Time is usually always good at lending perspective. When we think back, a little more light is usually shed. That absolutely can be the case with athletics as sometimes we do not realize what we just saw until long after it is done. Hmmm, makes me wonder about the current king of Thoroughbred racing.
Arrogate is on top of the world right now. Since last August, this son of Unbridled’s Song has run roughshod over what had been considered “the best” in the racing game. Currently standing as the all-time leading money winner among North American runners ($17,084,600), the Big Blue Locomotive has gotten untracked in a big way. Here is where we begin to ponder his greatness.
Is the money the reason we wonder how he stacks up with others on the all-time greats list? In this case the answer is probably not. The creation of some super purse races, namely the Pegasus, has benefitted Arrogate for sure. His bankroll has been accrued in just eight lifetime starts and seven wins. Winning the Breeders’ Cup Classic ($6 million total purse), Pegasus Cup ($12 million total purse) and Dubai World Cup ($10 million total purse) in a 5 month span made for the streets of gold. Yes the big money brings out the best in the world, but the earnings figure is not what makes him the current wearer of the crown.
If not the purse, is it the performance that makes for his consideration? To this we reply an emphatic H-E-double hockey sticks YES! First we examine his initial stakes win in the Travers. Brought in by hall of fame trainer Bob Baffert and with big money rider Mike Smith in the irons, Arrogate came into the Mid-Summer Derby as somewhat of an unknown at odds of 12 to 1. Folks should have figured there was a fox in the henhouse as Baffert normally does not ship unless he really thinks he can win. After loading in the gates it took just over a minute and 59 seconds to realize we might have something special here. Romping to a 13 ½ length win in track record time (1:59.36) at Saratoga told us this uniquely marked gray colt has plenty of giddyup.
“I knew when we went he was going to win,” says Baffert. “Of course I didn’t know he was going to win like that. That was the first race where we really let him run. We had wanted to sneak up on California Chrome in the San Diego at Del Mar in July but he just was not right at the time so we waited for the Travers. He had run well before but by design (Rafael) Bejarano didn’t really cut him loose in his three previous wins. Mike’s ride was the first time we just let him go and what a performance.”
Two months later, Baffert got his chance to tackle California Chrome in the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Santa Anita. Under a masterful ride from Smith, the Juddmonte Farms owned colt stalked the pace-setting Chrome. Chasing the race favorite into deep stretch, Arrogate used a monstrous move in the final sixteenth and got up by a half-length at the wire. Gobbling up ground in unbelievable fashion at the end, this grandson of Distorted Humor left jaws agape…again.
Fast-forward to the newly created Pegasus Cup at Gulfstream Park in January and once again Baffert ships and wins. Stalking the pace in fine fashion under Smith, Arrogate cut loose at the top of the stretch and won powerfully by five widening lengths. Covering the mile and an eighth distance in track-record time of 1:46.83, the big train was rolling.
Move on to Dubai in March and we complete the saga of this meteoric rise to the here and now. One of the tougher races to win because of the many unknown factors involved with shipping half-way around the world, this Cup would be an even bigger challenge. Baffert was no stranger to the environment. Having won the race twice in the past (1998 Silver Charm, 2001 Captain Steve), California’s top conditioner felt like he had his horse primed for another big run. The gates opened and hearts sank as Arrogate broke very poorly and was last after the opening 100 meters of the race. Completely out of character, it appeared this super horse may have been exposed to kryptonite. Settling nicely under the guiding hand of Smith, the Big A moved to the outside down the back stretch and began picking off members of the 14 horse field. Unleashing his powerful stride midway around the far turn, the poetry in four-legged motion was now front and center. In Wordsworth fashion, Arrogate spelled it out to everyone as he flew past Gun Runner and into the lead. Crossing under the wire an easy 2 ¼ lengths in front, you had to know this guy is something special to say the very least.
“Arrogate is really something,” says his hall of fame jockey Mike Smith. “He does Secretariat-like stuff like running his final quarter mile faster than the opening quarter. I mean he ran the fastest ever mile and a quarter at Saratoga. He has just been fantastic.”
As good as Arrogate has been since last summer, we still can not know how great he really is just yet. Mind-boggling runs in his last four races send us sports scribes careening to the keyboards, but his trainer has perhaps the best perspective.
“I don’t really even think about what he has done, I’m just focusing on the here and now,” says Baffert. “Maybe when he quits running I’ll put it into perspective, but right now we are just worrying about keeping him healthy and his next start.”
Slated to run in the San Diego Handicap at Del Mar on July 22, Baffert hopes to use that race as a prep for the million dollar Pacific Classic on August 19 which is also run at the seaside oval. The Breeders’ Cup is slated for Del Mar in November. That means Baffert will not have to pack any bags and the Big Blue Locomotive does not have to leave Southern California for his next three potential starts.
The amazing four race run we have just chronicled could go down as the greatest “superfecta” ever. It certainly jacks Arrogate up the list of “all-timers” for sure. How far?…just watch and enjoy…we’ll decide later.