also-ran

[awl-soh-ran]
noun
1.
Sports.
a.
(in a race) a contestant who fails to win or to place among the first three finishers.
b.
an athlete or team whose performance in competition is rarely, if ever, a winning or near-winning one.
2.
Informal. a person who loses a contest, election, or other competition.
3.
Informal. a person who attains little or no success: For every great artist there are a thousand also-rans.

Origin:
1895–1900

Dictionary.com Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2014.
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World English Dictionary
also-ran
 
n
1.  a contestant, horse, etc, failing to finish among the first three in a race
2.  an unsuccessful person; loser or nonentity

Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 10th Edition
2009 © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009
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American Heritage
Idioms & Phrases

also-ran

Loser, failure, unsuccessful individual, as in Jane feared that her candidate, a terrible speaker, would end up as an also-ran, or As for getting promotions, Mark counted himself among the also-rans. This term comes from racing, where it describes a horse that finishes in fourth place or lower or does not finish a race at all. It first appeared in the 1890s in published racing results, and has since been transferred to losers in any kind of competition, and also more broadly to persons who simply don't do well.

The American Heritage® Dictionary of Idioms by Christine Ammer.
Copyright © 1997. Published by Houghton Mifflin.
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Example sentences
And yet it's tough to think of the company as anything but an also-ran.
He taught everyone to see the developing world not as an also-ran but as a
  vortex of innovation and creativity.
Seems really unfair to be categorized in the also-ran group.
The firm was an also-ran in the mergers-and-acquisitions business.
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