Sunday, March 27, 2011

March 27, 1996: Cigar in the desert

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates - They came down the stretch, and the unthinkable was happening. After fighting all race to climb from the middle of the pack to the front, the great, unbeatable Cigar was trailing. Soul of the Matter, owned by Burt Bacharach, had eased in front of Cigar by a nose with just the final stretch to run.

Everything was on the line. Cigar, who had won 13 races in a row, had flown to Dubai to try to find appropriate challengers as he tried to get to the all-time American thoroughbred record of 16 consecutive victories. So many of his races had been won so easily that to see him trailing so late in the race was shocking.

What's worse, his training had been compromised. It was bad enough to fly a valuable race horse halfway around the world for a race, but Cigar had lost 11 valuable training days with a sore hoof. With the momentum that Soul of the Matter had, it seemed like Cigar's magical run was coming to an end.

But jockey Jerry Bailey asked his great horse for more, more than he had ever asked him for before. Already straining to the limit on a day in which he was far from his best, Cigar responded, giving everything he had. Soon, he was ahead by a head, then by a neck, then by a half length. Finally, he had won. It was by far the smallest margin of victory in his streak, and it was by far his most difficult race. But it counted nonetheless.

Cigar won two more times after his victory in Dubai to tie Citation's streak before finishing second in his attempt at number 17. But his victory in Dubai, number 14 of the streak, remains his most memorable.

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