Cigar (Cont.)

As a salmon pink sunset descended behind the Nad al Sheba grandstand, illuminating the mosques off in the distance, scores of Muslims turned in the direction of Mecca and knelt in prayer. People of all nationalities, dressed in a wide variety of garb, could be seen throughout the stands. Out on the track, horses from the United States, England, Dubai, Japan, and Australia marched to the post. On this one night, the tiny emirate of Dubai was the center of the racing universe. And it all revolved around Cigar.

When Cigar took the lead after turning into the long stretch, the crowd let out a loud roar, anticipating the history that was about to be made. Passing the eighth pole, however, another American horse, Soul of the Matter, came charging up to Cigar's flank and appeared as if he were about to roll on by. It was here that Cigar defined his greatness, as he dug in and refused to let Soul of the Matter get by. Those cheering from the stands did not know of the recurring quarter crack that had been plaguing him. They didn't know he had missed 12 days of training, nor were they aware that Mott, upon arriving in Dubai five days before the race, felt Cigar looked "zonked."

Cigar gave a final surge in the closing yards to win by a half-length. There no longer were Americans, British, Arabs, Africans, Japanese, and Australians in the stands. They had fused into a single entity, appreciative of the greatness they had just witnessed. The Dubai World Cup was here to stay.

Cigar returned to America, and after a two-month rest, captured the Massachusetts Handicap for number 15. Arlington Park came up with the idea for a special race called the Citation Challenge and was able to lure Cigar there for his attempt to equal the record. Despite carrying top weight of 130 pounds and drawing the outside post in the 10-horse field, Cigar had little trouble drawing off to a 3 1/2-length win, putting himself in the history books.

A trip to Del Mar for the Pacific Classic (gr. I) proved to be too much for Cigar, who got caught up in a torrid pace set by Siphon, then was unable to hold off Siphon's stablemate Dare and Go. The racing world was shocked and disappointed. Most people had never seen Cigar lose before and couldn't understand how it could happen.

When Cigar returned home to win the Woodward Stakes by four lengths in a snappy 1:47, everyone looked back at the Pacific Classic as a fluke that would never happen again. But the wear and tear on his aging feet and the thousands of miles of travel were taking their toll. In the Jockey Club Gold Cup, Cigar uncharacteristically drifted out continuously in the stretch and was beaten a head by the 3-year-old Skip Away, who would go on to greatness himself.

The Breeders' Cup Classic at Woodbine was Cigar's swan song, his big chance to go out a winner. It looked as if it were going to happen, but again he came up short, having to go five-wide and finishing a nose and a head behind Alphabet Soup and Louis Quatorze. As Cigar walked off the track, the sun was setting in front of him, creating shafts of light that appeared to be beaming down just on him, as if to provide one final spotlight.

Back at the barn, Mott could only stare into Cigar's stall. He knew the magical journey was over, and it was as if he were re-living every wondrous moment. He was well aware that Cigar could have marched off in victory had they decided to retire him the previous year. He knew what it took to get Cigar through the year, and understood why he had lost a step at the end. Even on battle-weary legs he still was beaten only inches in his final two starts.

Many felt Cigar was a freak and, like Palace Music, would be unsuccessful and unfashionable as a sire. Perhaps it was fate that he proved to be infertile, winding up at the Kentucky Horse Park, back in front of the fans and the cameras.

Simon Bray, who has since gone on his own, said after Cigar was retired, "All I know is that in 10 or 15 years, I'm going to look back on all this and say, 'Wow!' "

When it comes to Cigar, perhaps that says it all.