HALLANDALE, FLA. — HALLANDALE, Fla. -- It was perhaps the easiest victory yet from the horse who spent all of last year crushing any and every obstacle between him and the winner's circle.
Which is remarkable considering that Cigar had not run in over three months, was carrying his heaviest weight assignment ever and was not exactly facing a bunch of bums. But, then
again, this is a horse that makes the extraordinary seem ordinary.
This is a new year and this was a new race, but the story remains the same for the one anointed as the 1995 Eclipse Award winner the night before. Making his 6-year-old debut in yesterday's $300,000 Donn Handicap at Gulfstream Park, Cigar put on another brilliant display, toying with seven rivals on his way to a victory over stablemate Wekiva Springs. He won by two lengths; it could have been a dozen.
Continuing a streak that began Oct. 28, 1994, Cigar won for the 13th straight time. He is closing in on Citation's 16, believed to be the record for most consecutive wins by a major horse.
"It's pretty obvious he picked up right where he left off," said rider Jerry Bailey. "I don't know what more questions there are."
Cigar had not run since winning the Oct. 28 Breeders' Cup Classic at Belmont Park and was saddled with 128 pounds, 11 more than the second high weight, Wekiva Springs. Because of both factors, some believed that perhaps this time Cigar would be a tiny bit vulnerable. He was anything but.
Cigar broke sharply and Bailey allowed him to settle into third, behind Star Standard and Flying Chevron, who were dueling for the lead through opening fractions of :23.2 and :46.80.
On the far turn, Cigar made his first move, gracefully sweeping by the leaders to gain the lead at the three-eighths pole. Wekiva Springs was also moving well and joined Cigar at the quarter-pole. For just a second, it appeared there might be a race to the wire. Even Bill Mott, who trains both, wondered what owner Allen Paulson might do to to him if Wekiva Springs won.
"I thought my job in the mail room might be starting tomorrow," he joked.
Bailey looked over his shoulder at the gray rival, asked for just a little bit of run and Mott's future was assured. Cigar galloped effortlessly through the stretch, never feeling the touch of his rider's whip. Bailey, mindful of racing secretaries who may want to add another pound in the future, admitted he was trying to win by as small a margin as possible.
"I've quit being surprised by this horse," Bailey said. "Maybe sometimes he works harder than others, but it never surprises me when he wins with ease."
"I could play all the games I want with the people who handicap these races [and will assign Cigar even more weight], but they're not blind," added Mott. "He won easily. There's no secret about that."
Cigar, an overlay at 1-5, paid $2.40 and completed the mile and an eighth run over a fast track in 1:49. Eclipse Award-winning mare Heavenly Prize made up ground late to finish third, six lengths behind the winner.
Paulson confirmed that Cigar will be sent next to Santa Anita for the March 2 Santa Anita Handicap, first leg of the MGM Grand Classic Crown. Any horse winning the Santa Anita Handicap, the Hollywood Gold Cup and the Pacific Classic will earn a $2 million bonus. From there, it's off to the Middle East for the March 27 Dubai World Cup, a $4 million race and the third leg of what will be a grueling schedule for Cigar.