Having already achieved more from his first two stakes appearances than perhaps any horse in American racing history, Arrogate has the Pegasus World Cup and its record $12-million prize in his crosshairs on Jan. 28 at Gulfstream Park.
It is a remarkable position for any horse, but particularly for one purchased as a yearling to carry the green and pink silks of Juddmonte Farms, which for several decades was synonymous with elite homebreds. He is the type of marquee horse that Juddmonte and trainer Bob Baffert joined forces in 2012 to try to develop. They had to wait four years, and the Triple Crown was not part of the equation, but Arrogate quickly turned the enterprise into a success by sweeping the Travers Stakes and Breeders’ Cup Classic, and now a uniquely rich opportunity awaits for his third stakes try in the Pegasus.
“He’s a pretty incredible horse,” Baffert said. “He is the kind of horse you are always looking for, and I am so happy for Juddmonte after they gave me the chance to go out and buy yearlings for them, along with Garrett O’Rourke [farm manager of Juddmonte’s American division].
“This is the level they want to be racing at, in the big races, and they were patient with this horse and they are being rewarded. But you need to have that kind of super horse to do what he’s done.”
Juddmonte, the international operation of Khalid Abdullah, shifted gears in America by hooking up with Baffert. Much of the stable’s success, punctuated by five Eclipse Awards as outstanding breeder and two more as outstanding owner, had come with the late Hall of Fame trainer Bobby Frankel and his base in Southern California. In looking to renew a presence there, Prince Khalid and the leaders of his U.S. team, Dr. John Chandler and O’Rourke, sought out Baffert but with the realization that he does well with horses cut from of a different cloth than those Juddmonte’s vaunted broodmare band regularly produces. Frankel won important dirt races for Juddmonte with the likes of Aptitude, Empire Maker and Sightseek, but the trophies came in droves on the turf, mostly with horses who had been imported or repatriated from Europe.
Baffert excels with dirt horses, often ones he picks out himself, and so he and O’Rourke hit the sales, with Arrogate part of the third group of yearlings they bought together for Prince Khalid at the Keeneland September yearling sale in 2014. A breakout star had still been elusive when Arrogate was sent back to the farm in Lexington after developing sore shins with Baffert in Southern California as an unraced 2-year-old in the summer of 2015. He returned to Baffert early in the winter and began to reveal his impressive hand, prompting the Hall of Fame trainer to tell O’Rourke about a year ago that “this is the horse who will pay for all the others,” while the colt was still weeks away from his career debut in April.
“By the time we got to March or early April, Bob was telling us we had a runner and then when he ran third the first time at Los Alamitos, he got stuck down on the inside as a big horse sprinting and only got outside the last sixteenth of a mile,” O’Rourke said. “That last part was enough for me think the talent was there, he just had back luck. It’s been plain sailing from there.
“He was from the third group of yearlings, and I think from the day you buy a horse, your patience is being tested, but Prince Khalid has had so much experience in racing. We hadn’t bought many horses in a long time, but back in the early days he bought a lot of yearlings and for a lot of money, so he had been through it before. We had horses with Bob from the first groups who showed promise, some nice winners, but they didn’t quite make it to the next level. We were close but not where you’re really hoping to be, and we were dealing with small numbers, only a handful each year, and a lot of this is a numbers game. Luckily, we hit the jackpot with this guy.”
Arrogate’s demolition of the Travers in track-record time in his stakes debut last August inspired awe in Baffert, who was content to train him up to the Breeders’ Cup Classic, just like the schedule he used to prepare American Pharoah for his runaway Classic win in 2015.
Arrogate answered with a game triumph in the Classic over favored California Chrome to carve out a distinct profile in the history of the Breeders’ Cup. No horse had ever hit the board, let alone prevailed, in the Classic off just one previous stakes run.
Now, Arrogate is gearing up for another showdown with California Chrome in the Pegasus World Cup and again after some idle time. Baffert elected to scratch him from the Grade 2 San Pasqual Stakes due to a muddy track at Santa Anita on New Year’s Day, curtailing what would have been his only race since the Classic.
Baffert has also dealt with a disrupted training schedule in the early New Year but was relieved to get in what he considered to be a crucial workout on Jan. 8.
“I never felt like he had to have a prep race for the Pegasus,” Baffert said. “My gut instinct kicked in when it rained and I thought ‘I don’t feel good about this,’ and I scratched him. I think it was the right thing to do. I can get him ready. If they are really that good, I could give him a year layoff and get him to run his best race. I feel confident I can do that with a horse like him. We just needed the weather to let us get that work in. He galloped out a mile and the track was still pretty demanding, and I feel really good about it. He has only had one work where he came back really tired, and that was two works back, and since then he has been really, really good.
“He has a tremendous set of lungs on him. He could probably run a mile and a half or two miles, and he has speed, so he can go a mile, whatever you want him to do. He is just an incredible horse.”
Arrogate is a candidate for a couple of Eclipse Awards a week before the Pegasus World Cup, but Baffert, who is a finalist for outstanding trainer, is torn about attending because the event will be held at Gulfstream and the horse will still be finishing up his preparations in California.
“Right now, I am just zeroed in on this Pegasus World Cup and $12 million,” Baffert said.
Arrogate will actually be Baffert’s first runner at Gulfstream since 2007, when he ran a horse in the Sunshine Millions, which used to occupy the same position on the calendar in late January at both Gulfstream and Santa Anita. Baffert’s first major win as a Thoroughbred trainer came at the old Gulfstream in 1992 with Thirty Slews in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint.
“It’s not that I have had anything against Gulfstream, I just haven’t had the right opportunity with the right horse to send one back there,” Baffert said.
Jeff Lowe is a freelance writer and the media director for Team Valor International. He previously was the Kentucky Derby and Breeders’ Cup beat writer for Thoroughbred Times.