BOSTON — BOSTON -- Not since Paul Revere has this Massachusetts city gotten so fired up about a horse.
Cigar, the Maryland-bred who has developed into perhaps the world's greatest thoroughbred, arrives here today in quest of his 15th straight victory in tomorrow's Massachusetts Handicap at Suffolk Downs. And the 1-9 favorite arrives in style befitting royalty.
A state police escort is to greet Cigar's van from New York's Belmont Park this afternoon as it crosses the Connecticut border into Massachusetts. The police will then lead the king of his sport to the racetrack here.
Suffolk Downs management, which hired the escort, also printed T-shirts, "Cigar . . . The Second Coming" -- a reference to his near-celestial, four-length romp in last year's MassCap. That was Cigar's eighth win in a row and the one that, because of a wildly enthusiastic reception by usually staid New Englanders, signaled that something extraordinary was happening between horse and human.
The Boston City Council has declared today "Cigar Day." And the track is running a TV ad that warns: "If you miss the MassCap, stick around. . . . You might see another horse this great in 50 years or so."
A near-capacity crowd of about 20,000 is expected for the $250,000, 1 1/8 -mile race, which will be broadcast live on ESPN. Post time is 4: 40 p.m. tomorrow.
The track's 2,600 clubhouse seats were sold within two hours of going on sale. An auxiliary press box was constructed to accommodate reporters from around the world.
This doesn't surprise Allen Paulson, the rich and sporting owner of Cigar.
"It seems like everybody in the world knows Cigar," Paulson said yesterday. "People who've never been to the racetrack come up to me, and all they want to talk about is Cigar."
Born six years ago at Country Life Farm in Harford County, Cigar is two victories shy of matching the great Citation's modern-day North American record of 16 straight.
If Cigar wins tomorrow and closes within one, Paulson said, the horse probably would race June 30 in the Hollywood Gold Cup Handicap in California.
Tomorrow, Cigar's main foe might be the weight on his back, not the five other horses in the field. He will carry 130 pounds for the first time, spotting his rivals 19 to 22 pounds. Cigar's previous high was 128 pounds -- a combination of jockey, saddle and lead weights assigned in handicap races for older horses.
Despite the weight, Cigar is 1-9 in the morning line. With his regular jockey Jerry Bailey aboard, Cigar will break from the No. 3 post.
From the rail out, here is the field: Prolanzier (109 pounds, 20-1 odds), Will to Reign (109 pounds, 15-1), Cigar, Northern Ensign (109 pounds, 12-1), Personal Merit (111 pounds, 5-1) and Hogan's Goat (108 pounds, 20-1).
The best of Cigar's opponents, Personal Merit, has lost seven straight, but in his past two starts finished second in both the Grade I Widener Handicap at Hialeah Park and the Grade II Excelsior Handicap at Aqueduct.
In last year's MassCap, he finished fourth, nearly 10 lengths behind Cigar.
The two horses expected to challenge Cigar in this year's Mass- Cap, Star Standard and Key of Luck -- one-two finishers May 11 in the Pimlico Special -- didn't enter for health reasons. Key of Luck bruised a foot, and Star Standard has been listless, said his trainer, Nick Zito.
A MassCap win by Cigar would be worth the winner's share -- $150,000 -- plus a bonus of $250,000. Referred to as the "Cigar bonus," it goes to any horse with three or more Grade I wins since January 1995. Cigar, of course, is the only one eligible.
That would push his career earnings, already a record for a horse in North America, past the $8 million mark. Cigar's last triumph alone -- the dramatic Dubai World Cup March 27 at Dubai in the United Arab Emirates -- was worth $2.4 million.
Pub Date: 5/31/96