Once upon a time, a long time ago, a horse named Arrogate entered the spotlight with a series of victories in prominent stakes races.
Wait a minute — “a long time ago?” Wasn’t Arrogate at the peak of his powers just a few years ago, winning such prestigious events as the Breeders’ Cup Classic and the Pegasus World Cup?
Well, yes. But once upon a time, a long time ago, there was a different racehorse by the name of Arrogate. Although today he is a footnote to history, overshadowed by the latest and greatest Arrogate, in the 1950s this earlier version similarly carried the name Arrogate with aplomb and simultaneously carried a famous jockey into the history books.
Like his modern-day counterpart, the original Arrogate — born in 1951 — was based in California. But unlike the recent globe-trotting superstar, whose entire career spanned 11 races, the older Arrogate was a tough-as-nails warhorse who competed 83 times over the course of seven seasons, accumulating 20 victories and earnings of $226,545.
The two Arrogates differed in another major way. The Arrogate of the 21st century seemed to have a clear disdain for Del Mar, where he lost his final three starts in prominent stakes races to close his career. The same couldn’t be said for the original Arrogate, who relished the seaside oval to such an extent that he won back-to-back renewals of the Del Mar Handicap.
As a 2-year-old, the Arrogate of the 1950s raced for the high-profile team of Calumet Farm and trainer Jimmy Jones, winning two small stakes races before being culled from the Calumet racing stable.
As a result, the colt wound up achieving the majority of his success for Mr. and Mrs. Dick Griegorian, with Reggie Cornell (a two-time leading trainer at Del Mar) conditioning the son of Goya II.
Arrogate was slow to mature and didn’t truly rise to prominence until his 4-year-old season, but his subsequent accomplishments were well worth the wait. Arrogate first signaled his improving form when finishing second by a nose against Trigonometry in the 1955 San Diego Handicap at Del Mar, run in the track record time of 1:41 1/5 for 1 1/16 miles.
This effort served as a perfect prep for Arrogate’s first foray in the Del Mar Handicap, then contested at 1 1/8 miles on dirt. It was there, with a near-record crowd of 22,486 in attendance, that the name Arrogate first became associated with the talent of an elite racehorse.
Arrogate and his Hall of Fame rider Johnny Longden had to pull out all the stops to prevail against a deep and competitive field. The pace was set by Bobby Brocato, future winner of the 1956 Santa Anita Handicap, and when Arrogate pulled up alongside Bobby Brocato with a quarter-mile remaining, the two talented stakes winners locked together in a heated battle to the finish line.
“As the horses came down to the wire their heads were nodding in opposite directions,” wrote Maurice Bernard in the Sept. 6, 1955 edition of the San Francisco Examiner, “and it was evident that the result would be decided on the nod. It was. And Arrogate’s nose was there at precisely the right time.”
Arrogate’s rapid final time of 1:47 2/5 equaled the track record, a highlight for the Labor Day fans who wagered $1,527,500 on the holiday races, setting a record for Del Mar. But Arrogate was far from finished —one year later, he would play a pivotal role in an even more glorious triumph.
When Labor Day 1956 rolled around, Johnny Longden was on the verge of breaking a world record. With 4,868 wins to his credit, Longden trailed world leader Sir Gordon Richards of England by just two victories. With a big afternoon at Del Mar, Longden could claim the record as his own.
Again, a large crowd turned out — 21,945 fans. Again, wagering records fell as $1,536,600 churned through the betting windows. Longden did his part, winning two races early on the card to equal Richards’ record. Then it was post time for the Del Mar Handicap, in which Longden would team up with Arrogate in a bid for history.
One more time, Arrogate had to dig deep in a dramatic stretch battle. Honeys Alibi, a fresh 4-year-old coming off a victory in the San Diego Handicap, pushed the defending Del Mar Handicap champion to his limit.
But Arrogate, seemingly feeling the importance of the occasion, pushed beyond his limits and somehow — somehow! — thrust his nose across the finish line in first place, tenaciously lowering the track record to 1:47 flat.
For both horse and rider, the Del Mar Handicap was a career-defining triumph. Arrogate became the first horse to win the Del Mar Handicap in back-to-back years and remained the only runner to do so for more than half a century. Longden, in turn, brought the title of world’s winningest jockey to the United States, and fittingly did so while wearing the red, white, and blue silks of the Griegorians.
“Immediately [Longden] was engulfed in the winner’s circle,” noted the Sept. 4, 1956 edition of the Arizona Daily Star. “By his wife, his family, his little 2-year-old granddaughter … by track officials, and even by his rival jockeys …”
Maybe the original Arrogate didn’t achieve quite the same level financial success as the acclaimed champion Arrogate of 2016-’17. But that didn’t stop the “other Arrogate” from helping to make history in his own special way.