The 1996 Eclipse Awards had a familiar ring: Cigar was voted best older male horse again, and the horsemen behind him--owner Allen Paulson, trainer Bill Mott and jockey Jerry Bailey--were also repeat winners.
Another Eclipse sweep by this quartet is likely Feb. 4, when horse of the year for '96 is announced.
In the announcement of all the other awards Thursday, Cigar collected 289 of the 294 votes cast by the Daily Racing Form, National Turf Writers Assn. and racing secretaries from Thoroughbred Racing Assns. tracks.
Actually, Cigar was the best horse for the first half of the year, before losing three of his last four starts. Skip Away, one of the horses that beat him, was voted best 3-year-old colt for his strong second half, which included major victories at Monmouth Park, Woodbine and Belmont Park.
Cigar, retired to stud after finishing third in the Breeders' Cup Classic at Woodbine, near Toronto, on Oct. 26, won five of eight starts last year, his $4.9 million in purses leaving him only $185 short of the $10-million mark for a five-year career.
The highlights were the victory in the Dubai World Cup in March and a win in July at Arlington International with which he matched Citation's 16-race streak. The streak ended a month later when Dare And Go beat Cigar in the Pacific Classic at Del Mar.
Sonny Hine, trainer of Skip Away, was hospitalized in early October after a kidney-stone attack, and he said Thursday that prevented Skip Away from running in the Breeders' Cup. Carolyn Hine, the trainer's wife, owns Skip Away.
"Even I got excited when Cigar won that race in Dubai," Hine said. "He was the kind of horse that gave racing what it needed. If we finish second to him [in the horse-of-the-year voting], I'll be very grateful just to do that."
Gulfstream Park's Donn Handicap, a race Cigar won the last two years, is expected to be the launching pad for Skip Away's 4-year-old season. After that race on Feb. 8, Hine said he would consider the Santa Anita Handicap on March 2. The $1-million Big 'Cap is the opener of a three-race bonus series that's worth $3 million if a horse sweeps it. Other races in the series are the Hollywood Gold Cup and the Pacific Classic.
Of the 10 horses that won Eclipse Awards for 1996, Cigar polled the most votes with 289 and Skip Away dominated his division with 288. The voters who bypassed Cigar cast four votes for Alphabet Soup, winner of the Breeders' Cup Classic, and one for Wekiva Springs. The only other horses to receive votes in Skip Away's division were Louis Quatorze (four), Kentucky Derby winner Grindstone and Cavonnier (one).
Other winners: Boston Harbor, 2-year-old male; Storm Song, 2-year-old filly; Yanks Music, 3-year-old filly; Jewel Princess, older female; Singspiel, turf male; Wandesta, turf female; Lit De Justice, sprinter; Correggio, steeplechaser; Neil Poznansky, apprentice jockey; Farnsworth Farms, breeder.
"I'm going to miss the big guy," Bailey said of Cigar. "I'll really miss him when I turn for home in a lot of these big races."