The Chinese have their Year of the Rat, but this is the Year of the Foot in racing, and trainer Bill Mott said Tuesday that it is problematic whether Cigar, another top horse with a hoof problem, will run in the $1-million Hollywood Gold Cup on June 30.
Cigar, winner of Saturday’s Massachusetts Handicap at Suffolk Downs and on a 15-race winning streak that’s one short of Citation’s modern North American record, had been scheduled to resume training at Belmont Park today, but instead Mott, a blacksmith and a veterinarian, will continue treating a sore foot that knocked the 6-year-old out of the $1-million Santa Anita Handicap in March.
Mott said that if Cigar isn’t able to get back in training by a week from today, the Gold Cup, a race he won last year, will probably be out. The trainer isn’t eager to travel 2,500 miles to California with a less-than-fit horse who would be asked to carry a probable weight of 131 pounds against much better rivals than he faced at Suffolk.
The beleaguered handlers of Unbridled’s Song, the Kentucky Derby favorite who ran fifth and then was later beaten at Belmont Park, can identify with Mott’s travails. Unbridled’s Song was suffering from a cracked hoof after winning the Wood Memorial in April, and suspect management in recent weeks has sent the colt into oblivion.
Mott is too good a horseman to allow that to happen with Cigar. For example, he won’t put protective bar shoes on his horse, the kind that Unbridled’s Song ran with in the Derby, because Cigar was uncomfortable with them when he first had a hoof problem, at Gulfstream Park this winter.
To prepare Cigar for the $4-million Dubai World Cup in late March, Mott compressed a month of training into less than two weeks. Cigar traveled to the United Arab Emirates and beat Soul Of The Matter by half a length.
“We were under the gun to make Dubai,” Mott said. “We’re not under the gun to make Hollywood Park. I don’t want to be in [the Dubai] situation again. We had to work very hard to pull it off, and that was running at equal weights.”
Allen Paulson, who owns Cigar, is a former director at Hollywood Park, but he and his wife, Madeleine, are said to be irked at management there because no track executive was on hand for the horse’s win at Suffolk. Stroking owners of important horses is more in vogue than ever, because there aren’t many box-office draws around. Suffolk was represented at Dubai in advance of the Massachusetts Handicap, and last year, when horse of the year Holy Bull would have run in the Santa Anita Handicap had he not been injured, Santa Anita sent an emissary to Gulfstream for the colt’s prep race.
Although Cigar’s latest injury is to the same foot that slowed him in Florida, it is about an inch or two away. Mott describes this problem as a bruised foot and an abscess below the bulb of the horse’s heel.
Mott isn’t second-guessing himself about running for an easy $400,000 payday at Suffolk Downs, but there were signs before the race that all wasn’t right, and track officials, who had a crowd of 22,000, their biggest in 30 years, would have been in a frenzy had they known.
“I was prepared to pull the plug [scratch Cigar] on race day if he showed any signs of discomfort,” Mott said. “But he was not sensitive to anything, and there was no drainage down there. He probably hemorrhaged in the foot. When he got back to Belmont Sunday, he was sensitive getting off the van. The casual observer wouldn’t have been able to see that he was off, but to me he was.”
Mott said that if Cigar misses the Gold Cup, the $500,000 Suburban Handicap at Belmont on July 4 might be the opportunity Cigar will have to tie Citation’s record. Paulson said that two tracks--Arlington International outside Chicago and Sam Houston Race Park in Houston--offered to put up $1-million purses if Cigar came to run, and Mott said that the next race might be as late as Aug. 10, when Del Mar runs the $1-million Pacific Classic. Under weight-for-age conditions, Cigar wouldn’t be spotting any weight at Del Mar. One of Mott’s other top horses--Geri or Wekiva Springs--could run at Hollywood Park if Cigar doesn’t.