For those who appreciated how special Arrogate was, the Breeders’ Cup Classic was painful to watch as he finished in a dead heat with Gunnevera for fifth place in the finale of a career that will very likely baffle historians.
Seeing Arrogate take a left turn at the start and never seriously threaten Gun Runner, the horse he had overhauled so gamely in the $10 million Dubai World Cup Sponsored by Emirates Airline seven months before, was akin to seeing 42-year-old Willie Mays stumbling in the outfield for the New York Mets in the 1973 World Series.
Mays, the renowned “Say Hey Kid,” was a shadow of himself in the Fall Classic. Sadly, the same could be said of Arrogate.
Mays had simply grown old … a superstar who stayed too long. Arrogate, at 4, was hardly old. But he sure looked tired, perhaps worn down mentally more than physically.
The colt’s three-race losing streak that came after a seven-race winning streak — the last four victories were nothing short of awe-inspiring — defies easy explanation.
Bob Baffert, who knew him best as his Hall of Fame trainer, could have blamed the Del Mar surface since the last three atypical starts occurred there. To his credit, he did not opt for that ready excuse.
“He’s just losing interest and I think that’s what it is,” he said. “He’s run so many incredible races that I really think he’s just losing interest.”
Baffert, in searching for answers to a mystery that will almost surely never be solved, also compared the Longines World’s Best Racehorse of 2016 to a pitcher who had lost the plate, again suggesting the issues involved mind over body.
There was nothing in Arrogate’s pre-Classic workouts to suggest he was not sound. Hurting horses do not blaze five furlongs in 1:00 1/5, as Arrogate did on Oct. 10, the swiftest of 40 workouts at that distance that morning at Santa Anita.
“You get paid for what you do, and you pay for what you do,” Asmussen is fond of saying.
Arrogate certainly got paid for what he did as the leading earner in North American history with more than $17.4 million in purse earnings. Perhaps there was a heavy price to pay for his accomplishments. And perhaps as he retires to Juddmonte Farms, where he will stand for a $75,000 stud fee, it is more fitting to remember Arrogate at this zenith rather than his nadir.
Those who watched him tear around Saratoga Race Course in 1:59.36, a track record for 1 ¼ miles, to dominate the Travers Stakes by 13 ½ lengths will always treasure those two minutes in time. The same goes for those who admired his speed and determination when he barely ran down California Chrome in last year’s Classic and then when he manhandled Chrome and the rest in the inaugural running of the $12 Pegasus World Cup Invitational Stakes earlier this season.
And it does not get any better than his dramatic recovery from an awful start in the $10 million Dubai World Cup on March 25, when he picked off foes one by one before zeroing in on Gun Runner, ultimately besting him by 2 ¼ lengths.
When the gray or roan son of Unbridled’s Song returned to competition in the Grade 2 TVG San Diego Handicap on July 22 at Del Mar, he was nowhere near the same horse, finishing a dull fourth. He showed little before making a belated run to finish second to Collected in the Aug. 19 TVG Pacific Classic Stakes.
Collected proved his mettle with a game runner-up finish to Gun Runner in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, while Arrogate, despite steady urging from Mike Smith, could do no better than a mild rally that left him an also-ran.
Historians will surely be perplexed by Arrogate’s mysterious and steep decline. But it would be a disservice to him to allow his last undistinguished race to overshadow the spectacular moments he provided during a four-race tear that few horses ever approached.