Lexington, KY -"Incomparable, invincible, unbeatable" reads the inscription on a bronze statue of the champion Thoroughbred racehorse Cigar that was unveiled Tuesday during the CP National Horse Show. Memories shared by speakers including Cigar's jockey, Jerry Bailey, and his trainer, Bill Mott and others showed that the words on the statue describe the horse perfectly.
Hundreds of admirers-including one of the famous Budweiser Clydesdales that will perform at the CP National Horse Show later this week-turned out to honor Cigar, who resided at the Kentucky Horse Park for the last years of his life.
Calling the memorial a "bittersweet moment for so many of us who followed Cigar's career," Kentucky First Lady Jane Beshear led a series of speakers who knew and loved the horse. They referred to him in glowing terms ranging from "equine royalty" to "Thoroughbred racing's most loved and admired ambassador."
"He changed my life," said Bailey, choking back tears. He said he had never been an emotional person nor "really loved a horse until Cigar. He made me fall in love with horses." Bailey said he "never felt there was anything Cigar couldn't do." He had such a spirit and determination to win that in one of his victorious rides, Bailey said the horse pulled so hard on the reins that "I couldn't feel my fingers anymore, so I just let him run that day."
In a magical stretch of winning 16 consecutive races between 1995 and 1996, Cigar was twice named Horse of the Year. He set a new record by earning nearly $10 million in the 33 starts of his career. He was inducted into the National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame in 2002.
His victories included the inaugural Dubai World Cup, the Woodward Stakes (twice), the Jockey Club Gold Cup, the Oaklawn Handicap, the Pimlico Special, the Donn Handicap (twice), the Gulfstream Park Handicap, the Hollywood Gold Cup and the NYRA Mile, renamed the Cigar Mile Handicap.
Douwe Blumberg, a Kentucky artist and former professional horse trainer, created the statue, which depicts Bailey riding Cigar to his 1995 victory in the Breeders' Cup Classic The memorial stands at Cigar's gravesite at the Kentucky Horse Park's Hall of Champions, in front of the paddock where he enjoyed his retirement. On just about a daily basis, said his groom and handlers, he would run to the paddock and rear almost vertical until he was set free on the grass.
Fans may make donations to fund the maintenance of the statue, its surrounding landscaping and Cigar's grave at: khpfoundation.org/donate.
Visit www.NHS.org for more information.