October 23, 2018

Arrogate’s rise to greatness historically unconventional, but true

Arrogate was last after a tardy start, but all alone in front at the finish of the 2017 Dubai World Cup (Dubai Racing Club/Mathea Kelley)

In the wake of Arrogate‘s jaw-dropping performance in Saturday’s Dubai World Cup (G1), all but a few dead-enders are willing to affix the term “great” to the son of Unbridled’s Song. I could spend precious time speculating how many of, or who among, the greats or so-called greats could have replicated that effort with the kind of trouble Arrogate endured in the first hundred yards, but I’ll just leave it at “few.”

Where Arrogate ranks among the greats is now the hot topic. In some respects, it’s still rather premature to take a swing at this since he still has two, maybe three, races left on his plate. Assessing a horse’s legacy is generally best left to when their racing days are over.

When that day comes, it won’t necessarily be easier because the standards are so different now than in the past. The dead-enders will inevitably hold their nose up at the limited number of career starts Arrogate will have made, plus throw in increasingly archaic criteria like weight carried.

Believe me, I wish all of that were not so. The sport would be better and more interesting if horses were generally campaigned as they were 30 or more years ago. Not only would it be more fun, assessing the relative quality of the sport’s champions over time would presumably involve a lot less guesswork. Alas, times have changed, if not for the better.

As I wrote last fall after the Breeders’ Cup, it’s past due to embrace the change that has occurred because the old days aren’t coming back. For the owners of the world’s very best Thoroughbreds, it’s a buyer’s market in terms of which races to compete in and how many. Precision-like targeting by horsemen and stealth campaigns are the new norm. Arrogate, like Ghostzapper a little more than a decade ago, is a poster child for this.

Speaking of Ghostzapper, he’s seemingly the proper frame of reference that Arrogate should be compared to. As one of those who believe Ghostzapper the most capable male performer on dirt this century, Arrogate, just on what we’ve seen in only four stakes appearances, belongs in the discussion.

What about American Pharoah? While winning the Triple Crown is meritorious, he made just one start against open company. It was a brilliant win, too, but not quite enough evidence to make a strong comparison. Perhaps he’s not far behind Ghostzapper and Arrogate.

Whether Arrogate is the best since Secretariat, as some have pontificated, seems highly unlikely. Seattle Slew, Affirmed, and Spectacular Bid were who they were, while Alysheba, Sunday Silence, and Easy Goer in their prime remain among the best Thoroughbreds I ever watched on a television screen. Unfortunately, no readily available or accurate speed figures can help make that case for me.

There are and will be no right answers as to where Arrogate ranks now or later among the all-time greats. There will, however, be a lot of wrong answers at the suggestion there have been more than one or two better male dirt performers seen in the past quarter century.

8 Comments on Arrogate’s rise to greatness historically unconventional, but true

  1. I agree with you but you must include Zenyata,Personal Ensign,Dr.Fagor,Citation and Frankle in the discussion!
    My point being We should just enjoy the great,smell the roses and enjoy the sport because there are many great but not as near as the number of opinions on the matter!

  2. This horse is the best I have seen in my 85 years.I Love Secretariat but this animal is incredible.I Don`t understand his blood lines at this time.

    • That’s a good enough assessment for me ! .. Ive only been watching the big ‘dirt races’ for approx 25 years and I don’t think that I’ve seen better. His stride is simply jaw dropping

  3. I did a fairly in-depth study, using my own pace figures and assessing, somewhat superficially, the competition each of the greats faced (like an idiot, I totally forgot to include Ghostzapper), but I have to admit: I think Arrogate compares favorably.

  4. Having seen some pretty decent horses run in the past sixty years,ie. Dr. Fager, Kelso, Forego who beat top competition while conceding twenty to twenty five lbs to their competition, I find it difficult for anyone to say it’s archaic.
    I remember Bold Ruler giving Clem twenty lbs in the 1 1/4 Surbuban Hcp. and battling him the length of the stretch to beat him. And, Clem was no slouch.

    • It’s archaic in the sense that no Thoroughbred in this country will likely ever be asked to carry such imposts, thus to negatively judge horses of today and the future with horses of yesteryear on that criteria is unfair.

      I’ve long lamented the gradual demise of handicaps and the elimination of weight-carrying as a criteria for greatness, which isn’t coming back. You’re very fortunate to have been a witness to that wonderful era, most of which occurred before my time.

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