Management at Suffolk Downs in Boston had its eyes on Holy Bull and Concern when it conceived the idea of a $500,000 bonus last winter to lure horses to the revived Massachusetts Handicap.
Instead, the MassCap got Cigar.
Should the 5-year-old horse win today's $250,000 race, he'll earn $650,000 -- $150,000 from the purse plus the bonus. That would be enough money to boost his earnings to $2.2 million and move him from sixth on the list of all-time Maryland-bred money earners to third.
Only Concern and Broad Brush would rank higher. Safely Kept, at $2.1 million, is the only other state-bred to have surpassed $2 million in earnings.
Cigar is the only horse in history to have swept the Gulfstream Park Handicap, the Oaklawn Handicap and Pimlico Special -- a prerequisite for winning today's hefty bonus if he also takes the MassCap.
Cigar, bet down to 2-5 at Pimlico three weeks ago, could be an even shorter price today, probably 1-5. Only one horse, Dusty Screen, who has run against Cigar in any of his five previous races this year, tries him today.
But favorites have a poor record in the MassCap, losing from 1974 through 1987. However, the last two winners, Lost Code in 1988 and Private Terms in 1989, were favored -- and both were based, if not bred, in Maryland. The MassCap was discontinued for five years until Suffolk management brought it back this year.
Cigar's eight opponents -- a field that might shrink to seven with the likely scratch of Patsyprospect and possibly others -- will receive from 11 to 17 pounds from the 124-pound highweight.
NOTES: Mark Johnston, Pimlico's leading jockey, will be at Monmouth Park today, riding Calipha in the $150,000 Budweiser Breeders' Cup Handicap.