ELMONT, N.Y. -- Cigar made the mud at Belmont Park yesterday look like the paved surface on the Long Island Expressway.
The spirited bay horse, who lashed out at the crowd with both hind legs on the way to the track and had to be restrained by jockey Jerry Bailey from rushing too quickly to the lead, demolished both the field and a Breeders' Cup 1 1/4 -mile record yesterday en route to a 2 1/2 -length score over 51-1 long shot L'Carriere in the $3 million Breeders' Cup Classic.
But first the Maryland-bred horse had to survive a rare pre-race inquiry from a rival trainer who claimed Cigar wore a banned brand of horseshoe. After being inspected in the saddling paddock by track officials, Cigar was given the OK to run and proceeded to turn in one of the most impressive performances of his career.
Cigar's race was just one of several noteworthy finishes on the seven-race card. The 4-year-old filly, Inside Information, nailed down a probable national championship with a 13 1/2 -length score in the Distaff, the greatest winning margin of any Breeders' Cup race in its 12-year history.
A new 2-year-old colt sensation, Unbridled's Song, rose to the top of the heap in his division after winning a courageous stretch duel over Hennessy in the $1 million Juvenile.
And the Irish flag was unfurled in the winner's circle after Ridgewood Pearl, Europe's top filly, outgamed Fastness by two lengths after a trip over a boggy turf course in the Mile. The filly, whose owner, Sean Coughlan, races the animal in the papal white and yellow silks and has her blessed with religious paraphernalia, had been cast, or had thrown herself sideways, in her stall during the night and couldn't get up. Had some vigilant guards not heard her thrashing around and helped get her to her feet, "Pearl" could have been severely injured and missed the race.
Instead, she outgamed the field and earned $520,000 for her Irish owner.
There was no doubt that trainer Bill Mott had Cigar wound up to perfection in order to give a stunning performance in the Classic and leave little doubt, as Mott said, that the horse's name should be "tacked alongside the all-time thoroughbred greats."
It was the 12th consecutive win for Cigar, and his 10th this year, the first time an American racehorse has gone undefeated in major competition since Spectacular Bid strung together nine victories in a row in 1980.
Cigar, owned by Allen Paulson of Savannah, Ga., raced the 1 1/4 miles in 1 minute, 59 2/5 seconds, and shaved a second off the Classic record of 2 minutes, 2/5 seconds jointly held by Sunday Silence and A.P. Indy. He also increased his yearly winnings to $4,819,800, breaking Sunday Silence's seasonal record of $4,578,454 earned in 1989.
"I didn't feel any added pressure to win another Classic. I've already won three," Bailey said. "But I felt extra pressure to prove to everybody just how good this horse really is. I didn't race alongside Secretariat, but Cigar is the best I've ever seen."
Secretariat is the only thoroughbred to break the 2-minute mark for 1 1/4 miles in the Kentucky Derby and Cigar is the only horse to break the 2-minute barrier in the Breeders' Cup Classic, even on a track described by jockeys yesterday as "gooey and holding" after about an inch of rain fell on the strip.
Bailey said he felt Cigar's race yesterday was the horse's best "because he won over a track he didn't like. He overcame the 10-hole, a wet track and the delay before the race with the paddock judge. He had his game face on and rose to the occasion."
Mott said he had decided the morning before the race not "to whine" about the track conditions if Cigar were beaten.
"Good horses run well over all sorts of surfaces," he said.
But he was "shocked," when he was told by the paddock judge beforehand that rival trainer Bobby Frankel, who saddled Tinners Way in the Classic, reported to the paddock blacksmith that he thought Cigar was wearing prohibited turn-down shoes on his hind feet.
Instead, Mott said, and officials concurred, that Cigar's hind shoes were "trailers," a simple extension of the hind shoes that gives the horse's feet added protection.
"He wears these same kind of shoes all the time," Mott said, "and so did two other winners on the card. This was a case of another trainer being a crybaby."
Bailey said Cigar "broke like a rocket. Normally I give him a tug or two and he relaxes. But because I was in the 10-hole, I let him
run on early so he'd race up there and get position. He tried to pull me to the lead and it took me about three-eighths of a mile to get him to settle down."
Star Standard and L'Carriere alternated for the lead until Bailey let out Cigar at about the half-mile pole. The horse led into the stretch and Bailey then tapped him three times with the whip when it looked like L'Carriere, who relishes the off going, and Unaccounted For might be closing in.
"He did his job again," Mott said. "They brought over absolutely the best they had to offer and he beat them."
The lone European entry, Halling, who had won eight consecutive starts, finished last in the 11-horse field.
"He changed his legs [lead] and stopped," said his trainer, Saeed bin Suroor. "I don't know exactly what's wrong, but we will check his heart. He doesn't seem distressed, but there is something wrong."
Despite the soggy track, three of the seven Breeders' Cup races were won by favorites -- Cigar (Classic), Inside Information (Distaff), who was favored along with stablemate Heavenly Prize, who finished second; and Ridgewood Pearl (Mile).
Second choices won another three races -- Unbridled's Song (Juvenile Colts), Northern Spur (Turf) and My Flag (Juvenile Fillies).
Desert Stormer, so lightly-regarded that she was grouped with "field horses" in the Sprint, scored the biggest upset, going wire-to-wire and returning a $31 winning payoff.
Trainer D. Wayne Lukas, who has won 12 Breeders' Cup races, was shut out of the winner's circle yesterday, but he took it in stride. "These things happen," Lukas said. "We'll go down the road and look for the next one."
Yesterday's on-track handle of $9,283,611 was the second highest in New York Racing Association history, second to the $10.5 million record set at Belmont on Breeders' Cup Day in 1990. There were about 14,000 fewer fans yesterday at Belmont than there were when the track hosted the 1990 Breeders' Cup.
Approximately $3 million was bet in the National Pick-7 pool. There were 81 winners who selected all seven Breeders' Cup winners. Each winning ticket was worth approximately $22,000.
Even though attendance and betting records declined, NYRA media relations director Glen Mathes felt yesterday's Breeders' Cup "exorcised the demons of 1990" when three horses broke down and were humanely destroyed.
Yesterday, all horses finished the course and there were no breakdowns or catastrophic injuries.
Sprint: Desert Stormer
Juv. Fillies: My Flag
Distaff: Inside Information
Mile: Ridgewood Pearl
Juvenile: Unbridled's Song
Turf: Northern Spur