Cigar's farewell banquet couldn't get past the Soup. A gritty record-setting stretch run by a long-shot gray named Alphabet Soup spelled an unhappy ending to the storied career of Cigar in Saturday's $4 million Breeders' Cup Classic.
Digging in under a whip-swinging ride by Hall of Fame jockey Chris McCarron, Alphabet Soup won North America's richest race by emerging at the head of a heart-stirring four-horse drive. He ended a nose in front of Preakness winner Louis Quatorze, who finished another head ahead of Cigar, who was four-wide at the finish and five-wide at the top of the stretch.
It was the first time Cigar -- the 3-5 favorite in betting among a record 41,250 Woodbine patrons and racing fans around the world -- had finished worse than second in the past two years.
During that stretch he won 15 of 18 races with two seconds. But he lost three of his last four starts.
Alphabet Soup, clocked in 2:01 for the 1 1/4 -mile triumph, broke Woodbine's 28-year-old track record by a fifth of a second. The mark had been held by Monte Christo II, who did it when he, too, was a 5-year-old.
David Hofmans, trainer of both Alphabet Soup and ninth-place Dramatic Gold, said, "I thought the track record would be broken today and I thought Cigar would do it. But it took us to do it."
Ignored at almost 20-1, the Pennsylvania-bred Alphabet Soup paid $41.70 to win and combined with the 18-1 Louis Quatorze to make a $624.20 exacta. The trifecta was worth $1,288.20. Woodbine-based Mt. Sassafras finished fourth after leading by a half-length at the top of the stretch.
"I was very confident in this horse's fight," McCarron said. "He's got a tremendous amount of fight. You never know when you've gotten to the bottom of him. He just perseveres so hard and so well that I was confident I had a good chance to win the race. I didn't know I was going to win until just a stride or two before the wire."
McCarron described his mount as "a horse that always takes some riding. He hits the front and he waits. . . . He gives me heart failure. . . . You never know if he's going to get there. He just plugs along and gives it everything he's got. He's got a long neck which helps him in the photos."
The outcome left 6-year-old Cigar's world-record earnings just $185 short of $10 million. If he had any excuse, it was his advancing age and the track bias which favored inside runners. Leaving from the No. 7 post in the field of 13, he was wide throughout.
"Down the backside I eased him out for a clear run because there was simply nowhere to go inside," said Jerry Bailey, Cigar's rider.
"I'd rather have been able to save the ground, but you've got to play the hand that's dealt you," Bailey said.
"It was tough for him again today. . . . He never quit. He finished third but he never quit. To do what he's done this year, he's a champion."
"Maybe he's lost a step," said Bill Mott, Cigar's trainer. "When he was at his very, very, very best, he would shoot by and open up. . . . Probably he shows the evidence of four years of racing, hard racing, and a lot of travel."
"It's been a long two years and to go to Dubai and back (where Cigar won another $4 million race in March) and all the things he's done, I think it's great that he's still around. It's certainly great for the game," Bailey said.
Hofmans attributed the success of Alphabet Soup, a California-based roan, to his freshness and fitness. The son of Cozzene and Illiterate was rested from early March through mid-August. He prepped for the Classic with three races of increasingly longer distances at Del Mar and Santa Anita. He finished first in his last race, the Goodwood Handicap, but was disqualified from the 1 1/8 -mile contest for crowding his rivals.
"Right now, he was just coming to his peak," Hofmans said. "I didn't know if he could beat Cigar, but I knew it would be close."
The $2,080,000 winner's share more than tripled Alphabet Soup's career total to $2,930,270. He is owned by Georgia B. Ridder of Pasadena, Calif., widow of the late newspaper publisher, Benjamin J. Ridder. Hofmans said "this is a thrill today because he beat the champion on the level. There was nobody bothering Cigar. He might be a little wide, but he's the best horse in the world and we beat him today, up and up at equal weights (each carried 126 pounds). He's bigger than we are, heavier than we are and sometimes faster than we are. But not today."