Racing: Cigar glows in the desert

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It is the big one this week, a nation's most important horse race. We are not talking Grand National though, this is the Dubai World Cup, the world's richest race, which will be run here under floodlights at Nad Al Sheba racecourse on Wednesday evening.

For some reason, there has been little mention in Dubai this weekend of a certain event at Aintree on Saturday. The World Cup is yet another flagship sporting occasion in the Gulf as the nation's rulers attempt to make their country a holiday and business centre before the oil deposits gurgle their last.

The bombardment of advertising and drum-beating in Dubai concerning the World Cup makes it increasingly easy to forget the significance of the Grand National. Yet it is hard to believe that Ted Ramsbottom in the smoky corner bookies back home will give the race a second glance. Then again it is not Ted the Maktoums are seeking to entice to the Emirates.

The race organisers have got their greatest wish already with the arrival of Cigar, the best dirt horse in America and, as they will tell you there, in the world. Whether they have had to pay for this privilege has been a topic of much discussion, but certainly Cigar is not just here to pick up some appearance money.

The word defeat is not listed in the American dictionary, and it is not a concept that has yet touched the men behind Cigar. If their horse loses on Wednesday the connections will play back the video until it is worn out before they believe the result. "If Cigar is the normal Cigar then I have no doubts he will win," Jerry Bailey, the horse's rider, said yesterday. "I don't think any other horse can beat him. Only the elements can beat him. On a talent level there is no horse on the planet to beat him.

"This is a very fluid horse and you can never feel him going through those gears of his. He just wooshes."

The ante-post prices suggest this is a three-horse contest between Cigar, Halling, who began his career with John Gosden in Britain but now represents the home team, and Pentire. The last-named has never competed on dirt and although Geoff Wragg, the Newmarket trainer, considers his horse to be in fine physical condition he harbours doubts about Pentire coping with the kickback as he comes with his late run.

Cigar and Halling have met before, of course, when the former won the Breeders' Cup Classic and the latter the nomination for the most disappointing performance of the year at Belmont Park last autumn. Halling ran as if he had wellingtons on that day, but suffered the dual inconveniences of a long journey and foreign terrain. The factors are now reversed.

Cigar has, however, travelled all over the United States and succeeded and what may trouble him more is the fact that he will now run without the benefit of Lasix for the first time in almost two and a half years.

The big horse attracted large numbers to watch his workout under the lights at Nad Al Sheba yesterday evening, when he recorded quick fractions over four furlongs without apparently going into overdrive.

This was yet another slick production. Earlier in the day the draw for stalls positions had taken place, an ostensibly meaningless occasion (Ladbrokes were handing out their prices before the balls were produced) yet an event conducted with such fanfare that it was possible to believe the academy awards had been brought forward.

Behind the spangles and lights there is, however, some substance to the boast that this is a world championship. If the average rating of the runners is taken into consideration this is the classiest race that has ever taken place. Between them the 11 horses have won 81 races and over $50m in purses.

And in the land where cement mixers never sleep and buildings seem to sprout daily, it seems the animal who will emerge triumphant is Cigar. When Godolphin, Halling's trainers, hired Tom Albertrani from the Cigar camp they asked him how the great horse could be chopped down. "There is only one way to beat Cigar," he replied. "Close your eyes and dream it."

Dubai World Cup (Nad Al Sheba, Wednesday) Ladbrokes: 5-4 Cigar, 7-2 Halling, 4-1 Pentire, 7-1 Tamayaz, 10-1 L'Carriere, 12-1 Danewin, 14-1 Soul Of The Matter, 20-1 Larrocha, 50-1 Torrential, 66-1 Needle Gun, 100-1 Lively Mount. William Hill: 11-10 Cigar, 7-2 Halling, 4-1 Pentire, 5-1 Tamayaz, 10-1 Danewin, 14-1 L'Carriere, 25-1 Larrocha, 25-1 Soul Of The Matter, 100-1 Needle Gun, Torrential & Lively Mount.