SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. – Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert had fallen short with five consecutive Travers Stakes starters at Saratoga Race Course since his initial success with Point Given in 2001. The last of those defeats was crushing because it involved Triple Crown winner American Pharoah only last August.
Baffert did what all great trainers do. He reloaded.
He arrived here with two lightly raced 3-year-olds loaded with potential, namely Arrogate and American Freedom. And Arrogate, taking what should have been a perilous step from allowance to the Grade 1 Mid-Summer Derby, produced a devastating performance before 48,630 stunned fans.
In the fastest edition of the Travers in the race’s 147-year history, Arrogate smashed the track record with a scintillating time of 1:59.36 for the mile and a quarter as he roared off to a 13 ½-length romp over his stablemate. The track record of 2:00, set by General Assembly, had stood since Aug. 18, 1979.
“Turning for home, I just sat back and said, ‘Wow,’ ” Baffert recalled. “I knew no one was going to catch him.”
Arrogate, a gray or roan son of Unbridled’s Song, was lightly regarded entering the Travers. He was making only his fifth start and seemed to be facing a brutal task. He was unraced as a 2-year-old as Baffert was given all of the time he needed by owner Juddmonte Farm.
A Kentucky-bred who was purchased for $560,000 at Keeneland’s 2014 September yearling sale, Arrogate did not debut until he ran third on April 17, an inauspicious beginning for sure.
“He was tough. He might get a little hot,” Baffert said. “He was a mess his first race. We got him back and got him relaxed.”
Baffert is renowned for his horsemanship. Arrogate provides the latest example. He now boasts a four-race winning streak. Baffert’s only regret was that he could not have the colt peaking in time for the Triple Crown races.
“It’s too bad we didn’t have him ready for the classics,” he said. “It’s just the way it worked out.”
Baffert said he will most likely train Arrogate up to the $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic, just as he did when American Pharoah rebounded from a runner-up finish in the Travers and triumphed in last year’s Classic.
“What he did was pretty incredible,” Baffert said of Arrogate. “He looked like a superstar in the making.”
In other races on the Travers undercard, all Grade 1 events with the exception of the Grade 2 Ballston Spa:
PERSONAL ENSIGN STAKES: Cavorting was impressive as she handled her first assignment around two turns by rallying from last in a short field of five to best Curalina by one-half length in this 1 1/8-mile contest. Jockey Javier Castellano said of Cavorting’s third consecutive victory, “I was able to cover up a little bit and then turning for home, the way she did it was amazing. I had a lot of horse under me and I absolutely felt the power.”
Cavorting earned a guaranteed starting spot in the Longines Breeders’ Cup Distaff via the “Win and You’re In” Challenge Series. Trainer Kiaran McLaughlin is undecided about whether to give her a prep race before the Breeders’ Cup or train her up to the big event.
BALLERINA STAKES: Haveyougoneaway, sent off at 10-1, came from off the pace to pull an upset for trainer Thomas Morley and jockey John Velazquez and earn a guaranteed starting spot in the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint via the “Win and You’re In” Challenge Series. She was one-half length better than By the Moon, another longshot.
“The seven-eighths is absolutely her wheelhouse and Johnny had her in the right spot the whole race. It was a great ride and a great result,” Morley said. Morley indicated his New York-bred will be freshened for the Breeders’ Cup.
KETEL ONE KING’S BISHOP STAKES: Drefong, who had never raced above the allowance level in four previous career starts, handled the jump to Grade 1 with stunning ease, taking the 12-horse field gate to wire and powering away to a 3 ¼-length score for jockey Mike Smith. Economic Model closed for second. “He’s fast. He looks the part. He’s got a great mind,” said winning trainer Bob Baffert. “I’ve always thought he was cut out to be this kind of horse, but he had to prove it.”
PRIORITY ONE JETS FOREGO STAKES: A. P. Indian rattled off his fourth consecutive victory, all of them coming since Joe Bravo hopped aboard, and he did it in style. The 6-year-old gelded son of Indian Charlie set a stakes record with a blistering time of 1:20.99 for the seven furlongs and earned a guaranteed starting spot in the Las Vegas Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile via the “Win and You’re In” Challenge Series.
Trainer Arnaud Delacour said of the Breeders’ Cup, “He needs to bring us there. I just want to make sure he is still going well and happy. In that case, we will consider.”
LONGINES SWORD DANCER STAKES: Flintshire, an overwhelming 1-5 favorite, justified his billing. He made an explosive move along the rail after being prompted by Javier Castellano to turn back Money Multiplier, a stablemate in trainer Chad Brown’s powerhouse barn, by 1 3/4 lengths. His time of 2:23.45 narrowly missed the track record of 2:23.20 for the mile and a half. Flintshire, a 6-year-old Dansili colt, also won the Sword Dancer last year. He earned a guaranteed starting spot in the Longines Breeders’ Cup Turf via the “Win and You’re In” Challenge Series.
BALLSTON SPA STAKES: Longshot Strike Charmer slapped Lady Eli with her first defeat in seven races. Lady Eli was making her first start since she won the Belmont Oaks Invitational Stakes on July 4, 2015. She stepped on a nail after that race and fought for her life as she battled laminitis.