In the last 16 months, since trainer Bill Mott turned him from an indifferent soldier on the grass to an undefeated warrior on the dirt. Cigar has won 14 straight races at eight tracks—from Massachusetts to Florida, from California to the shores of the Persian Gulf—a streak that leaves him two short of Citation's record 16 straight wins that included the 1948 Triple Crown. Cigar's unbeaten run has taken him through 16⅛ miles of racing during which he has at no time been more than five lengths off the lead. Eleven of his victories have been in Grade I stakes, against the finest older horses in the world, and they have ranged in distance from a hell-bent flat mile to a classic mile and a quarter. And he has won all but two with the insouciance that begins to demarcate the sparely grazed territory of the Great Ones. Not since Spectacular Bid left shedrow in 1980 has racing seen a performer who could match the quality or charisma of Cigar, the 1995 Horse of the Year.
The Hammer mined out to be a runner, to be sure—one with more heart and resources than even his most ardent admirers were entitled to imagine. And on March 27, in the first running of the $4 million Dubai World Cup on the sprawling desert racecourse of Nad Al Sheba, in the United Arab Emirates city of Dubai, Cigar earned the latest accolade in an already extraordinary career. Under the lights that bathed the winner's ring at Nad Al Sheba, as a weary Cigar circled nearby and thousands of Arabs delivered a standing ovation, the crown prince of Dubai and the creator of the cup, His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, swept across the circle in his flowing white robe and red-and-white headdress and reached out his right hand toward Mott.
"Congratulations, Mr. Mott," said Sheikh Mohammed, whose 550 horses in training give him the world's largest racing stable. "He is the greatest horse in the world."
It was a moment for history. The cup was created to bring together by invitation the fastest horses on earth over a mile and a quarter, and 11 horses from five countries—the United States, Great Britain, Japan, Australia and United Arab Emirates—paraded to the post on the sand-and-dirt course. When it was over, for the first time in its lengthy annals, racing had an undisputed world champion.
It seemed especially fitting that Cigar, on the occasion of staking that claim, should deliver his greatest effort as a racehorse and the most desperate, dramatic performance of his life, one in which every ounce of him was tested through the final 200 yards. Off badly, with his back legs slipping out from under him. Cigar had struggled to get in the hunt but was never more than four lengths off the pace as jockey Jerry Bailey guided him outside down the long backside and around that sweeping turn for home. By midway of the bend, he had ranged up outside the two front-runners—the Australian horse Danewin and L'Carriere, another American entry—and in the final straight, with about 100 yards to go, Cigar began to edge away.
What then ensued was the hairiest, most stirring horse race in memory. Cigar was two in front and driving to the eighth pole when, suddenly, another U.S. horse, songwriter Burt Bacharach's Soul of the Matter, came surging to his flanks on the outside, with Gary Stevens on his back doing the twist. In a trice, the Soul was at Cigar's neck. Then his throat. Then their noses were bobbing together. "We were eyeball to eyeball," Bailey says. Cigar had missed two crucial weeks of training in Florida a month before, when he had developed an abscess in his right front foot, and Mott knew that if the missed time were ever to haunt him, it would be here. "This is where it would show," Mott says. "On the money."
Bailey went to a lefthanded whip. Then, as the wire loomed 50 yards ahead, Cigar seemed to lean hard into the hit a final time, reaching forward with all he had left to pull away. He won it by half a length. No American-bred horse—at least none with the stature of Cigar—had ever left home on so daring an adventure, one filled with all the perils of time change and travel, and of the exotic world of desert days and Arabian nights. It would be impossible to conceive of a more romantic ending to such a quest. And, by the way, the winner's $2.4 million share of the purse also made Cigar the richest horse in history, raising his earnings to $7,669,015 and pushing him past Alysheba.
The purse was a mere footnote to the duel. "The son of a gun had to dig down, didn't he?" asked Mott, his face flushed in the winner's ring. "We've always wondered if he'd have something left if another horse ran at him. This is a very special horse."
No one is more responsible for the Cigar phenomenon than William Irving Mott, 42, a veterinarian's son who came of age on the banks of the Missouri River in Mo-bridge, South Dakota, where winter winds howl off the prairies at 80 below and whence he fled in 1972, a displaced, frostbitten cowboy out of high school, to learn the craft of training. Wonderfully patient in his handling of horses, careful about where he spots them at the races and conservative in developing and campaigning his young stock, Mott clearly favors erring on the side of caution. "Bill's the best waiter I know," says Jim Bayes, Cigar's farrier. "He can outwait 'em all. That's why he is where he's at. The whole game is patience." Because he rarely overmatches a horse and almost never saddles one not fit enough to do the job, serious players revere him as a remarkable source of light—a laser of consistency in an otherwise murky, inscrutable game.
"He wins with everything," says Andy Serling, a professional horseplayer who has been tracking Mott for years in New York and Florida. "With fillies and colts. Turf horses and dirt horses. It doesn't matter. You get the feeling that every horse he sends to the track, not just Cigar, is the first horse in his barn. They all look great. There are no forgotten horses with Mott, and he knows better than any trainer where they belong. He's the best." In addition to Cigar, Mott has trained two other major champions, Theatrical and Paradise Creek, and he is as much of a cinch as Cigar to make it to the Racing Hall of Fame.