Champion Arrogate, on a retrieval mission in Saturday’s $1 million Pacific Classic (G1) after a listless display in the San Diego (G2), turned in his third successive strong move at Del Mar on Monday.
Working solo beneath Martin Garcia, the Bob Baffert trainee sped through fractions of :24.20 and :35.40 and finished his half-mile in :47.60, tying for the second-fastest of 56 at the distance on the day.
But Arrogate wasn’t done yet while rolling through a double gallop-out. After five furlongs in 1:00, the gray made it six in 1:14.20.
There was one thing, however, of potential import. Garcia had a “slight issue with the colt changing leads nearing the eighth pole,” as Del Mar publicity phrased it. He had his head cocked to the right leaving the far turn, and appeared a bit awkward as Garcia persuaded him onto the right lead in upper stretch, but he quickly straightened out, and connections were unfazed by it.
“He just cruised around there,” Baffert said. “We’re set (for Saturday).”
Fellow Hall of Famer Mike Smith, who will be back aboard the Unbridled’s Song colt in the Pacific Classic, also liked what he saw from his perch in the grandstand.
“I thought he looked good,” Smith said. “He looked happy to me.”
That mental angle could be the most significant of all. While Arrogate’s physical ability is incontestable, his dull fourth in the San Diego raised questions about whether he was still interested in competing. Indeed, Smith reported that Arrogate wasn’t even trying.
Thus the Pacific Classic takes on added importance, not just as a “Win and You’re In” launching pad to the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) over the same track and 1 1/4-mile trip, but as a crucial test of Arrogate’s frame of mind. Will we see the devastating Arrogate of the 2016 Travers (G1) and Breeders’ Cup Classic, and this year’s Pegasus World Cup (G1) and Dubai World Cup (G1)?
Perhaps Arrogate hadn’t gotten out of vacation mode for the San Diego, his first start since Dubai, where he became North America’s all-time richest Thoroughbred with more than $17 million in earnings. He’d been working sharply for his return, but at Santa Anita. He did not get a tune-up at Del Mar prior to the San Diego, so maybe he was still getting his bearings at the seaside.
Arrogate has had his game face on, however, in his trio of works at Del Mar since his San Diego flop. Coming right back with a bullet half in :47.20 on August 1, he motored seven furlongs in 1:25.20 on August 8, and polished off his preparation Monday. In all three, Arrogate worked by himself, offering more encouragement that he’s still got zest.
Only the heat of battle can confirm it. His head carriage coming out of the turn on Monday, and lead change, will provide fodder for those probing for vulnerability.
Entries for the Pacific Classic will close Tuesday morning, with the draw to follow later that afternoon (3:30-5:30 p.m. PDT) at the Brigantine Restaurant.
The Pacific Classic will give Arrogate a rematch with San Diego romper Accelerate, who was receiving nine pounds from him last time. Now Accelerate meets Arrogate at level weights, and at 1 1/4 miles, a far better scenario for the champion than the San Diego’s 1 1/16 miles.
An additional wrinkle for Accelerate is Baffert’s other intended Pacific Classic starter, Collected, in the form of his life at present. A perfect three-for-three this season after crushing the Santana Mile, Californian (G2), and most recently the Precisionist (G3) by 14 lengths, Collected has the early speed to prevent Accelerate from getting away with a soft lead. Accelerate was a remote third to Collected in the Precisionist, never factoring from off the pace. But the John Sadler colt improved markedly when new rider, Hall of Famer Victor Espinoza, put him on the lead in the San Diego.
Doug O’Neill is expected to enter both Donworth, the San Diego runner-up, and Curlin Road, who will cut back in trip after his photo-finish score in the 1 1/2-mile Cougar II (G3).
Former O’Neill charge Royal Albert Hall, just claimed for $50,000 by Kristin Mulhall out of a fourth in a turf race, has been mentioned as a Pacific Classic possible. Plans were to be firmed up after his Monday work on the main track. Since he posted the bullet in :47, three-fifths faster than Arrogate, the British-bred turfer may have worked himself into an ambitious dirt debut.