The arrival of Cigar coincided with the demise of Holy Bull, the immensely popular Horse of the Year in '94. In the Donn Handicap last Feb. 11 at Gulf-stream, the big news was Holy Bull's pulling up with a career-ending leg injury. Virtually unnoticed was the winner of the race: Cigar, his fifth-straight dirt victory and his first against top-drawer competition.
Now Cigar has replaced Holy Bull as the people's choice, and there are no plans to end that campaign before next year. On the day of his victory in the Massachusetts Handicap on June 3, Suffolk Downs gave expensive Macanudos to the first 2,000 customers who wanted them. Both Mott and Paulson show up for the colt's races wearing cigar ties, and Mott, also a nonsmoker, admitted Saturday that he had smoked three cigars between Cigar's victory in the Woodward at Belmont on Sept. 16, where a stogie-puffing Jack Nicholson showed up for the winner's circle photos, and the Jockey Club Gold Cup.
Such adulation has even affected rival trainers. As Nick Zito watched a replay of Saturday's race on a clubhouse monitor, he shook his head in admiration. "When I was a kid and first coming to the races," said Zito, a native New Yorker whose Star Standard set the pace but finished third Saturday, "my favorite horse was Kelso. That's who Cigar reminds me of. See him galloping down the stretch? That's how the old-time horses did it. They'd measure horses, then do what they wanted. He's just got the class of the great ones. What else can you say?"