cigar won 19 of 33 starts and earned nearly $10 million but was best known for his incredible run of wins that made him the first horse to tie the record set by the legendary Citation.
An allowance victory at Aqueduct in October 1994 began the Maryland-bred’s famed run that included 1995 wins in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, Hollywood Gold Cup and Pimlico Special. He was Horse of the Year in 1995 and 1996.
Jockey Jerry Bailey was aboard Cigar for the final 15 in the streak and said Wednesday of his mount, “he was the best of his generation and certainly the best horse I ever rode.”
Cigar was retired in 1999 and enshrined in the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame in 2002.
Though Cigar didn’t have the name recognition of other horses that ran in Triple Crown races, his winning streak helped generate interest in the sport even among casual fans. Tens of thousands attended the tracks when he was scheduled to race.
“He certainly filled the bill there,” Bailey added.
After going 10-for-10 in 1995 Cigar started ’96 by winning the inaugural Dubai World Cup. Later that year, Illinois’ Arlington Park created a special race, the Arlington Citation Challenge, for Cigar to match the 1948 Triple Crown winner’s 16-race streak.
Cigar did that by pulling away down the stretch as the heavy favorite in a 10-horse field.
Bailey blamed himself for losing the race that ended the run, the Aug. 10 Pacific Classic at Del Mar, California. He chose to engage Cigar in a duel with speed horse Siphon early in the 1 1/4 mile-race, and 40-1 shot Dare And Go eventually passed a tired Cigar to win by 3 1/2 lengths.
The product of a mating of Palace Music and Solar Slew — a mare by Seattle Slew — Cigar was foaled on April 18, 1990, at Country Life Farm near Bel Air, Maryland. He did not race until his 3-year-old season, winning just two of nine races that year for trainer Alex Hassinger.
Cigar, who had been based in California, went east as a 4-year-old and was trained by Bill Mott. Cigar had only sporadic success racing on turf, so Mott switched him back to dirt racing, and the horse responded by winning an allowance race at Aqueduct by eight lengths.
Thus began a winning streak that matched the record held by Citation. Cigar’s streak covered races at nine tracks, seven states and one foreign country and earned him a spot on any list of racing’s all-time greats.
“He’s the horse who carried our banner worldwide at a time when thoroughbred racing was suffering and needed a hero,” trainer D. Wayne Lukas said after Cigar’s retirement.
Kentucky Horse Park said that Cigar will be buried on the Memorial Walk of Champions near Thoroughbreds Alysheba, Bold Forbes, Forego, John Henry and Kona Gold.