THOROUGHBRED RACING / BILL CHRISTINE : It's Shaping Up as a Very Hectic Year for Cigar

While racetrack and casino executives were meeting with a horse owners' group via conference call Thursday, Allen Paulson, the owner of the horse they all want, was saying that he plans to run Cigar in California's three-race series even if the bonus is reduced.

Paulson also repeated what he recently said to the Daily Racing Form--that he plans to run Cigar in the $4-million Dubai World Cup as well as in the $1-million Santa Anita Handicap, the first race in the bonus series, even though both races are in March, about 8,800 miles apart. Paulson had said a month ago that Cigar was going to bypass the new race in the United Arab Emirates.

Since then, there have been blandishments from the swimming-in-oil Maktoums, the ruling family of Dubai, who had been big in the blandishment department as it was. It will cost $35,000 or $40,000 in eligibility and starting fees to run a horse in the invitational race in Dubai, but that outlay qualifies an owner for travel subsidies for his entire crew, including stable hands.

"They've promised to fly Cigar from Florida, nonstop," Paulson said Thursday. "They want him badly over there. I don't see why we can't run at Santa Anita and in Dubai. There's 24 days between races."

Cigar is used to traveling, though not with a passport. In an undefeated 1995 season, he won his 10 races at tracks in Florida, Arkansas, Maryland, Massachusetts, California and New York. Just as he has taken all the races, Cigar should take all the votes in the horse-of-the-year balloting, results of which will be announced at a dinner on Feb. 9 at the Hotel Del Coronado near San Diego.

Cigar has already earned $5 million--among active horses, only Best Pal is ahead of him--and what appealed to Paulson about the California series was a potential bonus of $3 million if his horse swept the Santa Anita Handicap, the Hollywood Gold Cup and the Pacific Classic at Del Mar.

But now, in an ironic twist, the specter of Cigar may reduce that bonus to less than $2 million. Apparently no insurance company wants to touch Cigar with the possibility of a $3-million payout.

"Has anybody checked?" joked Don Robbins, the president of Hollywood Park. "Maybe those guys in Dubai also own the insurance company."

The three tracks and the Thoroughbred Owners of California (TOC), who thought up the bonus idea, have been in negotiations with MGM Grand, the Las Vegas hotel-casino that may sponsor the series.

"You've heard the old adage about nothing succeeding like success?" said Ed Friendly, president of TOC. "Well, the exception to that is Cigar and this insurance policy."

Nevertheless, with time running out, Friendly is optimistic. The first race in the series, on March 2, is only about two months away, and horsemen, especially those who are out of town, need time to plan their prep races. Cigar, for instance, has rested since winning the Breeders' Cup Classic, but is scheduled to resume training at Florida's Gulfstream Park soon, and then run in the Donn Handicap there Feb. 10.

"We're still very, very interested in getting involved," Jack Leone, vice-president for communications at MGM Grand, said. "We hope that this will all happen. And we hope that it happens sooner rather than later."

Paulson was asked about a big chunk of the $3-million bonus being lost. The three races are already worth $1 million apiece in purse money.

"I hear that the bonus might become $1.8 million," he said. "I don't want to be greedy. Whatever they do should be fine. But they should remember how popular this horse is. Any track will sell out if he runs. The tracks would make their money back that way."

In California, Paulson has received dozens of fan letters that underscore Cigar's popularity. One reached his desk from England, asking for an autographed photo of Cigar, and enclosed was a 10-pound note ($17), to cover expenses.

Paulson took a picture of the horse, signed it, and sent it along with the 10 pounds. Cigar couldn't sign. He was in Florida.

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Best Pal, who has done his most consistent running at Hollywood Park, drew the outside post in a seven-horse field for Saturday's $100,000 Native Diver Handicap.

Among the 7-year-old gelding's rivals is Luthier Fever, who beat Best Pal by 1 1/4 lengths in the California Cup Classic at Santa Anita last month.

Luthier Fever drew the No. 4 post. Others running are El Florista, Alphabet Soup, Regal Rowdy, Cezind and Cocooning.

Horse Racing Notes

Laffit Pincay, who broke three ribs in a spill on Sunday, will be sidelined for three or four weeks. He turns 49 next Friday. . . . Pat Valenzuela must be interviewed by the stewards before he can resume riding. Idle since Dec. 14, Valenzuela has called in sick several times, but one of the stewards, Dave Samuel, said that they hadn't heard from the jockey since Sunday. Valenzuela has a long history of no-shows, some of them drug-related, and the Del Mar stewards ruled him off for the entire meeting this year. Valenzuela took off a couple of months after that and resumed riding at the current Hollywood meeting, where he has won three races.

Journalism, a 7-year-old gelding who won 15 of 35 races and earned $673,371, has been retired after suffering a leg fracture. Bought for a reported $35,000 by trainer Wally Dollase for Richard Stephen in 1993, Journalism ran for $50,000 claiming prices before winning seven stakes. By Publicity, out of Knowledgeable Lady, Journalism once shared the record for a mile on grass at Hollywood Park. . . . Maxibob, an 8-year-old gelding, has won the two most unusual races at the meet. He won on opening day in a race restricted to gray horses, and won again Thursday in a race for horses at least 7 years old. Maxibob's trainer, Bill Spawr, won twice Thursday and moved ahead of Bobby Frankel in the standings. Jockey Alex Solis won three races besides the one with Maxibob and is within one of Gary Stevens in the standings.

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