DEL MAR, Calif. -- On a cool, cloudy day at the track by the sea, Cigar proved mortal and lost a horse race.
His storybook quest to break the modern North American record for consecutive victories ended yesterday when 39-1 shot Dare and Go steamed past in the stretch and won the $1 million Pacific Classic at Del Mar racetrack.
Cigar lost for the first time in 17 races, that defeat coming when he finished third in a grass race at Belmont Park in New York on Oct. 7, 1994. Still, he will go down in history linked with the great Citation with 16 straight wins, the 20th-century record for North American-based horses.
"The fact is, we finished second," a somber Bill Mott, trainer of Maryland-bred Cigar, said. "It's all history now."
A record crowd of 44,181 at this beautiful Spanish mission-style track -- built in the 1930s by Bing Crosby and Pat O'Brien -- gasped as the 1-to-9 favorite Cigar failed to fire up his powerful engine down the homestretch. He had engaged Siphon in a speed duel for the first mile of the 1 1/4 -mile race. When he needed a boost in the final quarter, he had nothing left and finished 3 1/2 lengths back.
The unlikely giant-killer Dare and Go, who conserved his energy for the final rally, paid $81.20 to win. The exacta with Cigar paid $123.40.
Dare and Go's victory in 1 minute, 59 4/5 seconds brought a huge smile to the face of trainer Richard Mandella, whose Soul of the Matter suffered a career-ending injury last week. Owned by composer Burt Bacharach, Soul of the Matter was to have been Cigar's greatest threat.
"My apologies to Cigar," Mandella said. "Very seldom in racing do you find a horse who's won 16 in a row. It only signifies how good he was -- or let me say, is. Maybe he just didn't run his best race today."
Mott said Cigar seemed winded but fine after the race. The mild-mannered trainer blamed "human error," not Cigar, for the defeat.
He said he and jockey Jerry Bailey decided before the race not to allow Siphon, also trained by Mandella, to gain an easy, uncontested lead. So Cigar broke crisply, clinging within a length of Siphon past the grandstand and around the first turn.
But midway down the backstretch, Dramatic Gold ran up to Cigar's side, prompting Bailey to ask Cigar to run earlier than he had wanted. Cigar held off Dramatic Gold, and then conquered Siphon. But rounding the final turn, as jockey Alex Solis unleashed Dare and Go, it was clear that on this day Cigar would prove to be no superhorse.
"Absolutely, positively no excuses," Mott said, "except maybe we went too fast. And that's not Cigar's fault.
"I don't think any less of Cigar. He's still a great horse. I wouldn't back off from saying that he rates up there with all the best of them."
Cigar's defeat was a shock to racing fans -- and those who cared little for horse racing but fell in love with the charismatic Cigar. His alert, aloof manner charmed people around the world. They hoped his streak would last until retirement, which probably will come Oct. 26 after the Breeders' Cup at Woodbine near Toronto.
"I think he's got some good ones still in him," said Mott, responding to a question about Cigar's future. "We're looking forward to the next one."
The $200,000 second-place money pushed Cigar's bankroll to $9,019,815 and made him the third horse to surpass $9 million.
Although Cigar captivated fans all over, his streak was especially meaningful to Marylanders.
The 6-year-old bay, son of Palace Music, was born April 18, 1990, at Country Life Farm in Harford County. He spent his first three months at the Bel Air farm before moving to owner Allen E. Paulson's Brookside Farm near Lexington, Ky.
An unknown racer on grass until Mott switched him to dirt on Oct. 28, 1994, Cigar became invincible over the new surface. He rattled off win after win -- 16 in all at nine different tracks -- until finally he seemed unbeatable. Tracks threw daylong parties wherever he ran. People cheered and even cried with joy.
But yesterday, at the track where, as the saying goes, "nobody's in a hurry but the horses," the party ended.
There's a tradition here, beloved by all. At the beginning of every race day, and also at the end, you hear over the loudspeakers Bing crooning: "Where the turf meets the surf/Down at old Del Mar/Take a plane, take a train, take a car/There's a smile on every face/And a winner in every race/Where the turf meets the surf at Del Mar."
A winner in every race but this time not Cigar.
Pub Date: 8/11/96