Team Cigar spurred on by a burning ambition

Richard Edmondson reports from New York on how the hopes of the home defence in the Breeders' Cup are being fired by a horse who may be match for the all-time greats
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Team Cigar has come a long way. The owner, trainer and even the horse himself behind potentially America's next great racing production are now household names. But it was not always so.

Cigar's owner, Allen Paulson, is the smalltown Iowa boy who was once a flight engineer for Trans World Airlines, but he's now the head of an aerospace empire. He holds global air speed records, likes to play golf and gin rummy and can be seen out walking with his two snow-white standard poodles, Frosty and Lucky.

His horses are quite easy to spot, too, as they are steered by jockeys in red, white and blue with the Paulson monogram on their chest. There have been some truly great ones, including Fraise and Arazi, but it may be that Cigar will float to the head of them all if he collects the Breeders' Cup Classic at Belmont Park tomorrow.

Greg McClarron, a well-known Stateside analyst, said yesterday : "I think he's the best horse I've seen run in my 25 years of racing and that includes Spectacular Bid. I did see Forego run and I did see Dr Fager, and it is difficult for me to equate him to those two because they were just fading out when I watched them. But I saw Seattle Slew win the Triple Crown and I saw Affirmed win the Triple Crown and I think Cigar is better than them."

Paulson is the No 1 owner at the Breeders' Cup with 27 horses raced alone or in partnership. Two of his wins have been provided by Bill Mott, Cigar's trainer, the quiet man of American racing who began preparing horses with money earned raising cattle and pigs.

Mott brought about a quantum leap in Cigar's form a year go by transferring him from turf to dirt. Since then the horse, who used to compete in lowly allowance races, has won 11 consecutive contests and a place in some people's mind as the next Secretariat. Mott likes that. "I think Cigar is great, as fine a horse as we have seen in a long time," he said. "I want to see him compared to the great horses, not for me, but for him."

If Mott is the reticent one, the trainer at the other end of the scale is D Wayne Lukas. He has had more starters, more winners and more money out of the Breeders' Cup than anyone and, with another capable team assembled this year, the statistic looks about to be strengthened. With 12 wins he has more than twice as many victories as his nearest pursuer.

It is apt to find Lukas in the city that never sleeps. He rarely does either, rising regularly at 3am and turning the lights out at 10pm. Like Paulson, this former basketball coach is unmissable. At the track he's the one inhabiting premises that appear to have been landscaped by Capability Brown. He wears extravagant cowboy chaps as he takes to the racetrack aboard his pony Bob Will. Away from racing Lukas wears designer suits and tinted glasses.

If the trainer pays a lot of attention to his image, it is not to the detriment of the horseflesh around him. After a strange slump in 1993, he is back on track, having won $10m in purses this year alone. He may be 60, but he's not slowing down. "We're in the zone again and I don't see why our next 10 years can't be our best," he said.

Joe Naughton and Geoff Lewis, who are represented in tomorrow's Sprint by Hever Gold Rose and Lake Coniston respectively, would settle for the relative scraps of a single Breeders' Cup success.

Both horses worked well yesterday, with Jason Weaver reporting that restraining the filly was like trying to halt a train. Pat Eddery conducted a two- and-a-half-furlong spurt on Lake Coniston and declared himself satisfied. "He went well for me at Lingfield but he didn't breeze as well as he did today," the ex-champion said.