Del Mar, Calif.--He showed a flash of his old self in the last 200 yards of his race Saturday. But let’s be honest. We are not seeing the real Arrogate.
The Arrogate that blew away the field by 13½ lengths last summer at the Travers? The Arrogate that dug in and outdueled California Chrome in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic? The Arrogate that conquered the Dubai World Cup? He has disappeared.
Instead, this Arrogate has just loped his way around Del Mar’s main track twice in four weeks – finally accelerating in those last 200 yards for his persistent jockey Mike Smith. Bet down to 3-5 odds, he wound up a disappointing second in the $1 million Grade 1 Pacific Classic, a half-length behind another gate-to-wire winner. This time it was his stable mate Collected (3-1) – also trained by Bob Baffert – that came up big for his first Grade 1 win.
At least Arrogate’s late rally gave him a minor victory when he left third place to Accelerate (3-1), the horse that won the Grade 2 San Diego Handicap last month when Arrogate finished fourth.
“It’s better,” said Garrett O’Rourke, manager of Arrogate’s owner Juddmonte Farms. “But it’s not him.”
And Arrogate is no longer the Las Vegas favorite to win the Breeders’ Cup Classic. “When we reopen the book (Sunday), Gun Runner will be the favorite – probably around 7-5,” Wynn Las Vegas’s Johnny Avello said Saturday night. “Arrogate is going to be probably around 2-1. We’ll want to see that he is actually OK and planning on moving forward.”
Being one of the bosses at Juddmonte, O’Rourke will have a big say in whether Arrogate tries to defend his Breeders’ Cup victory in 2½ months when the championships arrive here at Del Mar. Yes, Del Mar – home of a dirt track that Arrogate simply does not like.
“Evidently it’s not his favorite,” Smith said. “It’s a good track. It’s just that some horses like different things. That doesn’t mean that we can’t make a few changes and see what happens.”
If O’Rourke gives him the green light, Baffert will have what has turned from an unenviable task into a tough challenge – namely training Arrogate back to his old self without a race between now and the Breeders’ Cup.
“I know what I can do with him,” Baffert said. “I can make some little changes with him. I know what needs to be done, as long as he stays healthy. This race was a lot like American Pharoah’s Saratoga race (losing the 2015 Travers). He dug in, he ran hard, and he got beat by a nice horse.”
That is part of the storyline this time. Unlike last month, when he never got out of first gear, Arrogate rallied and finished second to a 4-year-old colt that has never lost in seven races on fast, dirt tracks. The biggest doubt about Collected before Saturday was whether he could go 1¼ miles. He did it in 2:00.70 after early fractions of 23.76, 47.19 and 1:11.06.
“I have a good sense to know how fast I’m going,” winning jockey Martín García said. “He likes this track. The speed that the track has been playing today – that was a big target for him. He kept digging in until the wire. He just never gave up.”
Where Collected kept grinding away on the lead, Arrogate kept moving with a long, deliberate stride that Smith could not quicken.
“For some odd reason he just seems to get a little long on this racetrack,” Smith said. “I don’t know if it’s because it’s a little deeper for him or what it is. I know him. I know what it feels like when he drops and gives it to me, and he hasn’t done that for me here. I was trying to pedal him all the way down the backside.”
It was only after Smith angled in and then out in the stretch that Arrogate responded. Even though it was too late, he did put a scare into García.
“I could feel a big animal coming behind me,” he said. “It’s like when you are in a little car, and then a big car with the noise is coming. I was praying that I could reach the wire first. And I did.”
Even though Collected’s win meant a fifth Pacific Classic victory for Baffert, his celebration was noticeably muted.
“I feel like my older son got beat by the younger son,” Baffert said. “I felt a lot of pressure running (Arrogate). I felt so much better that he ran that way at the end. There’s no shame in getting beat by Collected. I was just so afraid. I couldn’t see him doing what he did last time. He had to show something. If he didn’t show some will to get there to win, it was going to be devastating for all of us.”
While Baffert said Arrogate’s next race would not be before the Breeders’ Cup Classic, he left the door open for Collected to get one more tune-up. And, yes, his long-range target would also be the Classic.
“He’s not going to run in the (Dirt) Mile,” Baffert said, half-joking. “You need a speed horse here, but he’s a good speed horse. His numbers speak for it. He’s a fast horse, and he likes this track. I think Collected has just moved up in a lot of brackets.”
But what about how far Arrogate has fallen? Formally, he remains the number-one thoroughbred in both the Timeform and Longines world rankings, because his Dubai World Cup victory in March still counts. It will drop off the Longines chart in another month; it stays there all year with Timeform.
Meanwhile, the hotter horse that also has a legitimate claim to number one survived a scare in Australia on Saturday. Winx remarkably came back from blowing the start, narrowly winning the seven-furlong Group 2 Warwick Stakes by a short neck.
“There wasn’t much I could do once she missed the start,” jockey Hugh Bowman told reporters in Sydney. “But she just wants to win.”
“We know she is going to get beaten one day,” her trainer Chris Waller said. “You just don’t want to have excuses, and there were none there today. She is amazing.”
The 6-year-old mare by Street Cry has won her last 18 races, including 12 Group 1s. She is expected to be an odds-on favorite in October to win a record-tying third consecutive Cox Plate – Australia’s most important weight-for-age race. That also means she will not be at the Breeders’ Cup.
“If they both ran on dirt I think Arrogate would have a huge advantage,” O’Rourke said before the Pacific Classic. “If they both ran on grass, who knows? We have never tried him on it. I’m just glad we’ve got a true great, and I’m sure that they’re glad that have a true great as well.”
And about his great that is only good right now? O’Rourke said he will not rush to a decision on whether to run Arrogate in the Breeders’ Cup. That depends on the old version of him showing up this fall at Del Mar.
“We need to regroup,” O’Rourke said. “We’re not going to make any decisions today. It’s something that we’ve got to understand before we start moving forward.”