Barring what would be one of the greatest upsets in the history of thoroughbred racing, Cigar will be working on a 15-race winning streak when he comes to California for the $1-million Hollywood Gold Cup on June 30.
The world's best thoroughbred will have only five badly overmatched opponents Saturday when he goes for No. 15, and his second straight in the $250,000 Massachusetts Handicap at Suffolk Downs.
Entries were taken for the 1 1/8-mile race Wednesday and Cigar, who hasn't lost since October of 1994, was installed the 1-9 favorite. The race should be nothing more than a lucrative workout for him. He will carry the highest impost of his career, 130 pounds, and will be spotting his opponents 19-22 pounds.
Due to arrive in Boston on Friday from New York, where he worked six furlongs in 1:14 on Sunday at Belmont Park, Cigar will be eligible for a $250,000 bonus--besides the winner's share in the Mass 'Cap--if he keeps his streak alive. He can earn the bonus as a multiple Grade I winner over the last two years.
"It's a lot of weight to be giving away," said trainer Bill Mott of the 130 pounds. "It's definitely a factor and you have to expect it to bring the field closer together."
Personal Merit, who was made the 5-1 second choice, is winless in five 1996 starts. He did finish second behind Mecke in the Widener Handicap earlier this year and was second in his most recent race, the Excelsior Breeders' Cup Handicap on April 20 at Aqueduct.
The four other participants are Prolanzier (Rudy Baez, 20-1), Will To Reign (John Bisono, 15-1), Northern Ensign (Filiberto Leon, 12-1) and Hogan's Goat (Luis Rivera Jr., 20-1).
The Massachusetts Handicap would have been a more interesting race had both Star Standard and Key Of Luck run. Star Standard, who won the Pimlico Special, beating Key Of Luck, Geri and Wekiva Springs, is passing because he came out of that race tired. Key of Luck bruised a foot.
Sunday's $250,000 Californian, which is the final prep for the Gold Cup, figures to be much more competitive than the race at Suffolk Downs.
Only five horses are considered probable, but a victory by any of them wouldn't be a huge surprise.
Besides Santa Anita Handicap winner Mr Purple, the Californian, which is run at 1 1/8 miles, is expected to attract Helmsman, Del Mar Dennis, Siphon and Tinners Way with Score Quick considered possible.
Siphon is the only member of the field coming in on a roll. He has won two in a row, including the recent Mervyn LeRoy Handicap over the main track.
Switching back to dirt after chasing Fastness in the Inglewood Handicap, Helmsman worked five furlongs in 1:00 4/5 on Tuesday.
Horse Racing Notes
Jockey Gary Stevens, who hasn't ridden a full card at Hollywood Park for a week for personal reasons, will be aboard Serena's Song in Saturday's $150,000 Fleur de Lis Handicap at Churchill Downs. Ron Anderson, Stevens' agent, said Stevens hopes to resume riding locally next Wednesday. . . . Mike Smith will be aboard Exotic Wood when she makes her New York debut in Saturday's $100,000 Genuine Risk Handicap at Belmont Park. . . . Chris McCarron had four winners Wednesday. He took the fifth with Fleeting Image, then swept the final three with Falstaff's Issue, Benchmark and Irish Brogue.
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Triple Crown Ratings
No. Horse Starts 1 2 3 Earnings 1. Louis Quatorze 10 4 3 0 749,120 2. Cavonnier 15 6 3 2 1,139,597 3. Skip Away 12 3 4 2 728,320 4. Editor's Note 16 3 4 3 526,014 5. Unbridled's Song 9 4 3 0 1,253,000 6. Prince Of Thieves 8 2 1 1 242,080 7. Honour And Glory 10 5 2 1 876,102 8. Halo Sunshine 10 2 2 3 287,525 9. Grindstone 6 3 2 0 1,224,510 10. Jamies First Punch 7 5 1 0 229,040
Advisory panel for The Times' Triple Crown Ratings: Racing historian Jim Bolus; Tom Durkin, track announcer in New York and Florida; and Chris Lincoln, racing telecaster for ESPN.