The familiar forces of a wide barrier and the staying power of Argentinian-bred galloper Quechua once again proved too much for Emirates Singapore Derby favourite War Affair to overcome.
The reigning Horse of the Year was narrowly beaten by a head in yesterday's $1.15 million Group 1 race, scuppering his hopes of a clean sweep of the Singapore Four-Year-Old Challenge after victories in the first two legs earlier this year, the Stewards' Cup and Patron's Bowl.
It was a sense of deja vu for the losing connections as they watched their New Zealand-bred gelding jump from the second-worst barrier 13 and spend the bulk of the 2,000m race jostling for position near the rear of the 14-horse field at Kranji.
Last year, trainer Alwin Tan had been dreaming of a historic Triple Crown after War Affair bagged the Kranji Mile and Raffles Cup but was stranded outside at Gate 12 in November's Gold Cup and ran out of gas to finish almost three lengths behind winner Quechua.
It was a much tighter affair in the Derby, which is shorter than the 2,200m Gold Cup, with little separating both horses as they swung around the final bend.
1 Quechua (Win: $15, place: $5.10)
2 War Affair ($6; head)
3 Fastnet Dragon ($16; nose)
Forecast: $5, Tierce: $76,
They were joined by outsider Fastnet Dragon (with top Sydney rider Hugh Bowman astride), who eventually finished third, just a nose behind War Affair.
Said Tan, the Singaporean handler: "War Affair was caught four to five wide but he still ran very well today. But Quechua is the better stayer and we've lost to him again. It's disappointing, more so when we've come so close."
There was only vindication for Quechua's trainer Patrick Shaw as he collected his second Derby title - after Our Falstaff in 2006 - and justified his belief in his star stayer, who was also the top local performer with a third-placed finish at May's $3 million Singapore Airlines International Cup (2,000m).
Said the South African: "He's been such a good horse to us. He's won the Gold Cup and now the Derby, what more can you ask of him.
"The plan was to go forward today from the wide draw, but I left it to (jockey) Corey (Brown) to decide where he wanted him to be.
"I was confident he would be right in it coming to the top of the straight as he's such a fighter. He dug deep when War Affair got to him, and was just too good today."
This was Quechua's fifth victory from 13 starts and the gelding has now collected more than $2 million in stakes earnings for owners Mark and Emily Yong.
Jockey Brown has been the pilot for all five wins and the Australian hoop knew his mount , who was under little pressure as he tracked early pacesetter Order Of The Sun and sat next to the rails to conserve energy, had enough in reserve for the looming battle with War Affair.
"He jumped really well and I was able to get him in a good spot," said the Melbourne Cup-winning jockey. "He was on his best behaviour today and ran relaxed throughout.
"He was travelling so good and with the soft run we got, when War Affair went to him at the corner, I told myself he would have to be a very good horse to beat us. We were far from done.
"When I gave him a squeeze, he started rolling and he is such a tradesman you know, nothing flash, but he just gives 200 per cent every time."
Both gallopers will be sent for a break and are likely to renew their rivalry in the Triple Crown Series, a mouth-watering prospect for local racing fans at the Singapore Turf Club when it starts in October.