Anyone who had backed Arrogate, the 1/3 favorite in the 2017 $10 million Dubai World Cup, had to endure a nail-biting time on Saturday (March 25) before he achieved the most impressive win of his career.
Arrogate not only missed the break but immediately encountered traffic problems that checked his stride and left him languishing in last approaching the first turn.
He had to run wide and circle the field but still managed to cruise into the lead 200 metres from home and won going away, beating the gallant Gun Runner, the 7/1 second favorite, two and a quarter lengths. Steve Asmussen, trainer of the runner-up, must have thought that this was his big chance to take home some serious money after Arrogate’s poor start. The Todd Pletcher trainee Neolithic (25/1) finished third making it a 1-2-3 for US-based runners. Mubtaahij (16/1) who was runner-up here last year for his handler Mike De Kock finished fourth.
Arrogate’s trainer Bob Baffert thought that his star colt had blown his chances at the start and instantly began blaming himself for allowing him to run. He broke so badly that he believed the long journey must have taken the edge off him. It looked that way when he saw Arrogate 10 lengths off the pace with 13 horses to pass. Baffert assumed that his jockey, Mike Smith, would accept the situation and nurse him round and hope to ride him into a place.
Smith had a very different perspective. He thought that Arrogate was simply looking the wrong way when the gates opened. He had originally intended to get a position close to the pace but decided to adopt plan Z and ride him like Zenyatta. She was a superstar mare who always needed to be ridden patiently and only got beaten once, when Smith left her with far too much ground to make up in the Breeders’ Cup Classic in 2010.
Fortunately Smith did not try such exaggerated hold-up tactics on Arrogate and only sat quietly for a few strides to allow him to recover from his first experience of adversity in running. A gap in front of him had disappeared and Smith had to rein him back to avoid clipping heels. Having applied the brakes Smith gently asked him to get moving round the first turn and immediately started passing the troublesome stragglers at the rear of the pack.
Meanwhile Long River, a 50/1 shot had started sharply from stall two and was ridden forward by Mickael Barzalona to lead the pack into the first turn. Gun Runner took second under Florent Geroux having gained the spot that Smith was hoping to occupy close to the leader whilst Neolithic settled for third place, ridden by John Velasquez. Mubtaahij managed to slot into fourth and hug the rail after being drawn widest of all in gate 14. Awardee and Special Fighter were close behind.
They covered the first quarter in 24.8 as Arrogate gradually gathered speed. The order at the head of affairs was unchanged until half a mile out but Smith slowly unleashed the force of nature that is Arrogate whilst many concentrated on the action up front. Even Baffert admitted that his focus changed after the start to his second string, Hoppertunity who raced mid pack but finished in a disappointing sixth place.
With 550 metres left to run the monster that is Arrogate was in seventh place, about five lengths off the lead and caught four wide round the turn. As the leaders crossed the 400 metre line Arrogate’s awesome progress was noted by the race caller as he had gained momentum and seemed to be taking strides twice the length of the two more conventionally proportioned horses that remained in front of him, Gun Runner and Neolithic. He was understandably described as ‘the big A’ as he made them both look like ponies. Smith was crouched low in the saddle but he was not using his whip in the manner of a desperate man. He was confident that he had a Formula 1 engine purring beneath him and had only conventional compacts to overtake.
By the 300 metre line Arrogate had headed Neolithic and the writing was on the wall for Gun Runner who had a lead of less than a length. Arrogate was described as America’s ‘King Croesus’ as he claimed his final victim and cruised away from him under a now motionless Smith. Croesus was an ancient king of Lydia who was renowned for his phenomenal wealth.
The metaphor was well chosen as the win put Arrogate’s total earnings above the $17 million dollar mark, more than any US trained horse. That is particularly impressive when you remember that he is a four-year-old who was late to hit the track although the unprecedented prize fund of the $12 million Pegasus World Cup, his previous winning start, was a significant contributor to his bank account.
Forgetting the financial angle, this race showed Arrogate’s unquestionable superiority over the best dirt horses in training. Baffert was emotional afterwards and thought that anyone who could not appreciate his spectacular win was not a true racing fan.
The very best horses can achieve great things even when things go wrong and conditions are far from perfect. That was certainly the case on Saturday. A thunderstorm prior to racing caused chaos and resulted in worrying track conditions.
One race commentator was so impressed by the victory that he thought it was possibly the most spectacular Dubai World Cup to date, and there have been more than 20 of them. Only Dubai Millennium’s victory from the front in 2000 came close for him.
After everything had gone wrong for Arrogate his connections were left contemplating the inestimable talent of their outsized son of Unbridled’s Song. The plan is now to give him a break to recover from his travels and to prepare him for the Breeders’ Cup Classic. His owner Prince Khalid Abdullah likes to target the race for obvious reasons and must be delighted to have the dirt equivalent of his turf star Frankel. Arrogate’s reputation has been enhanced and he deserves his position as the 4/5 favorite for the Breeders’ Cup Classic.