Bob Baffert has been his quotable self all this week at Meydan, where the Hall of Fame trainer is preparing odds-on favorite Arrogate and $4 million-earning second stringer Hoppertunity for Saturday’s Dubai World Cup (G1).
On Friday, Baffert told the Dubai Racing Club notes team that Arrogate is smart enough to know what’s coming.
“We try to keep him as quiet as we can. He knows that, with the way we’ve been bringing him along, that he’s getting close to a race, and he thought maybe he was going to work today,” Baffert said.
“If he could talk to me and tell me, ‘Bob you might want to do this, it would be a lot of help,’ that would be one thing, but he can’t, so it’s up to me and my team, Jimmy and Dana Barnes, who helped me get this horse here.”
Despite Arrogate’s towering over the field on paper, Baffert emphasizes that the $10 million race is anything but a foregone conclusion for the Juddmonte Farms superstar.
“It’s a huge challenge; I don’t think it’s going to be easy. There are some really nice horses here, and you’ve got horses from Japan and everywhere and you just don’t know who is going to do what in the race. There is a lot of speed and all that, but (the winner will be) whoever shows up that night.
“I do believe I have the best horse. My job is to make sure that I give him that chance (to win). The pressure comes from making sure that I do everything in my will to let him be at the top of his game.”
Knowing how many things can go wrong, Baffert’s taking nothing for granted.
“We’ve got to stay focused now. Until he gets in the gate and gets the job done in the race, I’m going to be a nervous wreck.
“You need racing luck. He has to break well and everything has to go right. This will be his toughest test. But he’s a big strong horse, and if he shows up and runs his race, he wins it.”
Two key figures in the Juddmonte brain trust, racing managers Garrett O’Rourke (for North America) and Teddy Grimthorpe (for Europe), are observing Arrogate up close on the scene.
“Everything seems well with him,” O’Rourke said. “He seems to be pushing all the right buttons and enjoying his celebrity status. He had a nice, easy swagger this morning.”
Grimthorpe put the whole experience in context.
“This is the reason we come into this sport – these are the great moments,” Grimthorpe said. “To see him looking so good and to see him standing there with that sort of look of eagles – isn’t this exciting? It really is.”
Assistant-cum-exercise rider Dana Barnes has likewise given Arrogate a glowing report card.
“Just perfect” was how she summed up Arrogate’s Monday breeze over a half-mile.
“He was a little aggressive early on, so I kind of geared down on him a little, but Bob told me (via a radio connection) to pick it up a little. I was afraid to pick it up too much because he can go from zero to 60 pretty quick.
“His stride is just unbelievable. I’ve never ridden him on any track that he didn’t handle, and he was just beautiful yesterday. And he bounced back to the barn – he doesn’t usually do that on the way home, but he was bouncing yesterday.”
Arrogate and Hoppertunity are both happy visitors.
“He and Arrogate both love the big windows in the back of their stalls,” Barnes said. “They look out those windows and watch everything. They are really doing great.”
In fact, Hoppertunity has been doing so well that Baffert has taken to calling him his “exacta horse,” ready to complete the second half of the wager with Arrogate.
“Hoppertunity is thriving over here,” Baffert said, adding on another occasion that he’s “training better than he ever has, and he really loves it here.”
Invoking a Pac-Man reference, Baffert noted that Hoppertunity “just keeps coming and gobbling up ground and getting checks, and you never know – one day he could get there (to win).”