DEL MAR, Calif. — No excuses, sort of. Not after the world No. 1 Arrogate appeared fully fit the morning after his fourth-place fizz-out as the 1-20 betting favorite Saturday in the San Diego Handicap.
“He looks healthy, he looks great,” trainer Bob Baffert said in his Del Mar barn office Sunday. “Other than he just was flat and didn’t run his race.”
But when pressed about Arrogate’s performance that was more mailed-in than delivered under jockey Mike Smith, Baffert did expand on what might have gone wrong.
“Sometimes you get down here and the air is heavy,” he said. “I remember getting him down here (from Santa Anita) last year. I was going to run him right away, but it took him a while to get used to it.”
The opposite may be said of Accelerate. The 7-1 second choice is now 3-for-3 here at Del Mar, leading all the way with jockey Víctor Espinoza for an 8½-length upset victory.
“He loves this track,” Sadler said. “He broke his maiden so impressively here last year. Then he came right back three weeks later and won a stake here going above his condition. He’s always had a lot of ability. Maybe it’s the air.”
“It’s a funny track,” Baffert said. “Once you fall too far behind, you’re never going to close. It can be a really speed-favoring track.”
Whatever the case, Accelerate’s victory over the 1 1/16 miles in 1:42.15 earned him a 109 Beyer Speed Figure from the Daily Racing Form, the ninth-best this year for a main-track race of more than a mile anywhere in North America. Even if Arrogate was on his game, it still might not have been good enough to overcome Accelerate’s first-ever gate-to-wire victory.
“He runs well down here,” Baffert said. “I just didn’t really have my horse cranked up for something like that. Maybe I could have had (forward-running) Collected in there.”
Baffert was kidding about Collected. Winning trainer John Sadler was not about blinkers. Accelerate had them on after racing 11 times without them.
“We don’t like to put then on too soon,” Sadler said. “Maybe the blinkers helped him get out the gate a little bit quicker, because he’s kind of been stumbling out this year.”
Sadler said Accelerate will stay with the blinkers for a likely rematch with Arrogate here Aug. 19 in the $1 million Grade 1 Pacific Classic. At 1¼ miles, that race is 330 yards longer than Saturday’s race.
“A mile-and-a-quarter; that’s Arrogate’s game,” Baffert said. “We’ll be fine.”
While Arrogate is being aimed to defend his 2016 victory in the 1¼-mile Breeders’ Cup Classic, the long-term goal for Accelerate’s team is another try at the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile, in which he finished third last year. But Sadler was not quite ready to concede the extra distance coming to Accelerate next month in the Pacific Classic.
“We’ll see,” he said. “If everything is good, we’ll probably go with the Pacific Classic. But I think maybe at the end of the year we’ll go with the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile here in the fall.”
Even as the trainers look forward with their two horses, the racing public will continue to hover over Saturday’s upset that may have been more eyebrow-raising than earth-shaking. Separate world thoroughbred rankings published by Longines and Timeform will continue to show Arrogate at No. 1, because both lists rank a horse’s best performance over a six-month to one-year period. They do not rank the horse itself. That means second-ranked Winx (Longines) and Lady Aurelia (Timeform) will not vault to No. 1 unless they run a better race soon.
But after Saturday, who knows?
“Accelerate did run a big race,” Baffert said. “That’s exciting for Sadler. I told him he’s becoming the giant slayer here after Stellar Wind beat Beholder last summer. That’s what makes our game. You’re up one day and then down.”