DEL MAR, Calif. -- Cigar is chasing the ghost of Citation. Much has been made of that.
But what about his pursuit of the ghosts of Beeswing, Sweetmeat, Filch, First Consul, Leviathan, Kincsem and Camarero? . . .
They are a few of the 34 horses -- yes 34, at least -- with longer win streaks than Cigar and Citation. Those two are tied with 16, for the moment, anyway.
Citation established his mark 46 years ago, but Cigar will seek the tiebreaker today in the $1 million Pacific Classic at Del Mar. Five horses will oppose one of the greatest thoroughbreds in history.
If Cigar wins, he will break free from the legendary Citation and set the 20th-century record for most consecutive wins by a horse based in North America.
That is how you have to say it, because longer winning streaks have been far from unheard of in horse racing.
The all-time record -- as far as historians can tell -- belongs to a Puerto Rican hero named Camarero. He won his first 56 races between 1953 and 1955, and 73 of 77 during his career.
His death in 1956 devastated Puerto Ricans. Angel Cordero Jr., the Hall of Fame jockey-turned trainer, was 14.
"I cried that day," Cordero recently told the New York Daily News. "The whole country cried.
"I'll tell you how important he was. When he finally got beat, a couple of people poisoned themselves. When he died, they put him in a glass casket and people came from all over the island to the racetrack to see him for two days."
The Hungarian mare Kincsem triumphed in all of her 54 races from 1876 to 1879, winning from distances of 5 1/2 furlongs to 2 1/2 miles.
The American horse with the longest streak is Leviathan. The gray gelding won 23 straight from 1797 to 1801, once carrying 180 pounds in a five-mile match race, spotting his rival 70 pounds.
A dozen other American horses won more races in a row than Cigar, but they all raced before 1900. This century, as far as consecutive victories are concerned, belongs to Citation and the Maryland-bred Cigar.
Born in 1990 at Country Life Farm in Harford County, Cigar caught Citation on July 13 in the Citation Challenge at Arlington International Racecourse near Chicago. He was flown here Thursday to try to top him in the Pacific Classic.
His arrival might have caused a greater stir than Bob Dole's will next week when the Republican National Convention takes place in San Diego.
Two California Highway Patrol cars escorted Cigar's van from the Ontario (Calif.) airport to his temporary home here in Bill Shoemaker's barn. A local TV helicopter hovered overhead, broadcasting live and even conducting an interview by cellular phone with the driver of the van.
Today, Del Mar officials expect a crowd greater than 40,000 at their Spanish mission-style track next to the Pacific Ocean. They will make Cigar a huge favorite in the 1 1/4 -mile race and then will watch as a Brazilian horse named Siphon explodes from the gate and tries to score a monumental upset.
lTC Siphon boasts a four-race win streak, including an impressive wire-to-wire score in the June 30 Hollywood Gold Cup.
"Cigar is a good horse; there's no question about that," said David Flores, Siphon's jockey. "But [Siphon] won the Gold Cup pretty easily, and that makes me think we have a chance. I think the only way to beat Cigar is to be in front of him and try to steal
Siphon probably will be second choice in the betting, now that Soul of the Matter is out because of an apparently career-ending foot injury.
A rematch of Cigar and Soul of the Matter, who battled stride for stride down the long homestretch March 27 in Dubai, had been greatly anticipated.
Tinners Way, a 6-year-old son of Secretariat, also will lure some bettors. He has captured the last two Pacific Classics, and his trainer, Bobby Frankel, has trained four of the last five winners of this race.
"I'm not going to be a fake and say, 'Oh, I'd hate to break Cigar's streak,' " Frankel said. "He ain't puttin' no food in my mouth."
Dramatic Gold, runner-up to Cigar in the Citation Challenge, will try to better that performance. And Dare and Go and Luthier Fever will join the fest and hope for the best.
"It's a horse race, and anything's possible," said Eddie Delahoussaye, Tinners Way's jockey. "But if Cigar's right, I don't think anyone can beat him."
What: 1 1/4 -mile race; $1 million purse
Where: Del Mar Thoroughbred Club, near San Diego
When: Today, post time 6: 37
Who: Cigar goes after record 17th consecutive victory against a field of five: Siphon, Tinners Way, Dramatic Gold, Dare and Go and Luthier Fever.
Weight: All carry 124 pounds
% TV: ESPN, 6 to 7 p.m.
Pub Date: 8/10/96