The headline in the weekly magazine Thoroughbred Times read: "Plans set for Cigar's retirement." The response from London: "Oh, no, they're not."
Ever since reporting Nov. 22 that Cigar was likely headed to the Kentucky Horse Park, a tourist attraction near Lexington, Ky., I have telephoned London weekly, seeking confirmation of plans for the Maryland-bred two-time Horse of the Year. Spokesmen there for Assicurazioni Generali SpA have said repeatedly that a plan to move Cigar to the Kentucky Horse Park awaits final approval from Generali executives.
Generali is the insurance company that assumed ownership of Cigar in 1997 after paying a $25 million infertility settlement. Allen Paulson, who raced Cigar, and Ashford Stud, where Cigar stood briefly at stud, received the money. Cigar has spent the past year and a half at the private Watercress Farm near Lexington.
In the Dec. 26 Thoroughbred Times, Paulson was quoted as saying plans for Cigar include his keeping the popular horse most of the year at his private Brookside Farm in Kentucky while the public Kentucky Horse Park would have Cigar for only a few months.
A spokesman at Generali who works in the equine-insurance division said that he knows of no plans for Cigar to stay at Brookside. But the good fellow said the decision rests in the hands of Generali executives, who have been painfully slow in the deciding.
And he urged me to keep calling once a week.
Weather Vane on the mend
If all goes well, and so far it has, Weather Vane will return tomorrow to Maryland.
After breaking her right front ankle and undergoing surgery Tuesday at the New Bolton Center in Pennsylvania, Weather Vane would arrive at Bill Delp's Kris-Nick Farm in Baldwin. Delp is one of Weather Vane's owners, along with his brother Gary and father-in-law Pete Dillon.
"Everything has gone very, very well," Dillon said.
Weather Vane suffered the injury during a workout at Pimlico preparing for today's Francis Scott Key Stakes at Laurel Park. Weather Vane won't race again. Her owners are debating what course her future as a broodmare will take.
They will most likely sell her, Dillon said. They may first breed her to Broad Brush and sell her in foal. But there's an outside chance she could be bred to Favorite Trick, the 1997 Horse of the Year.
An agent for Walmac International, the farm near Lexington where Favorite Trick will stand for $30,000, has proposed to Dillon and his partners that Weather Vane be bred to Favorite Trick and then sold in foal at Keeneland.
That's an incredible compliment to Weather Vane, her owners, trainer Dick Delp, jockey Mario Pino and everyone else connected with her. Weather Vane's Maryland breeding can only be described as modest at best.
But she ran as if she carried the blood of champions. And now that has earned her a proposed date with a Horse of the Year.
Polish Numbers has supplanted Allen's Prospect and Two Punch as the year's leading Maryland sire.
According to the latest statistics in The Blood-Horse magazine, complete through Dec. 22, Polish Numbers ranks 22nd among stallions with North American progeny earnings of $3.4 million.
Allen's Prospect ranks 33rd at $3 million -- although the Country Life Farm stallion leads the continent with 107 winners. Murmur Farm's Norquestor ranks 52nd at $2.5 million. And Two Punch ranks 60th at $2.4 million.
"We were not happy with the year Two Punch had," said Richard L. Golden, president of Northview Stallion Station, which stands Two Punch and Polish Numbers. "It was an off-year for him. No question he'll come back and have a good year. He's proven that already."
Conversely, Golden was thrilled about Polish Numbers. Although his fee for 1999 is listed as $20,000, his last six bookings have sold for $25,000, Golden said.
"We're actually turning down people at $25,000," he said. "I think he could stand for $40,000 next year. That'd be great for Maryland. There's certainly not a glass ceiling here when your stallion becomes nationally recognized, even internationally recognized."
Golden said European owners have booked Polish Numbers for their mares in Kentucky because he has become such a successful sire of turf runners. Big-name breeders such as Seth Hancock, Alice Chandler and Prince Ahmed bin Salman are sending mares to Polish Numbers, Golden said.
The region's leading freshman sire, Valley Crossing, stands at the Boniface family's Bonita Farm in Darlington. After earning $1.6 million on the racetrack, the 11-year-old stallion is scoring in the breeding shed and producing strikingly handsome offspring.
"I didn't expect them to be this precocious and run this well as 2-year-olds," Bill Boniface said. "I think they'll run even better at 3."
Golden has retired his Grade I-winning filly Tenski, who won seven of 11 races, including five of seven on turf. She underwent surgery for removal of a bone chip in her right front ankle after finishing ninth Nov. 8 in the Yellow Ribbon Stakes at Santa Anita Park.
"She just became too valuable to keep out there and keep running," Golden said. "She really didn't have anything left to prove."
Now 4, Tenski will be bred to Kris S., who stands at Prestonwood Farm in Kentucky.
Track doctor resigns
After 15 years as the track physician at Pimlico and eight at Laurel Park, Dr. Jerome Coller has resigned.
A gentleman to the end, he still doesn't want to discuss the circumstances of his leaving. But the many jockeys, backstretch workers, patrons and frontside employees he treated over the year miss him.
"He's an unspoken hero," said Bob Manfuso, an owner and breeder of horses as well as a former owner of the racetracks. "He's been a wonderful friend to a lot of people."
The Frank J. De Francis Memorial Dash was one of eight stakes upgraded to Grade I for 1999. It joins the Preakness and Pimlico Special as Maryland's only top-rated races.
The John B. Campbell Handicap will lose its Grade III ranking in 2000. Lenny Hale, Pimlico and Laurel Park's vice president of racing, said stakes facing possible downgrades are the Grade II General George and the Grade III Laurel Futurity, Selima and Laurel Dash, and those looking at possible upgrades are the Grade III Safely Kept and the ungraded Fort McHenry. Maryland Jockey Club officials plan to offer the new Kentucky Derby Future Wager. Instituted by Churchill Downs, patrons will be able to bet horses to win the May 1 Derby during three betting periods scheduled around major Derby preps -- Feb. 18-21, March 11-14, April 8-11.
Trainer Leon Blusiewicz says Millions is going today to the Camden Training Center in South Carolina, where he'll prepare his 3-year-old colt for a run at the Kentucky Derby and/or Preakness Stakes. This year's Mid-Atlantic Thoroughbred Championships (MATCH) will include one race at Charles Town. Joe De Francis says he's "working diligently" with officials of Colonial Downs to resolve the dispute over the Maryland Jockey Club's management fee. He says a resolution may be in sight, perhaps by the middle of this month.
Stewart Mitchell, 81, a retired long-time Maryland trainer from Laurel, is undergoing tests at Johns Hopkins Hospital after becoming ill last week. Jack Fisher, the 35-year-old steeplechase trainer in Monkton, continues his recovery from a tractor accident in October that crushed his right leg, fractured it in six places and tore the skin off to the bone. He underwent two operations, attends therapy three times a week and says he's three or four weeks away from climbing back astride a horse.
"I'm doing OK," Fisher said. "I can't complain. It's winter. It's too cold to be outside, anyway."
Pub Date: 1/03/99