Smouldering Cigar awaits challengers

Richard Edmondson on America's leading light for the Breeders' Cup
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The Independent Online
For those who have backed Halling for the Breeders' Cup, tomorrow's may be a sleepless night following film of a monster from outer space.

Sky Sports Channel is to beam in two races from Belmont Park's Breeders' Cup preview day, one of which will feature Cigar, whom the Americans, in the most pleasant way possible, regard as a freak. According to the Las Vegas odds makers he is the one horse that stands between Halling and the Classic.

Cigar lines up in the Jockey Club Gold Cup against Dernier Empereur, the winner of last season's Champion Stakes at Newmarket, and the horse that won two legs of the American Triple Crown this year, Thunder Gulch. These luminaries are expected to be among the 11th consecutive batch of Cigar victims.

The five-year-old's last victory was in the Woodward Stakes, after which his trainer, Bill Mott, delivered a thought worryingly close to Allen Paulson's assessment of Arazi (Paulson also owns Cigar).

"He's the best horse I've ever trained," Mott said. "He may be the best horse anyone has every trained.

"I've watched a lot of good horses run in my short lifetime, Affirmed, Seattle Slew and Spectacular Bid come to mind."

Mott's opinion is worth gauging as he has not let many days of his 42 years drift by. The South Dakotan was training racehorses while he was still at school, financing the operation with cattle and pigs he had raised.

A visitor to the winners' circle for the first time at the age of 15 with a $320 mare, he graduated to become private trainer to Bert and Diana Firestone, whose horses earned in excess of $4m during the first year of their alliance.

Mott knows he will not add to his balance easily when Cigar returns to Belmont for the Breeders' Cup on 28 October. "Halling is a new shooter who will have to be taken seriously and, of course, you also have Thunder Gulch."

Even if Cigar wins impressively tomorrow, it appears there is no need for those with Halling vouchers to get a revolver out of the top drawer. The recent word from Newmarket has been that even though the chestnut has won both the Eclipse and International Stakes this season, they were no more than prep races for Belmont in the Fall. The men from Godolphin, in whose colours Halling runs, know Cigar as Sheikh Mohammed has horses with Mott, and there have been no reports of their boots registering on the Richter Scale.

Sheikh Mohammed used to have Halling with John Gosden in the days when you could say Henry Cecil without causing the Sheikh to choke on his kebab. Probably the best the pair have this season is Tamure, the Derby runner- up who was yesterday announced as one of the animals invited for the International Vase at Sha Tin, Hong Kong on 10 December. Others include Presenting, Singspiel and Freedom Cry, who is likely to take on Lammtarra again in the Breeders' Cup Turf along the way.

The sorry Cecil has a connection with the other big race in the colony that day, as the recently removed Charnwood Forest - along with another Godolphin horse, Tamayaz - has been summoned for the pounds 287,000 Hong Kong Invitational Cup.