Firing Line entered as the most famous runner-up in the Kentucky Derby field, the horse who twice pushed Dortmund to the wire, only to lose each time.
He finally beat the towering chestnut Saturday, only to finish second again, this time to Dortmund's stablemate, American Pharoah.
"He's done everything right but win," said trainer Simon Callaghan, his eyes rimmed in red after he watched his first Derby entry push the prerace favorite to the wire.
The underdog horse also carried an underdog jockey, Gary Stevens, who was trying to become the first rider to win the Derby after a total knee replacement. The 52-year-old suggested he saw something special in Firing Line leading up to the Derby, and he wasn't wrong.
"I think my horse showed his braveness today," the three-time Derby winner said.
Certainly, Firing Line did nothing to diminish Callaghan's faith that he ranks right with American Pharoah and Dortmund.
"He just got beat by a very good horse," the trainer said. "It's disappointing, but he ran great. I thought at one point, we had it. I could see it was going to be extremely close between the three of them."
There's a good chance for a rematch in the May 16 Preakness. "I think there's reasons to think it's the right move," Callaghan said. "We just have to see how he is tomorrow morning."
International Star scratched from the Derby because of a cracked hoof Saturday morning, reducing the field to 18, its smallest since 2004.
The Mike Maker-trained colt had ranked among the most consistent horses in the field, sweeping his three prep races in Louisiana and accumulating the most Derby qualifying points. Maker expected the colt's versatility to play well in a field dominated by early speed.
"It's a devastating blow to come this far," said owner Ken Ramsey, a longtime Kentucky horseman without a Derby victory. "I thought I had a decent shot at winning the race. But it happened to A.P. Indy [in 1992] and a lot of other horses before. It's bad news for the owners and the family that pinned so many hopes on finally getting to the other side of the racetrack" to the winner's circle.
International Star's scratch followed the scratch of El Kabeir on Friday afternoon, leaving the field two short of the customary 20.
Racing for the first time since his victory in last year's $5 million Breeders' Cup Classic, Bayern finished last in the Grade 2 Churchill Downs Stakes on the Derby undercard.
Just like Derby second choice Dortmund, Bayern is trained by Bob Baffert, ridden by Martin Garcia and owned by Kaleem Shah. But he always has been an up-and-down performer, struggling to recover if he can't take an early lead. He finished ninth in last year's Preakness.
"He didn't have the kick that he usually does," Garcia said. "He didn't handle the track at all. He didn't like it."
As soon as he was done riding Mubtaahij to an eighth-place finish in the Derby, Belgian jockey Christophe Soumillon bolted from Churchill Downs to the airport, aided by a police escort.
Soumillon planned to be in Paris to ride at Longchamp Racecourse by Sunday afternoon.
He planned to take a private plane from Louisville to New Jersey, then take a limo to John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York, where he would hop on the day's last flight to Paris. With good luck, he would land in France by noon local time Sunday and be on his mount, Dolniya, for a 3 p.m. post time.
Soumillon has won all over the world but said he always had wanted to ride in the Breeders' Cup and the Derby, with its uniquely festive atmosphere.
"It's a dream come true," the affable Belgian said during the week.