Going into Saturday’s $10 million Dubai World Cup (G1), trainer Bob Baffert said that this would be the “toughest test” for Arrogate. Little did the Hall of Famer know how prophetic his words were, or what his once-beaten champion would have to do to prevail – to become North America’s all-time richest Thoroughbred with earnings of $17,084,600, and to qualify for that priceless designation, greatness.
After a slow start that saw him bumped repeatedly and relegated to last, the 1-9 favorite found himself farther back than he’d ever been before in his brief career. It wasn’t hopeless, but it didn’t look good. The Juddmonte Farms star had a lot to overcome from an unpromising early position for Hall of Fame rider Mike Smith.
“When I was watching it,” Baffert said, “I thought ‘I hope Mike takes care of him’, maybe I shouldn’t have come here, it’s unbelievable what he did. I was actually listening to the crowd and everybody was thinking, ‘oh, he has no chance.’”
The unflappable Smith kept his cool under intense pressure.
“Bob had a heart attack last time he was here (in Dubai in 2012) and I think I had one too,” Smith said. “I had to hit my heart about three times to get it pumping after that start.
“I honestly told myself, you know I rode the great mare Zenyatta and when I got away so bad, I thought ‘you know what buddy, you can do it just like she did.’ She used to run from back there and I know he can do anything.”
Then on the run down the backstretch, you could see the Juddmonte pink cap moving up gradually, until he was drafting just behind stablemate Hoppertunity. Few could have predicted that deep-closing Hoppertunity would be ahead of Arrogate in the early stages, but at least the favorite had regrouped enough to give himself a shot.
“He was slipping and sliding from the word go,” Smith recounted of his looking for his footing on Meydan’s muddy track. “Once I got to the outside and he was straightened out, he leveled out. And I made up five lengths so quick, I thought OK, we are here.”
Meanwhile, longshot Long River had been leading the way, tracked by Gun Runner and Neolithic. Mubtaahij, drawn in post 14, was masterfully guided into a ground-saving fourth by Christophe Soumillon.
When Long River gave way, Gun Runner took command rounding the far turn and made his bid for glory. But a big gray machine was unwinding widest of all, lengthening stride and passing rivals inexorably – Arrogate.
Once they straightened for home, Arrogate had Gun Runner in his sights. The admirable Gun Runner kept on motoring with enough gusto to win most World Cups. This one, however, had Arrogate.
As though nothing had ever gone amiss, as if he had only now begun to run in earnest, Arrogate went into overdrive, overwhelmed Gun Runner, and drew off by 2 1/4 lengths. And he did so in hand, with an insouciance that seemed to rib all of us who held our collective breath after the start.
“Unbelievable,” Baffert said. “This is the greatest horse we have seen since Secretariat. Unbelievable.
“That was an incredible performance. When he turned for home, he started to give and maybe I thought ‘this is it.’ He did that. That is the best I have ever seen in my life.”
Smith used similar terms to describe the indescribable.
“It was an extremely incredible performance,” the Hall of Fame rider said.
“I had plenty of horse at the end.”
Smith would have had more horse at the beginning, if not for a miscue with the assistant starter that got Arrogate off on a troubled note.
“I don’t know if the guy misunderstood me,” Smith said, “but I said ‘make sure you keep his head straight.’ And then he got out instead. My horse just didn’t realize he had to break. But you know what? Things happen for a reason.
“I’m just so blessed, God has blessed me so much, to give me a horse like this towards the end of my career is just, I’m lost for words, I’m going to break down and cry.
“He is the best I have ever been on, he truly is. He is the world’s horse now.”
Officially the world’s top-ranked racehorse of 2016 after beating California Chrome in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) and crushing the Travers (G1), Arrogate continued his streak in the world’s richest race, the newly minted $12 million Pegasus World Cup (G1), January 28 at Gulfstream Park. Now he’s added the world’s previously richest race to extend his winning skein to seven from eight starts.
Gun Runner, five lengths clear in second, produced yet another terrific effort.
“He ran into a buzzsaw,” co-owner Ron Winchell said. “I thought we had a chance there when Arrogate was left in the back, but he ran great to be second. He always tries.”
“Gun Runner shows up,” trainer Steve Asmussen said. “We’re very proud of him and very fortunate to be associated with him and the class that he shows under any circumstance. Florent (Geroux) gave him a great ride and gave him the best shot he could and he was second-best today. I think that everybody admires the qualities that this colt has.”
Geroux commented how well Gun Runner was going, all the way to the line.
“On the last turn, Long River started to back out and we took the lead and my horse was going really easily,” his regular rider said. “He started flicking his ears back and forth and was cruising. I waited as long as I could – almost until the eighth-pole – but Arrogate went by me. Gun Runner was trying and was fighting with him all the way to the end. He’s still getting better and before I wasn’t sure about the 2000 meters, but now as he’s improving I think it’s fine.”
Indeed, it was a genuine pace for the about 1 1/4-mile distance, which Arrogate completed in 2:02.15. That was just off California Chrome’s track record of 2:01.83, contested on a more typical fast track last year. Arrogate may have eclipsed it in different circumstances, but he left that honor to “Chrome” after surpassing him for the earnings record.
Hall of Fame rider John Velazquez, who guided third-placer Neolithic, was “very happy with his run” but blown away by Arrogate.
“We were beaten by two better horses, and the winner – my God he is out of this world,” Velazquez said.
Mubtaahij checked in fourth behind the all-American trifecta. His performance was respectable, particularly coming off a single prep run in an interrupted preparation for Mike de Kock.
“If he had one more run under his belt maybe he could have been third,” jockey Christophe Soumillon said, “but he’s a nice horse and gives everything.”
Awardee fared best of the Japanese team in fifth. Baffert’s secondary hope, Hoppertunity, was unable to duplicate his third from a year ago and wound up sixth. Keen Ice, Lani, Apollo Kentucky, Move Up, Long River, Special Fighter, Furia Cruzada, and a tailed-off Gold Dream concluded the order under the wire.
Baffert indicated that Arrogate will now get a richly deserved vacation. With a projected return in late summer, the son of Unbridled’s Song will aim for a title defense in the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Del Mar.
“America’s King Croesus of horse racing,” as track announcer Terry Spargo dubbed Arrogate in his final World Cup call, stands to get even richer.