What About Cigar?

CigarI expected a few comments about the title of the book, and indeed, I’ve received a few about the subtitle, “The Last Superhorse of the Twentieth Century.”

“What about Cigar?”

Cigar was a horse best known for winning 16 races in a row from 1995-1996, including 10 Grade I stakes. Like Spectacular Bid in 1980, he went undefeated during the 1995 season, winning the Breeders’ Cup Classic. There is no doubt that he was one of the best horses we’ve seen in the last 25-30 years.

But is he the last superhorse of the 20th century?

What’s a Superhorse?

It depends on where you draw the line in the definition of “superhorse.” yourdictionary.com defines superhorse as simply “An extremely famous or talented horse, especially a racehorse.” There are no qualifications. So I made up my own.

  1. There is a list created by the Blood-Horse of the Top 100 Thoroughbreds of the 20th Century. Yes, it’s subjective, but I’ve already admitted that defining superhorse is subjective. It places Spectacular Bid 10th on the list; Cigar is 18th. Not much of a difference, but where does one draw the line at being “super”? At Bold Ruler, who is #19? Or Swaps (#20)?

    Ranking ahead of Cigar but behind Spectacular Bid are (in order): Tom Fool, Affirmed, War Admiral, Buckpasser, Colin, Damascus and Round Table – all great horses, but are they superhorses like Secretariat, Native Dancer and Spectacular Bid? I’d rank them as second-tier superhorses – great horses, and many, including Cigar, were the best of their generation. But I draw the line at Spectacular Bid on this list.

  2. In their book A Century of Champions, John Randall and Tony Morris rank Spectacular Bid ninth in the world among horses that lived during the 20th century and third in the United States, based on Timeform figures. Cigar is ranked 32nd in the world and 12th in the United States, behind Swaps, Alydar and Forego.

    Spectacular Bid’s best Timeform rating was 141 in 1980; Cigar’s best was 136 in 1996. Timeform describes a horse with any Timeform rating over 140 as “an outstanding horse.” Ones with 136-139 are “almost outstanding.” That’s how I’d describe Cigar.

  3. Their records are vastly different. Spectacular Bid won 26 out of 30 races, an 86.67% winning percentage. That mark is topped only by Man o’ War (95.2%), Native Dancer (95.5%) and Colin (100%) among the Blood-Horse’s Top 20 Thoroughbreds. Cigar won only 19 of 33 races – a winning percentage of 57% – and 16 of those wins came during his streak.

    Spectacular Bid finished out of the money only once; Cigar finished fourth or worse 5 different times. Granted, many of Cigar’s losses occurred when he was running on turf and before he was turned over to Bill Mott for training. But unfortunately, horses are judged on their entire record.

  4. Then there are the intangibles. Cigar’s 16-race winning streak is almost unfathomable. But Bid put two impressive streaks together as well – a 12-race and 10-race winning streak. Both horses retired as the leading money winners, and both won at tracks all over the country. Cigar even won in Dubai.

    Spectacular Bid still holds the world record for 1 1/4 miles on dirt. He set or equaled eight track records. He was the last horse to win a major stakes race in a walkover (the 1980 Woodward Stakes), and he won two legs of the Triple Crown.

    Cigar holds no world records and was not entered into any of the Triple Crown races. Only Dr. Fager and Kelso managed to miss the Triple Crown and still be Top 10 Thoroughbreds (Forego ran in the Kentucky Derby but was not a factor).

Others will disagree with my assessment, and that’s okay. I won’t argue with them. I have my opinion, and I hope they’ll read Spectacular Bid: The Last Superhorse of the Twentieth Century and find out for themselves if the name fits.

August 26, 1979: Spectacular Bid is Back

Horse's hoofSix weeks after the safety pin incident at Belmont, Spectacular Bid was still favoring his left foot. Trainer Bud Delp had his farrier, Jack Reynolds, replace Bid’s regular horseshoe with one that had a rubber cushion and felt pads as well as extra protection from an aluminum extension. Every day for a month, they packed cotton and iodine under the cushion to keep the wound from becoming reinfected.

Growing Pains

But his condition grew from bad to worse. While he was recuperating from his left injury, he also developed a corn in his right hoof, probably caused by favoring it in the Belmont and by subsequent walks he took while he was lame.

