One Of Maryland’s Greatest Athletes Has Died

Featured, Sports and Bets — October 8, 2014 at 10:56 pm by

If you’ve ever driven on Route 1/Bel Air Road just south of the town of Bel Air, Maryland, you’ve passed Country Life Farm.  A small sign and winding fences that climb up green and rolling pastures are usually all you can make out from busy Bel Air Road, but if you eye the sign closely as you drive by you can see written on it in small and unassuming letters, the words, “Birthplace of Champion Cigar.”

Cigar, for those of you who are unaware, is the greatest Maryland-bred racehorse in history.  He at one point won sixteen straight races and he banked career earnings jut shy of $10 million.  He took on the best of the best and he shipped all over the country, and the world, to do it.  Cigar won the Breeder’s Cup Classic and the first ever running of the Dubai World Cup.  He won races like the Pimlico Special, the Donn Handicap, the Hollywood Gold Cup, the Jockey Gold Cup, and the NYRA Mile. (which they ended up naming after him.) He was the best American racehorse of the nineties and one of the greatest American thoroughbreds ever.  And he’s Maryland Pride. Here he is winning the Pimlico Special in 1995. It looked more like a workout for him than a race, he cruises.

Cigar died Tuesday evening at the age of 24 from unknown complications after undergoing spinal surgery.

Cigar lived and died at Kentucky Horse Park’s Hall of Champions, but he was born right here. His winning legacy is the legacy of the Maryland racing industry.  The son of sire Palace Music, who was a leading sire at the time, and Solar Slew, who was the daughter of Triple Crown winner, Seattle Slew,  was foaled at Country Life Farm, near Bel Air, on April 18th, 1990.  I wonder if anyone thought, at that moment, that in six years, this little foal, who was named after the intersection on aeronautical navigation charts and not the tobacco stick, would be widely regarded as the best racehorse in the world.  I doubt it.

Cigar didn’t race as a two year ole and as a three year old he won two of nine starts.  Neither of his wins were in stakes company.  Cigar looked like a decent horse, but I doubt anyone saw coming what would begin at the end of Cigar’s four-year-old season.

Cigar had been racing in California, but at the beginning of his four-year-old campaign, owner Allen Paulson shipped him east to trainer Bill Mott.  Mott switched Cigar to running on dirt (he had been a turf horse) and the results were astounding.  Cigar won an allowance race in New York and then won the NYRA Mile, a grade one race.  The turf to dirt move had paid off, and it would only get better for Cigar and his connections.

The NYRA was just the beginning. Cigar would come back in 1995 for his five year old campaign and go a perfect 10 for 10 on the year, the cherry on top being the 1995 Breeder’s Cup Classic.

That victory made twelve straight victories for Cigar and earned him the award for 1995 Horse of the Year.

Cigar would go on to win 16 straight races, a record at the time, tying the great Citation.  And the races that Cigar were winning weren’t pushover affairs, either. Cigar won fourteen stakes races, eleven of which were Grade One races during his streak.  He won $9,999,813, which was also a record, until Curlin broke it in 2008.

Cigar also won Horse of the Year in 1996 as a six year old, even though his winning streak had ended and even though he had finished third in the Breeder’s Cup Classic.

Cigar was just that good.  He’s one of the reasons I love horseracing. His Breeder’s Cup win has always stuck in my mind.  I can remember watching it and hearing Tom Durkin’s call as Cigar crossed the finish line, “And here he is….the unconquerable, invincible, unbeatable, Cigar!!!”  The fact that this incredible athlete and champion was foaled here in Maryland always made his winning more special.

So the next time you pass Country Life Farm, give a thought to the racing glory that was Cigar, one of Maryland’s greatest athletes.



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