HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. – Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert thought he had the horse of a lifetime when American Pharoah emerged two seasons ago as the 12th Triple Crown champion and first in 37 years. But it may be that Arrogate shines brightest of all among Baffert’s constellation of stars.
Arrogate continued his stunning rise by romping to a 4 ¾-length victory against runner-up Shaman Ghost in the inaugural running of the $12-million Pegasus World Cup Invitational on Saturday at Gulfstream Park. His expected duel with California Chrome never materialized as an uncharacteristically lackluster Chrome finished ninth in a field of 12.
“All respect to the other horses, but he got to gear down the last 100 yards or so,” said winning jockey “Big Money” Mike Smith. “He’s got some turn of foot, some stride.”
Said Baffert: “He’s getting better. He’s just a superior, great horse.”
The resounding triumph was all the more impressive because heavy rain in Southern California had cast doubt on Arrogate’s participation, especially after he missed his scheduled prep race at Santa Anite due to poor conditions. Baffert did not gain confidence until the colt put in a solid final work.
“We have been working on nothing but mud,” Baffert said. “This is the first dry track he’s seen in a month.”
The gray Unbridled’s Song colt bloomed late to close his 3-year-old campaign by leaping from the allowance ranks to dominate the Travers Stakes by 13 ½ lengths with a track-record performance that ranks as one of the most spectacular in the history of iconic Saratoga Race Course. He reiterated his brilliance when a prolonged and determined charge allowed him to run down Chrome by half a length in the $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic last November at Santa Anita.
Arrogate opened his eagerly-anticipated 4-year-old campaign by banking the whopping $7 million winner’s share of the richest Thoroughbred race ever run. He bided his time in third, with Chrome just in behind but never appearing comfortable, before erupting. The outcome was never in doubt during the stretch run.
“Once I got out going into the far turn, I knew we would be very tough to beat,” Smith said. “He had a lot of run today and I was very happy. As far as winning the world’s richest race, I’m absolutely numb.”
The future appears to be blindingly bright for Arrogate, the pride of Juddmonte Farms. The 1 1/8-mile Pegasus marked his sixth consecutive victory after a losing debut and spiked his earnings to $11,084,600. And he put California Chrome behind him for good.
The 6-year-old Chrome will leave South Florida for the lush pastures of Taylor Made Farm in Lexington, Ky., to begin his career as a stallion. Bred for a cost of $10,500 by newcomers Steve Coburn and Perry Martin, he retires as a two-time Horse of the Year and the leading earner in North American history with $14,752,650.
The Pegasus marked the worst finish of Chrome’s otherwise dazzling career.
“He faded by the half-mile pole,” said Victor Espinoza, his disappointed rider. “I was pretty much done by that point, but the whole race he never really got into the race.”
Chrome broke from farthest outside in post 12, leaving him wide around the first turn. But he did not pack his usual punch.
Espinoza said Chrome gave every indication that he came out of his finale sound.
“He’s done a lot,” he said. “Sometimes he’s going to throw in one of those bad races, and one of those bad times was today.”
Art Sherman, Chrome’s 79-year-old trainer, had no regrets.
“We had a great run. I congratulate Bob Baffert,” Sherman said. “That horse is a super nice horse. I can’t say enough about him.”
Garrett O’Rourke, the U.S. racing manager for Juddmonte, said it will be left to Baffert’s judgment concerning whether Arrogate goes on to the $6 million Dubai World Cup. The Pegasus, an innovation of The Stronach Group, offers a unique concept that is expected to have a dramatic impact on the racing landscape over the long haul.
Twelve stakeholders invested $1 million each in return for a starting slot and a share of certain revenue. Its lucrative structure may encourage owners to keep high-caliber older horses in training deeper into their careers or at least provide an unforgettable last hurrah for megastars such as Chrome.
Belinda Stronach, the daughter of Pegasus creator Frank Stronach, expressed a vision of the Pegasus as grand as the purse.
“We wanted to make this race more than a race,” she said. “We wanted to bring an event. We wanted to introduce it to young people. It’s lifestyle, entertainment, fashion.”
Smith, who has won more Breeders’ Cup races than any jockey in history, knows what the vibe is like when major races are run. He said of the spirited atmosphere at Gulfstream Park and the electricity that surrounded the historic race, “It was like the Breeders’ Cup Classic times two.”