ETOBICOKE, Ontario -- For the first time in 13 runnings of the Breeders' Cup, its autumn showcase of championship horse racing takes place outside the United States today at Woodbine, just west of Toronto.
Yesterday, after a week of rain and gray dispositions, the Canadian sun finally shone and made this racetrack glisten. More sunshine and temperatures in the 60s are forecast today, when 40,000 fans are expected for seven Breeders' Cup races.
"This is our industry's greatest day," said trainer D. Wayne Lukas, a white cowboy hat perched on his head and a broad smile plastered across his face.
It is horse racing's all-star game. Top thoroughbreds from around the world compete in internationally televised races for purses totaling $11 million. The richest race of the day, and the richest race in North America, is the $4 million Classic.
The Maryland-bred Cigar will attempt to become not only the first back-to-back winner of the Classic, but also the richest racehorse in history. If he finishes third or better he'll eclipse Japan's Narita Brian, the current leader at $9,794,563. Cigar enters the Classic with earnings of $9,519,815.
Even though Cigar has lost two of his last three races -- after winning a record-tying 16 in a row -- he is still the star, the Horse of the World. Media representatives from 14 countries follow his every move -- his gallops, his walks, his baths.
They swarmed around his trainer, Bill Mott, as he described yesterday's 1 1/4 -mile gallop. "He's awfully sharp and aggressive," Mott said.
They scribbled in their notebooks as he continued: "Cigar has probably set very high standards for himself, and people have come to expect nothing less than what he's done before. That's tough to repeat over a 20-race period."
Cigar has won 17 of his last 19 races, and now faces the end of his career on the same track where Secretariat concluded his in 1973. But Cigar's owner, Allen E. Paulson, hedges when asked )) whether this will be the 6-year-old horse's final race.
Paulson said that he is considering offers for rich races later this year, that he and Mott will assess Cigar's performance today and then decide.
Another horse closing in on a record is Serena's Song, one of 10 Lukas-trained entrants in the seven featured races. If the 4-year-old filly finishes fourth or better in the $1 million Distaff, she'll become the richest female racehorse, surpassing Dance Smartly's $3,083,456. Serena's Song enters the Distaff with earnings of $3,038,348.
"I've never ridden a thoroughbred -- colt or filly -- who has the heart and determination of Serena's Song," said Gary Stevens, who has a mount in all seven races.
Two of them will provide most Americans with their first look at Woodbine's eye-catching 1 1/2 -mile E. P. Taylor turf course. It is unique in North America. Its slight uphill run into the clubhouse straightaway leads to a tricky, elbow turn and then a half-mile run down the backstretch. The far turn is wide, sweeping and slightly downhill, leading into a 1,440-foot homestretch, the longest by far on this continent.
That's a European-style course, and it suits the 10 European horses in the grass races -- the three in the $1 million Mile and the seven in the $2 million 1 1/2 -mile Turf.
As for the dirt track, much has been made of its quirkiness. But trainers and jockeys, American and Canadian, say that is an outdated notion.
"It doesn't look any different to me than any other racetrack," Lukas said after yesterday's workouts. "It's very similar to Belmont."
In addition to the Classic, four Breeders' Cup races with $1 million purses will be run on the dirt: the 1 1/8 -mile Distaff for fillies and mares, the six-furlong Sprint, the 1 1/16-mile Juvenile Fillies and the 1 1/16-mile Juvenile.
The Juvenile races are for 2-year-olds. They will provide winter fodder for discussions of who are racing's stars of tomorrow.
Where: Woodbine, near Toronto
Program: Seven races, purses totaling $11 million
Highlight: $4 million Classic, featuring Cigar
TV: Chs. 11, 4; 1: 30 to 6 p.m.
Pub Date: 10/26/96