In California of all places you might have expected them to read the script, but a horse called Dare And Go and his jockey, Alex Solis, clearly forgot to do so before the Pacific Classic at Del Mar late on Saturday. This was supposed to be the race in which Cigar would set a new 20th-century American record with his 17th consecutive victory, but Dare And Go left him for dead halfway down the stretchFor 40,000 spectators it was as if Arnie had been plugged by one of the bad guys at the end of the first reel.
Defeat had not seriously been entertained as a possibility by the racegoers who sent Cigar off a 1-9 favourite. He had not been beaten for almost two years, and his winning streak had made him an A-list celebrity, credited with the single-handed revival of American racing. He even has the same agent as Marilyn Monroe and James Dean.
Amid the astonished disappointment which followed Cigar's defeat, it was inevitable that someone would have to be blamed, and most observers looked no further than the man holding his reins. Jerry Bailey, it was felt, had been drawn into a duel for the lead with Siphon, which left neither horse with anything more to give when Dare And Go, ridden with far more patience by Solis, delivered his challenge with two of the race's 10 furlongs left to run.
The winner, a stable-mate of Siphon, started at almost 40-1, but certainly did not resemble an outsider as he finished more than three lengths clear of Cigar, with his ears pricked. Siphon was a further seven lengths adrift.
Bill Mott, Cigar's trainer, was typically generous in defeat. "Richard Mandella [Dare And Go's trainer] deserves his success, and we have absolutely no excuses, except perhaps for the fast pace. Naturally, I'm disappointed to have lost and disappointed in myself that we didn't plan the race a little differently.''
Cigar's rider sensed all was not well before the turn into the stretch. "I could tell down the back that he wasn't full of running like he normally is," Bailey said, "and I knew at the three-furlong pole he'd be in trouble if something came at him. I am not putting the blame on him. I did not think it was a killer pace.''
But Bailey, it seems, thought wrong, and one of the sport's great winning sequences has come to a somewhat sorry end. None the less, Allen Paulson's six-year-old has thoroughly earned a space on the wall in American racing's hall of fame, alongside such as Secretariat, Man O'War and Citation, whose 16-win record he equalled last month.
And while the streak may be over, Cigar's career, presumably, is not. Paulson has never been reluctant to test his horse, as the trainer who finally saddled one to beat him admitted. "The only way to keep horses unbeaten is not to race them," Mandella said, "so give credit to his owner and trainer for keeping him running."
One piece of history is now beyond Cigar, but another surely beckons. In the 12-year history of the Breeders' Cup meeting, no horse has won the Classic, the most prestigious event on the card, more than once. But if Cigar stays sound, and Jerry Bailey's speedometer can adjust to the track at Woodbine in Toronto, he must stand every chance of adding to last year's authoritative victory at Churchill Downs.
It was before last year's Classic, remember, that Bailey cast a series of scathing remarks in the direction of European jockeys in general and, some felt, Walter Swinburn, who was due to partner Halling in the big race, in particular.
Swinburn is far too well-mannered to take any satisfaction in the criticism now being heaped upon Bailey, but will take comfort from the thought that whatever happens when he finally returns to race-riding at Windsor today, simply being in the saddle is an achievement. Talathath, in the 3.30, will be Swinburn's first ride in public since his near-fatal fall at at Sha Tin six months ago, and if his mount shows as much courage and determination as his jockey, there can be but one winner.
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies