Fans eager for a rematch between Arrogate and California Chrome in the January 28 Pegasus World Cup Invitational (G1) got an early Christmas present Thursday afternoon. Arrogate’s owner, Juddmonte Farms, revealed the purchase of a spot in the starting gate for Gulfstream Park’s $12 million showdown.
According to the release picked up by several outlets, Juddmonte has obtained that spot from another world power in racing, Coolmore — but only for the 2017 Pegasus, not for future runnings.
Arrogate, who burst onto the scene with a record-smashing romp in the Travers (G1), came right back to upend California Chrome, North America’s all-time leading earner, in the November 5 Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1).
Aside from likely wrapping up champion three-year-old male honors, Arrogate also stated a last-minute case for Horse of the Year. California Chrome, the 2014 Horse of the Year, was in pole position for top 2016 honors after going unbeaten through the season, until he was collared in the final yards of the Classic by the whippersnapper Arrogate. The Eclipse electorate may still be inclined to stick with “Chrome,” but Arrogate may make a race of the Horse of the Year vote too.
That adds piquancy to a potential rematch between the top two from the Breeders’ Cup Classic. The Pegasus figures to be the only realistic chance, since California Chrome is scheduled to retire to the stallion life at Taylor Made thereafter. And interestingly, the Pegasus comes just one week after the January 21 Eclipse Awards gala, when the 2016 Horse of the Year will be crowned. If both line up in the Pegasus, the lead storyline will revolve around whether the Classic result will be confirmed – and many may interpret it as whether Horse of the Year were rightly decided.
While California Chrome has long aimed for the inaugural Pegasus World Cup, Arrogate’s status for the world’s now-richest race has been less clear. Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert has been noncommittal. Indeed, as Baffert just told the Blood-Horse’s Alicia Wincze-Hughes on Wednesday:
“You know, I’m still on the fence. I’m on the fence with everything, (the January 1 San Pasqual [G2]) or the big one (the Pegasus). The horse will tell me if he’s going to do it or not. We still don’t have a berth (in the Pegasus). If we owned a berth, that would be a different story but we don’t have one so we’re not in a desperate mode yet.
“If I see the slightest thing that I don’t want to run him, we’ll just play it by ear. But right now, I haven’t seen anything like that.”
Arrogate has certainly been training with intent at Santa Anita. After resuming with a couple of half-mile moves in early December, the son of Unbridled’s Song blazed five-eighths in a bullet :58.40 December 13 and on Wednesday drilled seven furlongs in 1:24.80. That surely would have been a bullet if he hadn’t been the only worker at the trip.
Now that Juddmonte has ironed out the logistics by securing a spot in the Pegasus, Arrogate’s way to a Gulfstream showdown is clear – with the constant proviso of his remaining healthy, sound, and giving Baffert all the right signals.
California Chrome promises to be at the top of his game in the 1 1/8-mile Pegasus, a furlong shorter than the Classic. Already shrugging off his Breeders’ Cup loss, the popular chestnut returned to crush his token opposition in last Saturday’s Winter Challenge at Los Alamitos, the race created expressly for him as a Pegasus prep. Chrome turned the 1 1/16-mile affair into a 12-length laugher, and established a new track record of 1:40.03, despite going extremely wide around the entire circuit.
As of this writing, fans can seriously entertain visions of Arrogate vs. Chrome, Round 2, dancing in their heads.