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JIM MURRAY

Someone Forgot to Tell Spoilsport to Lose the Race

August 11, 1996|Jim Murray

DEL MAR, Calif. — Awwr! There's one in every crowd--a party-pooper. The guy who lobs the overalls in the chowder.

Listen! Like to see Joe Louis' head bloody as it hits the bottom rope in his last fight? Glad to see Babe Ruth strike out with the bases loaded and the Series up for grabs? Maybe you'd like to see Michael Jordan miss a layup at the buzzer for all the money? Cheer secretly if Arnold Palmer hit the ball in the water on 18 to blow the Open, would you? How about if Joe DiMaggio grounded weakly to short on his last at-bat in his hitting streak? Are you a big fan of disasters? Get a kick out of seeing guys hit a banana peel?

If that's your bag, you should have been on hand at Del Mar racetrack Saturday. If you like seeing legends toppled, this would have been one of your finest hours.

It wasn't supposed to be a race, it was supposed to be a coronation. Cigar, America's most adored horse since Trigger, was all set to put up horse racing's all-time win streak of 17.

There wasn't much on the track to bother him. It looked like the next best thing to a walkover. Cigar was The Star. Everything else in here was carrying a spear. Supposedly.

He got beat by a horse who's now working on a winning streak of one. His name is Dare And Go, if you care. It'll be his only claim to fame, trust me.

They met Cigar at the plane he flew in from New York on. He came down the freeway in a caravan befitting royalty. Cigar banners, Cigar pictures dotted the landscape. They sold T-shirts with his photo on them, hats with his likeness. He even upstaged the Republican National Convention in nearby San Diego. He was, you might say, America's horse.

But the horse racing game is not very sentimental. The decent thing to do would have been for the field to part and curtsy Saturday in the Pacific Classic. Make a token run, then get out of the way. Long live the king.

But horses don't read press clippings. Neither do trainers.

A trainer named Richard Mandella missed the whole point. He now occupies the same warm place in the hearts of hero-worshipers as that of the man who shot Jesse James, the guy who beat Jack Dempsey, won a playoff over Palmer or kept throwing Red Grange for five-yard losses. Like, how dare he go and do that? What could he have been thinking?

Dare And Go winning over Cigar? Ugh! It'll never make a movie. It's like John Wayne getting shot in the fadeout. Unhappy endings are not American's bag. Leave that for real operas, not horse operas.

Still, we do that to the immortals all the time out here. It's an old California trick to take these la-di-da imports and cut 'em down to size.

Remember Kelso? A great horse, beat everything east of the Mississippi. Didn't win 16 in a row but won 39 in his career. Came to California with bands playing, crowds cheering, people genuflecting--then finished eighth and sixth. At 7-5. Went home in a barrel.

Seattle Slew was the Triple Crown champion and unbeaten in July 1977 when he came to Hollywood Park. He got beaten by J.O. Tobin and two other horses.

In a way, Citation won Saturday. Cigar was about to topple one of racing's super achievements--Citation's 16-race win streak--a record that has withstood 46 years and thousands of races.

So, Citation got a dead heat. Cigar couldn't overtake him in the stretch, after all.

But never mind Citation. He couldn't overtake Dare And Go either. And nobody ever mixed up Dare And Go with Citation.

In a way, Cigar got double-teamed. It's a well-worn athletic ploy. The Chicago Bulls do it all the time. Notre Dame will do it; even Olympic milers have been known to do it.

Mandella had two entries in Saturday's race--a speedster named Siphon and a plodder named Dare And Go.

Siphon did what "rabbits" do in track and field: got out of the gate running at a pace he couldn't possibly maintain for a mile and a quarter.

And, as the rest of the field--and Mandella--undoubtedly hoped, Cigar took out after him.

He thought he had to. Siphon, after all, had been able to use his early speed to win his last four races--three of them, including the Hollywood Gold Cup, he won wire-to-wire.

Cigar found himself running an unwise 23-second first quarter and 45 4/5 half. He was emptying the oxygen tank at an alarming rate. He ran the mile in 1:33 3/5, which, as it happens, is only two ticks off the track record. This is a little too fast to run a mile-and-a-quarter race. He had to hit the wall. He did.

Mandella tried not to let the canary feathers show out of the corner of his mouth after the race when he said, "I was surprised the way the race set. I would have thought Cigar would let someone else go after Siphon."

Well, he didn't. So, put the cork back into the champagne. Tell Citation to rest easy. Put away the flowers and the balloons. For those of you who like to see myths toppled, cheer up. You can always make do with old Titanic movies.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

No Favoritism

The favorite has not won the Pacific Classic, with the second-place finish by Cigar (1-9 odds) being the best in the six runnings of the event. A look at how the favorites have fared in the race and the mutuel payoffs--sometimes hefty--for the winners. *--*

Year Favorite Odds Finish Lengths Behind Winner 1991 Farma Way 1.50 Fifth 5 Best Pal 1992 Paseana 1.70 Fifth 6 Missionary Ridge 1993 Best Pal 0.40 Third 3 3/4 Bertrando 1994 Bertrando 2.40 Eighth 34 Tinners Way 1995 Concern 1.60 Fifth 6 Tinners Way 1996 Cigar 0.10 Second 3 1/2 Dare And Go

Year $2 Win Payoff 1991 $11.80 1992 $51.00 1993 $8.20 1994 $16.20 1995 $7.40 1996 $81.20

*--*

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