Cigar dies at 24 after surgery complications

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Cigar has died at the age of 24 following beck surgery.
Cigar has died at the age of 24 following neck surgery.

Two-time US racing Horse of the Year Cigar died on Wednesday night at the age of 24 after complications following surgery for severe osteoarthritis in his neck. 

Cigar, who was foaled on April 18, 1990, died at Rood and Riddle Equine Hospital in Kentucky on October 7.

He was a longtime resident and visitor favourite at the Kentucky Horse Park’s Hall of Champions.

At retirement, Cigar’s career had a total of 19 wins out of 33 starts with earnings of $9,999,815, which was a record at that time. He was voted Champion Older Male and Horse of the Year in both 1995 and in 1996.

“Cigar had been experiencing arthritis-related health issues over the past six months and was in outstanding physical and mental condition other than the osteoarthritis he was suffering from in several of his cervical vertebrae,” said Kathy Hopkins, director of equine operations for the Kentucky Horse Park.  “Medical therapies had failed to relieve the pressure that the arthritis was causing on his spine, which had resulted in instability in his hind legs.”

Cigar at the Kentucky Horse Park.
Cigar at the Kentucky Horse Park. © Ki Goodfellow

Cigar had been under the care of a team of veterinarians from the Hagyard Equine Medical Institute and the Rood and Riddle Equine Hospital in Lexington. The team of veterinarians and surgeons had deemed that spinal surgery was the only option to relieve the pressure and ensure the highest quality of life for the horse.

“Cigar had been suffering from a cervical spine instability for which conservative medical therapies could no longer halt the disease’s progressive nature,” said Dr Rocky M. Mason, of the Hagyard Equine Medical Institute.

“The decision to seek out a more lasting treatment modality was made. Surgery is never an easy decision in a 24-year-old horse, but Cigar had proven himself a regal, classy and determined patient making the decision to proceed an easier one.”

Surgical correction was performed by a team led by Dr Brett Woodie, of Rood and Riddle, Dr Laura Werner, of Hagyard Equine, and Rood and Riddle’s Dr Steve Reed, who pioneered the special procedure performed.

“Cigar developed a compression of his spinal cord in the lower part of his neck,” Reed said. “The most severe compression was between cervical vertebra 6 and 7, with additional compression between cervical vertebra 5 and 6. This was an acquired problem related to arthritis, and bony remodeling in the neck. The severity of this spinal cord compression became so problematic that all parties were left with few options, the best one being surgery. This was a significant surgery involving a prolonged recovery. Unfortunately, during recovery Cigar suffered a vertebral fracture and passed away.”

Kathy Hopkins said the park was committed to providing Cigar with the highest level of care possible.

“We are heartbroken to lose this great horse, especially as we were trying to do everything we could to improve his quality of life and make him more sound and comfortable. Our park family is immensely grateful to Dr Reed and the outstanding medical teams at Rood and Riddle and Hagyard Equine for their ultimate dedication to and concern for this unmatched champion.”

Hopkins said Cigar would be remembered as one of the greatest horses the world has ever seen, and thanked fans who had supported Cigar and the Kentucky Horse Park since his retirement. She also noted the efforts of park team members who have taken excellent care of him over the years, including Wes Lanter, Robin Bush and the late Cathy Roby.

Dr. Reed continued, “The outcome was disappointing and very sad for many people; but especially for Wes and Kathy who remained at his side to the end.”

By Palace Music (by The Minstrel) and out of the Seattle Slew mare Solar Slew, Cigar was foaled at Country Life Farm in Maryland. He was traded by owner Madeleine Paulson to her husband, Allen, for the filly Eliza, champion two-year-old filly in 1992.

Cigar was named for a navigational intersection for aircraft, given that owner Allen Paulson had once owned the Gulfstream Aerospace Corporation. He named many of his horses after the five-letter-long names given to intersections on aeronautical navigational charts.

“The great champion Cigar thrilled racing fans and surely brought new ones to the sport as he compiled win after win in his incredible streak of victories,” said Governor Steve Beshear. “An example of racing at its best, he continued to serve as an ambassador, bringing joy to countless visitors to the Hall of Champions at the Kentucky Horse Park, where he will be missed.”

The first horse to tie racing legend Citation’s record of 16 consecutive victories, Cigar had lived at the Kentucky Horse Park since his retirement in 1999 after it was discovered he was infertile. He had retired to stud in 1997 valued at $25 million after Paulson sold 75% of the horse to Coolmore Stud and Michael Tabor, and his fertility insurance settlement was one of the largest in history.

His retirement from racing was marked by a parade down Seventh Avenue in New York City, and an appearance at Madison Square Garden during the National Horse Show.

Cigar was inducted into the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame in August 2002, his first year of eligibility, and was named Racehorse of the Decade of the 1990s. In 1997, a life-sized bronze statue of Cigar was unveiled at Florida’s Gulfstream Park on “A Salute to Cigar Day.”

Like the other Hall of Champions horses who died in retirement at the park, Cigar will be buried on the Memorial Walk of Champions near Thoroughbreds Alysheba, Bold Forbes, Forego, John Henry and Kona Gold; Standardbreds Cam Fella and Rambling Willie; American Saddlebreds CH Imperator, CH Skywatch and CH Gypsy Supreme; and American Quarter Horse Sgt. Pepper Feature.

“Cigar was an incredible horse who left an everlasting mark on the racing world,” said Ted Nicholson, interim executive director of the Kentucky Horse Park. “We are honored that Cigar was able to spend so many years of his life here at the park where he was visited by so many fans and will always be remembered.”

A public memorial service will be held for Cigar at a future date.

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