Breeders’ Cup Finale: One More Run And Arrogate’s Done

Mike SmithArrogate will retire to stud at Lexington after attempting to defend his Breeders’ Cup Classic title on November 4 at Del Mar. His owners Juddmonte Farms have not yet provided details of his stud fee.

Arrogate was bred by Clearsky Farms and sold for $560,000 as a yearling. Clearsky will be hoping more than anyone that he can conjure up a win on his final run. Trained by Bob Baffert, there has been positive news on the preparation for Arrogate’s final race.

He worked a bullet at Santa Anita Park on Tuesday over five furlongs. Now a four-year-old, Arrogate is still the world’s highest rated and top earning racehorse but Steve Asmussen’s Gun Runner is the favorite in the Classic betting as Arrogate has been beaten in his last two starts.

This outsized four-year-old gray son of Unbridled’s Song was an unstoppable force of nature until his flop in the TVG San Diego Handicap at Del Mar in July. Arrogate started as the 1/20 favorite and was beaten 15 lengths by John Sadler’s Accelerate. His regular jockey Mike Smith rode him as if he could not lose, holding him up at the back of the pack and was surprised to find no response when he asked for a gear change a quarter mile from home.

US bettors treated Arrogate with more caution next time at the same track in August. He was the 7/10 favorite in the TVG Pacific Classic Stakes but was beaten half a length by his barnmate Collected, the 3/1 second favorite. Smith kept him up with the pace, just wide of the leaders but the turbo was not working, especially when Arrogate was asked to run through kickback.

On the positive side it was a massive improvement on his previous performance when he finished with only one horse behind him. In the Pacific Arrogate finished nearly four lengths in front of the third placed Accelerate.

Whatever happens in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, Arrogate’s past achievements make him one of the best horses in living memory. The extent of his talent emerged when he was tried over a mile and a quarter in the Travers Stakes at Saratoga in August last year. Arrogate won ridiculously easily from the front by 13 lengths and broke the track record without appearing to break a sweat.

Arrogate followed up by beating the legend that was California Chrome half a length in the Classic. Next was the inaugural Pegasus World Cup which was a cakewalk for him although the disappointing performance of California Chrome helped to enhance his reputation. It was no fluke. In the Dubai World Cup in March Arrogate was drawn wide and got into trouble in running early on but still managed to win impressively, beating Gun Runner two lengths.

Four months later the story line changed dramatically in the San Diego Handicap. Did Smith get the tactics wrong or was Arrogate’s talent diminished by a physical issue? Yes, Smith could probably have done better but Baffert clearly had not warned him that he should expect less from Arrogate.

A horse with earnings of over $17 million rated well above his rivals has to be taken seriously, especially when he is working well at home.

Why Has Arrogate Disappointed?

If there is no undisclosed physical issue then the most likely reason for Arrogate’s poor recent performance is probably the effect of his last victory. The Dubai World Cup looked great but it was an uncharacteristically hard race for a colt who was used to winning easily. Mike Smith had to get busy to make up lost ground and that experience may well have reduced Arrogate’s enthusiasm for racing.

It was hard work for him and the whip was deployed as the dirt flew into his eyes and nose. Horses are not stupid, they remember their nightmares and that might have been one for Arrogate. Simply facing kickback could trigger a memory that takes top gear and enthusiasm off the agenda. Arrogate would not be the first or last horse who was never the same after one gut-busting race.

That theory seems particularly feasible as Baffert reported that Arrogate lost a lot of weight after his last run suggesting that anxiety is now an issue for him. Relaxed, arrogant superstars do not stress but Arrogate probably does now. Galileo’s progeny are renowned for their ability to recover from adversity but Unbridled’s Song’s offspring are not.

The retirement plan has probably been announced for a reason. Arrogate retains the massive engine that has carried him to extraordinary victories but the determination to use it in a race may now be gone.

If Arrogate lines up in the Breeders’ Cup Classic and Smith dares to ride him positively in a kickback free zone he could redeem his reputation. Smith should know by now that he cannot rely on 100% commitment from this colt.

If no other contender tries to set a suicidal early pace Smith might try winning this race from the front. Arrogate is the class act here and if his mind is right he should show his class and win easily. The problem is the big ‘if’ around Arrogate’s mindset.

This star has an issue that has prevented him from performing in his previous two starts. Baffert should have figured out the source by now and given Smith advice on how to overcome it. Arrogate is the best horse in the race but his position in the Breeders’ Cup Classic betting accurately reflects his chances of retaining his title.