The Main Track: Pacific Classic Sets Up Breeders’ Cup Showdown

Collected defeats stablemate Arrogate in the Pacific Classic at Del Mar. (Eclipse Sportswire)

Welcome to another edition of America’s Best Racing’s Main Track.

Each Tuesday in this space we spotlight the most meaningful story of the past week, detailing news that stands out because of its importance or perhaps the emotional response it generates.

Looking ahead, if you believe there’s a story this week that should be featured in next Tuesday’s edition of the Main Track, let us know by tweeting it to @ABRLive using the hashtag #ABRMainTrack.

As for this week, our story involves a summertime classic that changed the outlook for the fall.

Apparently the San Diego Handicap wasn’t completely a mirage.

As expected, Arrogate turned in a much better performance in Saturday’s $1 million Pacific Classic at Del Mar after the fourth-place clunker in the San Diego.

Yet it still wasn’t enough to put him back in the winner’s circle.

For the first time in his brilliant career, Arrogate lost a second straight race. Though he seemed headed for another ugly loss midway on the final turn of the mile and a quarter Pacific Classic, the 3-to-5 favorite came to life in the final furlong and mounted a valiant charge at stablemate Collected but fell a half-length shy at the wire.

A sign of the improvement in Arrogate could be found in Accelerate, who romped by 8 ¼ lengths in the San Diego but was third in the Pacific Classic, 3 ¾ lengths behind the Juddmonte Farms star. In the San Diego, there were 15 ¼ lengths separating Accelerate and Arrogate, with Accelerate on the positive side of that margin.

In the Pacific Classic, it wasn’t the Arrogate that America came to know and love though consecutive wins in the Travers, the Breeders’ Cup Classic, Pegasus World Cup and Dubai World Cup. Yet it was the kind of performance which gives hope that Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert can return Arrogate to peak condition for the Breeders’ Cup Classic on Nov. 4, which will also be contested at Del Mar.

“I feel like my older son got beat by younger son,” Baffert said. “Arrogate looked like he just ran in spurts the whole way around, but I was encouraged by the way he laid it down in the last eighth of a mile and showed some willingness to win.

“He’s not back to where he was, but he showed some class and heart.”

And it’s that “class and heart” which bodes so well for the fall now that summer has brought a new outlook to the race for racing’s biggest prizes.

Gun Runner wins the Whitney Stakes. (Eclipse Sportswire)

No longer is Arrogate involved in a race for greatness, with his last few races one-sided blowouts that will position him among the sport’s all-time best champions. Now he’s locked in a lively battle for year-end honors that will hopefully produce an epic duel in the Breeders’ Cup Classic.

Monday’s release of the latest National Thoroughbred Racing Association poll mirrored the solar eclipse as Gun Runner finally overshadowed Arrogate.

After 29 weeks with Arrogate in the No. 1 spot – and Gun Runner second for 21 of those weeks – it was Gun Runner who moved into the top spot with 27 first-place votes and 394 points. Arrogate dropped back to second with 10 first-place and 356 points.

Collected, who is 4-for-4 in 2017, rocketed to the fourth spot (235 points) just behind the filly Songbird.

Unless the Travers produces, well, another Arrogate, it looks like Gun Runner, Arrogate and Collected will play the leading roles at the Breeders’ Cup and that notion could be voiced with more certainty in a very short time.

Arrogate is likely to train up to the Breeders’ Cup, getting an extra week of rest than he did when he went directly from the Travers to the Classic last year.

Gun Runner’s final race before the Breeders’ Cup is scheduled as the Woodward at Saratoga on Sept. 2, and if all goes well there, it means there will be a two-month build-up before we learn if Gun Runner is able to turn the tables on Arrogate after losses to him in the Dubai World Cup and Travers.  

And after the courage Collected showed in repelling Arrogate’s final bid in the Pacific Classic, let’s not sleep on Baffert’s “other” BC Classic candidate. Baffert might give Collected one more race before the Breeders’ Cup, which could verify the talent that was on display Saturday and add to the drama that awaits us on the first Saturday in November.

For now, anyway, while Baffert’s hand might not be as overpowering as it was in early July, it surely seems quite formidable.

“They both came out of the race well, and that’s important,” Baffert said. “I watched the race a few times and Collected still won.”

Indeed he did, and the Breeders’ Cup Classic should be the better for it.

The Also-Eligible List

Here are some of the other stories that made for a lively week in the U.S. Thoroughbred racing industry:

Elate dominates Alabama Stakes

Dream Dancing takes Del Mar Oaks

Blackjackcat makes the grade in Del Mar Mile

Zayat’s Zatter beats American Pharoah’s full brother in debut

Equestricon Day 2: U.S. racing in the international eye

PETA-proposed AmTote Tech to Raise Aftercare funds

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