The 1995 Hollywood Gold Cup
Joe Montana, Jerry Rice and Bill Walsh. Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O'Neal and Phil Jackson. Tinker to Evers to Chance. What do these trios have in common?
They all combined to win multiple championships in their respective sports, and each tandem has stood the test of time as being among the most potent one-two combinations the world has seen.
This is no different in Thoroughbred racing. Go back to the 1930's and you'll find Seabiscuit, Tom Smith and Red Pollard (and on occasion George Woolf). How about the 1950's with Swaps, Bill Shoemaker and Mesh Tenney? The next decade featured Native Diver, Jerry Lambert and Buster Millerick. Then there were Sunday Silence, Patrick Valenzuela, and Charlie Whittingham, who were among the strongest threesomes throughout the 1980's.
Read through the annals of the turf, and you shall find three parties forming one unit that made a lasting impact on the sport.
That brings us to the 1990's, and three names immediately come to mind: Cigar, Bill Mott and Jerry Bailey.
They teamed up on race day for the first time in September 1994 at Belmont Park. They did not win that outing, but the long run was good to them.
Fast forward to October. Cigar came through to win an allowance at Aqueduct, and followed up the effort with a score in the Grade I NYRA Mile to close out the year. That was just an inkling of what awaited him and the connections in 1995.
For the first half of Cigar's 5-year-old season, he was invincible. Under Mott's leadership and Bailey's riding prowess, Cigar finished no worse than first place from January to June, picking up trophies in graded contests like the Donn and Oaklawn Handicaps and the Pimlico Special, each race being of the Grade I variety.
After extending his winning streak to eight in the Massachusetts Handicap at Suffolk Downs, Cigar headed West for the 1995 Hollywood Gold Cup. Though it was the bay horse's first start in the legendary race, he was no stranger to the the Track of the Lakes and Flowers.
Before transferring over to Mott's barn, Cigar had actually been based in Southern California. In fact, he broke his maiden on Hollywood Park's main track in February 1993. Largely competing on the turf for trainer Alex Hassinger, Jr. and owner Allen E. Paulson, Cigar was a consistent sort, but nowhere near the dominant Thoroughbred he was destined to become.
After switching over to Mott, Cigar stayed on the grass a few more times, but the winning streak commenced with that October win at Aqueduct. From then on, the grass was a thing of the past.
Set for July 2, the Hollywood Gold Cup was more than just an opportunity to notch another grand event to Cigar's tally. It served as a homecoming for the grandson of Seattle Slew, for he had not been in the area since the 1993 Hollywood Derby. He was a different horse in his return to the old stomping ground, and commanded respect as he entered the 56th iteration of Hollywood Park's marquee race.
Seven horses stood between Cigar and his ninth successive triumph:
-Best Pal, a longtime fan favorite who won several stakes on the circuit, went into the Gold Cup as its 1993 champion.
-Blumin Affair, who ran third in the 1994 Kentucky Derby.
-Concern had won the Californian, the Hollywood Gold Cup's traditional prelude, a couple of weeks earlier.
-Del Mar Dennis, who took Santa Anita's Grade II San Bernardino Handicap.
-Tinners Way was the reigning Pacific Classic titleholder, and finished third to Concern in the Californian.
-Tossofthecoin, who was first in Hollywood Park's Grade II Mervyn LeRoy Handicap before taking the runner up spot in the Californian to Concern.
-Urgent Request, the 1995 Santa Anita Handicap winner who lost to Cigar in the Oaklawn Handicap that spring.
The wagering communicated a strong consensus: no one had what it took to topple Cigar. The one-time Southern California resident was sent off as the favorite at ninety cents on the dollar. The only horse to remotely come close to him on the tote board turned out to be Concern at approximately 3-1.
Drawing the rail, Cigar and jockey Jerry Bailey (another awesome duo) teamed up for the eighth straight time, going back to when the winning streak started. They began the Gold Cup well, settling in fourth place early. Urgent Request and Gary Stevens took the lead before the first trip across the wire, guiding the field through quick splits of 22.45 for the quarter-mile and 45.69 for the opening four panels. Del Mar Dennis and Tossofthecoin stayed close by the leader, not allowing him to take a sizable advantage. Cigar trailed in fourth, but was just behind the trio as he executed a relaxed yet powerful stride. The Hollywood Gold Cup was not yet at its halfway point, but Mott's charge had already signaled his presence.
Del Mar Dennis switched places with Urgent Request, leading before the half-mile pole. Urgent Request battled Tossofthecoin for a time, both horses within a length of Del Mar Dennis. But Cigar was ready to make the Hollywood Gold Cup his personal playground. Bailey tried containing him as much as he could, but Cigar was determined. Traveling on the outside, he unleashed a run against the immediate opposition. Urgent Request began to fade. Tinners Way, Concern, Blumin Affair and Best Pal all had work to do, for they were running well behind in a completely separate pack since the clubhouse turn.
Del Mar Dennis surrendered before the top of the stretch. Tossofacoin attempted to stay with Cigar, but he was no match the son of Palace Music. Just before straightening for the last phase of the Gold Cup, Bailey took a quick look to survey the running order. He subsquently called on Cigar for some more punch as he shook the reins, and his steed obliged. Cigar expanded the advantage, moving with confidence in the waning seconds of the Hollywood Gold Cup. Tinners Way bolted from the pack for one last ditch effort to overthrow the leader, but Cigar saved something for the closing yards. No one was ending his string of victories. The Hollywood Gold Cup would be number nine.
He got to the wire in 1:59.46, about three lengths to the good over Tinners Way. Third went to Tossofthecoin, who outran his heavy odds for a fine third. Bailey and Paulson enjoyed their second Gold Cups (Blushing John won the 1989 renewal for Paulson while Bailey piloted Sultry Song in 1992), while Mott celebrated his first.
Heading back for the winner's circle, Cigar carried an air of proud stoicism. He looked tough and regal as the ceremony was about to begin, but at the same time exemplified the meaning of the word champion. Bailey saluted the crowd in the red, white and blue colors of Paulson, fitting since the Gold Cup was run just before Independence Day.
Cigar would go on to a stellar second half of 1995, going undefeated in a campaign that culminated with a victory in the Breeders' Cup Classic at Belmont Park. For his work, he earned richly deserved Champion Older Male and Horse of the Year honors at the Eclipse Awards. With Mott and Bailey in his corner, Cigar put together an awe-inspiring campaign that has transformed him into a legend.
Some interesting occurences came out of the Hollywood Gold Cup, however. The race came nearly one year to the day of Cigar's initial race with Mott as his trainer (their first start together came at Belmont on July 8, 1994). As the old saying goes, what a difference a year makes. After picking up more minor awards than wins for roughly the first third of his career, Cigar could not seem to lose. Indeed, his winning streak would go on for more than another year.
And then there was his triumphant return to Hollywood Park. Though he graduated on its main surface, he was off the board later that autumn in the Hollywood Derby on turf. Needless to say, Cigar had come a long way since then.
Yes, it was good to go back home.