Thoroughbred Champion Cigar Dies Following Surgery

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Thoroughbred champion Cigar died last evening, Wednesday, Oct. 7, at Rood and Riddle Equine Hospital from complications following surgery for severe osteoarthritis in his neck. Foaled April 18, 1990, the Hall of Fame horse and longtime visitor favorite at the Kentucky Horse Park’s Hall of Champions was 24.

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.

“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 Kentucky 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. Cigar was inducted into the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame in August 2002, his first year of eligibility.

“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 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, some of the best equine veterinarians in the world. 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 Dr. Steve Reed, of Rood and Riddle, who pioneered the special procedure performed.

“The Kentucky Horse Park was committed to providing him with the highest level of care possible,” said Hopkins. “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.”

“Cigar developed a compression of his spinal cord in the lower part of his neck,” said Dr. Reed. “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.”

Hopkins said Cigar will be remembered as one of the greatest horses the world has ever seen and thanked fans who have 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.”

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, yet to be determined.

The Kentucky Horse Park is a working horse farm/theme park and equine competition facility dedicated to man's relationship with the horse. The park is an agency of the Kentucky Tourism, Arts and Heritage Cabinet and hosted more than 800,000 visitors and campers, as well as 18,400 competition horses in more than 200 special events and horse shows in 2013. The park is home to the National Horse Center, which comprises more than 30 national and regional equine organizations. Located at Exit 120, Interstate 75, just north of Lexington, the Kentucky Horse Park is The place to get close to horses. Information about the park’s programs and activities can be found on-line at www.KyHorsePark.com, and on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and Instagram.