Mott was shocked. "You're kidding!" he blurted.
It was about this time, down at Country Life Farm, that Mary Jo Pons figured out the origin of her grandson's dimple. "That's where Cigar kicked him," she told her daughter-in-law.
Back when Cigar was a baby, Paulson gave him to his wife, Madeleine, but he does not remember why. "Lots of times she leans on me to give her certain horses, and I do it," he says. Now he inquired, alas, whether he could have Cigar back. "I'll trade you," she said. "Cigar for Eliza."
Paulson winced. Eliza was his champion 2-year-old filly of 1992, now a valuable broodmare prospect. "I sort of had second thoughts," Paulson says. No matter; he made the swap anyway. The man had spent a king's ransom seeking to buy or breed that one surpassing horse, and he suspected now that he might have found him in Cigar. In fact, Paulson repurchased Cigar's mother from Argentina shortly after the 1995 New Year for $150,000.
Mott, meanwhile, wasted no time cranking up Cigar in Florida. In his first race as a 5-year-old, he whipped a field of allowance horses at Gulfstream Park on Jan. 22, 1995, winning by two, and 20 days later he came back to face Holy Bull, the 1994 Horse of the Year, in the Donn Handicap. They were running head and head down the backstretch, Smith on the Bull and Bailey on Cigar, when Bailey heard Smith cry out, "Oh, no, Jerry!"
Bailey glanced right, in time to see Smith standing in the saddle. The gray was pulling up lame (he would be retired after the race with strained ligaments in his left front ankle). Cigar swept on to win by nearly six lengths. The rest of the year belonged to him as well. In the Gulfstream Park Handicap, his first try at 10 furlongs, he was parked six wide but laughed home, winning by 7½. Six weeks later, in the Oaklawn Handicap at Hot Springs, he pulverized perhaps the strongest bunch of horses to compete all year. And this despite Dale Cordova, the rider of second-place Silver Goblin, accidentally striking Cigar in the face as he ranged to Cordova's right at the top of the stretch. "He just shook his head and got mad," Bailey says. He scored by 2½. Cigar closed his spring campaign with two of his breeziest victories—in the Pimlico Special by 2¼ and the Massachusetts Handicap by four—and here Mott decided to call for a breather.
Paulson did not want to stop now, and he urged Mott repeatedly to fly the horse to California for the Hollywood Gold Cup on July 2. Mott resisted. Seductively, the track raised the purse from $750,000 to $1 million. Mott shook his head. "Mr. Paulson called me every day," he says.
"How's the horse doing?" Paulson would ask.
"He's doing fine," Mott kepi saying.
"Then bring him out here!" the owner said.