Stars of Yesterday: Looking Back at Best Arkansas Derby Winners
Remember all the fun dissecting the chart of the 2016 Travers Stakes and finding all those unique statistical gems that, when strung together, resulted in one of the most remarkable performances we had ever seen, with stats that boggled the mind?
Remember how the fun continued analyzing the chart of last November’s Breeders’ Cup Classic, as we attempted to find out just how Arrogate managed to run down the older California Chrome, conceding so much experience to a Horse of the Year and dual classic winner, and doing it coming off a two-month layoff and only one stakes appearance?
In those two races, Arrogate left a trail of dazzling statistics as he conquered uncharted territory, performing feats that defied everything we know about handicapping races.
So, what could we expect in the inaugural Pegasus World Cup Invitational, as he took on the now two-time Horse of the Year California Chrome again, this time having his training compromised to an extent by wet tracks, wearing a three-quarter shoe to protect a foot abscess, and now coming off a three-month layoff after having to miss his prep race because of track conditions?
Of course it was sad to see California Chrome go out the way he did, but it was obvious something was wrong with him nearing the half-mile pole as he was totally empty when Victor Espinoza asked him to run. From that point on, he was not striding properly and kept turning his head in and out and began floundering as soon as he entered the stretch. The bottom line is that, in the minds of his fans, and most racing fans and experts, this race never happened. This simply was not California Chrome.
But this column is about Arrogate and another of his performances that defied description. Let’s take a look at his race broken down by quarters. First off, there is no way to gauge just how the track was playing because of the long gap between dirt races leading up the Pegasus. But from a visual standpoint and compared to the earlier races, the track appeared to be more on the slow side.
So what does Arrogate do breaking from post 1 and getting stuck down on the rail? He runs his second quarter in an outrageous :22 3/5 and his third quarter in :23 1/5. That’s a half-mile, from the quarter to the three-quarters, in :45 4/5. Now outside of horses, he pretty much cruised to the lead, blowing by pacesetting Noble Bird and opening up a clear lead with a sharp quarter in :24 flat. At the eighth pole he had run the mile in a dizzying 1:33 4/5. Coming off such a long layoff and over a track probably on the loose side, he might have gotten a little tired, and Mike Smith basically wrapped up on him at the sixteenth pole and he was geared down the final part of the race, all of which accounted for the final eighth in :13 3/5.
We already know how fast he is capable of coming home, closing his final quarter in the Travers in :23 4/5.
It is interesting to note that when Arrogate shattered General Assembly’s 37-year-old track record in the Travers, he became the only horse ever to break the 2:00 mark for 1 1/4 miles at Saratoga, and he broke it by four-fifths of a second…making his stakes debut. Other horses who once held the track and Travers record include Hall of Famers Buckpasser, Damascus, and Arts and Letters. They each held the record of 2:01 3/5, which is 12 lengths slower than Arrogate’s time.
To demonstrate just how fast he was going for most of the Pegasus, in the Poseidon Handicap earlier on the card, which contained a number of hard-knocking graded stakes horses, they went the three-quarters in 1:12 1/5, compared to 1:09 4/5 in the Pegasus, and the mile in 1:36 compared to 1:33 4/5. The final time of the Poseidon was 1:48 4/5 in a photo finish compared to Arrogate’s 1:47 3/5 geared down. As a result, Arrogate earned a sensational 116 Beyer speed figure, while the Poseidon winner Imperative, carrying six pounds less than Arrogate, earned a 103.
Grade 1 winner Noble Bird, who set those early fractions, with Arrogate sitting right behind him, finished sixth, beaten 14 1/4 lengths. Kudos to third-place finisher Neolithic, who was running second early and still held on well to finish third, although beaten 8 1/4 lengths by Arrogate. Another lightly-raced horse, he showed he has a bright future.
Arrogate has now defeated grade 1 winners Keen Ice (Travers) by 11 and 11 1/4 lengths, Hoppertunity (Jockey Club Gold Cup) by 11 1/2 lengths, Noble Bird (Stephen Foster) by 14 1/4 lengths, Gun Runner (Clark Handicap) by 15 lengths, Melatonin (Santa Anita Handicap and Santa Anita Gold Cup) by 15 3/4 lengths, Frosted (Met Mile and Whitney) by 19 1/4 lengths, Connect (Cigar Mile) by 21 3/4 lengths, Creator (Belmont Stakes) by 21 3/4 lengths, Effinex (Clark Handicap) by 24 lengths, and Exaggerator (Preakness, Santa Anita Derby, and Haskell) by 33 lengths. I won’t even count California Chrome (29 1/2 lengths) for obvious reasons. And Shaman Ghost (Woodward) certainly boosted his reputation getting beat only 3/4 lengths by Arrogate.
And Arrogate has done all that in only three races – leading all the way, coming from third, and coming from fifth. He’s won being on the inside and won being on the outside, and won his three stakes in three different states in the East, West, and South. Does it sound like I’m describing, uh, Spectacular Bid? There is no comparing anyone to the Bid, especially after only three stakes victories, but one can see the similarities beginning to develop, as condensed as they will turn out to be.
Bob Baffert’s main goal with Arrogate is to get him to the Breeders’ Cup and a chance for back-to-back victories. It will be interesting to see what path he takes and in what races he will send Arrogate to pillage and plunder along the way.