Cigar, the first horse to tie racing legend Citation’s record of 16 consecutive victories — including in such Grade 1 triumphs as the Breeders Cup Classic — died Oct. 7 at at Rood and Riddle Equine Hospital in Lexington, Kentucky, from complications following surgery for severe osteoarthritis in his neck. Foaled April 18, 1990, the Hall of Fame horse and longtime visitor favorite at the Kentucky Horse Park’s Hall of Champions was 24.
I had the pleasure of meeting Cigar at the Kentucky Horse Park in 2010. He was regal even in his retirement, and standing by his stall door looking into his eyes will be a moment I will never forget — my moment with Cigar. He certainly didn’t let on he was developing any problems with arthritis at that time. He stood like a gorgeous statue as they talked about him and all his accomplishments. And he seemed like he understood how special he was and was proud even all those years later. I felt honored to be so close to such a champion who I had watched race as a teenager. For my generation, he was like meeting Secretariat or Man o’ War, Triple Crown to his name or not.
Cigar’s career had a total of 19 wins out of 33 starts with earnings of $9,999,815, which was a record at that time. He was voted Champion Older Male and Horse of the Year in both 1995 and in 1996. Cigar had lived at the Kentucky Horse Park since his retirement in 1999 after he was found to be sterile and therefore useless as a stud. Cigar was inducted into the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame in August 2002.
“Cigar had been experiencing arthritis-related health issues over the past six months and was in outstanding physical and mental condition other than the osteoarthritis he was suffering from in several of his cervical vertebrae,” said Kathy Hopkins, director of equine operations for the Kentucky Horse Park. “Medical therapies had failed to relieve the pressure that the arthritis was causing on his spine, which had resulted in instability in his hind legs.”
The team of some of the best equine veterinarians and surgeons had decided that spinal surgery was the only option to relieve the pressure and ensure the highest quality of life for the racing champion. However, Cigar died during recovery when he fractured a vertebrae.
“We are heartbroken to lose this great horse, especially as we were trying to do everything we could to improve his quality of life and make him more sound and comfortable,” said Hopkins.
Cigar will be buried on the Memorial Walk of Champions near Thoroughbreds Alysheba, Bold Forbes, Forego, John Henry and Kona Gold. Man O’ War is also buried at the Kentucky Horse Park, but in a different area of the park. A public memorial service is being planned for Cigar.