Delp brought Bid along slowly, steadily upping the speed of his workouts while the horse continued to rehabilitate. On July 23, the horse ran three furlongs in 35 4/5 seconds. Delp and Charlie Bettis took the protective horseshoe off the horse on July 25; on July 31, he ran a half mile in 49 seconds. He breezed five furlongs in 1:01 2/5 on August 4 under conditions so foggy that the exercise boy had to shout when he got to the five-furlong pole.

Then Bid turned it on. He worked six furlongs in 1:13 2/5 on August 11, four furlongs in 48 seconds flat on August 13, and seven furlongs in 1:24 4/5 on August 14. Although he would not be ready for the Travers Stakes August 18, Delp started looking for a good race to start his comeback.

On August 21, Bid covered five furlongs in an amazing 58 2/5 seconds. That was it. Delp pronounced the horse 110% healthy. He entered Bid in a 1 1/16 allowance race in Dover on August 26, ending an almost three-month absence from the track. It would also be jockey Bill Shoemaker’s first ride on the horse.

Race Day

When race day arrived, Delp helped Shoemaker up on Bid in the paddock, and Shoemaker noticed that the horse seemed crabby, refusing to let Delp and groom Mo Hall put the saddle on him. Once on Bid’s back, Shoemaker couldn’t get Bid to do anything he asked—it was as if the horse had a mind of his own and would not let anyone change it. Shoemaker thought to himself, “Bill, what have you got yourself into? This horse has had it.”

A few moments later, Bid broke from the starting gate, and Shoemaker felt the rush as Bid broke well and strained against the reins, the jockey pulling back with all his might. “Jesus, Bill, hang on! You’re in for a ride now,” he said to himself.

Carrying 122 pounds, Bid settled into third place heading into the clubhouse turn. He stalked the leader, Pity the Sea, whose 15-pound advantage over Bid had allowed him to open a three-length lead on the field. But Bid bided his time and made his move on the backstretch.

Entering the homestretch he passed Pity the Sea effortlessly and did not look back, accelerating in his own machine-like style, putting away all challengers and winning by 17 lengths. All Shoemaker had to do was sit and wave his whip occasionally to keep Bid’s mind on the race. Armada Strike, another Delp-trained colt, finished second, and Not So Proud was third. He had traveled the 1 1/16 miles in 1:41 3/5, setting a new track record for the distance.

Bid was back.

One of the Greats?

“He did it on his own,” Shoemaker said. “All I wanted to do was get a good race into him for the Marlboro [Cup]. I didn’t start riding him until the stretch and by then he was too far ahead to matter.”

On his first ride on Spectacular Bid, Shoemaker was already comparing him to the best ever. The jockey who had ridden Kelso, Swaps, Buckpasser, Damascus, and Forego said, “Spectacular Bid is as great as any horse that I’ve ever ridden, and I’ve ridden some of the great ones in the world.”

August 20, 1978: Spectacular Bid Fails in Dover

Bud Delp, Spectacular Bid’s trainer, wanted revenge for Bid’s loss in the Tyro Stakes. So Hawksworth Farm put up $5,000 to enter the horse as a supplementary addition to the Sapling Stakes at Monmouth Park on August 12.

The day before the race, though, Delp got a call from Bid’s veterinarian, who said the horse had a touch of colic. Delp quickly announced that Bid was not running in the race.

Once the horse recuperated, Delp entered the horse in the Dover Stakes on August 20. The bettors’ favorite, Bid got out of the gate in second position, then settled back and let a few horses pass him. Jockey Ron Franklin’s inexperience showed as he allowed Bid to get caught behind two horses on the rail. He had a split second to go outside and around the horses, but he hesitated, and Strike Your Colors, who finished second to Bid in his maiden win, pulled up beside him.

Franklin and Bid were boxed in. They couldn’t go left because they were beside the rail, and they couldn’t go right because there was a horse beside them. There were two horses in front of them as well. Locked into fourth place, Franklin again refused to take advantage of an opening between horses at the half-mile pole. Meanwhile, Bid strained at the reins, eager to take off.

Strike Your Colors made his move on the outside and took the lead heading into the stretch, but Franklin didn’t follow him until it was too late. He took Bid around the row of horses at the five-sixteenths pole and flew by them. Bid aimed his sights on Strike Your Colors, but he didn’t have enough track. He finished second by two-and-a-half lengths.

It was the second defeat in a row for Bid.

His record in four starts: two wins, one second, and one fourth—respectable, but not outstanding. Delp was furious with the young Franklin for getting Bid trapped on the rail. “No way the horse should have got beat,” Delp said. “If Ronnie hadn’t had him in trouble, he’d [have] won by 10.”