03/26/2010 12:19PM

Meydan: Mott led the way


It was here in Dubai in 1996 that Cigar, trained by Bill Mott, won the first Dubai World Cup, establishing stateside invaders as the ones to beat in the rich race. The Dubai World Cup has been run 14 times, and U.S. trained horses have won eight runnings, including five of the last six, and the last three.

Dubai has changed so dramatically in the last 14 years that it no longer seems to be the same city. The skyline has grown to rival American cities, the area boasts of being a hub of regional commerce, and they opened a new racetrack, Meydan, earlier this year with an estimated price tag of $2 billion.

Mott was here when the place had a small skyline and the racetrack was tiny, not stretching for more than a kilometer.

Mott will forever be linked with Dubai racing history. He is back in the country this year to start Courageous Cat in Saturday's $5 million Dubai Duty Free over about 1 1-8 miles on turf.

The defunct Nad Al Sheba racetrack in 1996 was a small venue. Mott recalls local racing fans covering the rail up the stretch, but not a lot more about a night when Cigar held off a brave challenge from fellow American Soul of the Matter.

"It was a long time ago and it was a little surreal at the time," he said Friday morning, while watching Courageous Cat train at Meydan.

Mott better remembers the extent that people back at his winter base in Florida went to watch Cigar, who was the 1995 Horse of the Year.

"I know we had quite a few fans at that time," he said. "Everyone gathered around the TV's at Payson Park, Gulfstream and the OTB's. I don't think there were any grooms around horses at Payson. They were all in the kitchen."

Mott has had three runners on the Dubai World Cup program over the years. Cigar remains his only winner. Courageous Cat is a top American-based hope for Saturday's Duty Free, but must beat the English invader and Dubai stakes winner Presvis, and Lahaleeb, who won the Grade 1 E.P. Taylor Stakes at Woodbine last year and is now based in this country.

Courageous Cat has his own credentials, having finished second to Goldikova in the Breeders' Cup Mile last fall and returning to win the Canadian Turf Stakes at Gulfstream Park last month. Owned by breeders Marty and Pam Wygod, Courageous Cat is improving, Mott said. "He's really settled," Mott said. "He's a lot more mature."