Arrogate Set for Pacific after Del Mar Flop

Bob BaffertArrogate is reportedly back on track after his flop at Del Mar and is aiming to run in the $1 million Pacific Classic on August 19. His trainer Bob Baffert believes he has successfully retuned his star colt as he produced a bullet last week and an encouraging performance over seven furlongs on August 8 that suggested he had progressed.

On July 22 Arrogate proved that there is no such thing as a certainty in horse racing when he started as the 1/20 favorite in the betting for the $300,000 TVG San Diego Handicap under Mike Smith and finished with only one horse behind him. The top earning Breeders’ Cup, Pegasus and Dubai World Cup winning colt was beaten 15 lengths by Accelerate (8/1) sent out by John Sadler.

The ‘bridge jumpers’ got crushed and some of the US offshore sportsbooks, who accommodated those heavy odds-on wagers, hit an unlikely jackpot.

Accelerate lives up to his name

Owned by Hronis racing and ridden by Victor Espinoza rather than his regular jockey Tyler Baze, Sadler decided to use blinkers on the four-year-old Accelerate, a son of Lookin At Lucky, for the first time at Del Mar.

Sadler mentioned in an interview before the race that if Arrogate failed to bring his ‘A game’ to the track that his colt would have a chance, undoubtedly hoping that the blinkers would sharpen him up. Sadler seemed to be having a joke about the possibility of winning rather than expecting to collect the prize money for first place.

The Doug O’Neill trained Donworth (25/1) finished second, beaten eight and a half lengths under Mario Gutierrez. Baffert’s second-string Cat Burglar (18/1) who had beaten Accelerate in the Precisionist Stakes in June was two and a half lengths further back in third leaving Arrogate to take fourth. The 31/1 outsider of the field, Peter Miller’s El Huerfano, was last by some distance after everything went wrong for him.

What happened to Arrogate at Del Mar?

Accelerate was rather reluctant to enter stall one but Arrogate strolled into gate three with his ears pricked looking very relaxed. Espinoza urged Accelerate forward as soon as the gates opened and took the lead, determined to use his promising draw and grab the rail.

Smith was absolutely motionless on Arrogate who broke well, allowing the more actively ridden Donworth and Cat Burglar drawn on his outside to pass him. The five-year-old El Huerfano almost fell out of gate two, stumbling on to his knuckles. His rider Evin Roman did well to maintain the partnership but lost both his stirrups.

By the first turn Donworth was a close second to Accelerate with Cat Burglar half a length further back in third. Roman steered El Huerfano very wide as he tried to regain his stirrups leaving Arrogate at the rear of the pack, three lengths behind the leader. As Roman battled with his errant tack El Huerfano took advantage of his rider’s lack of control, briefly challenging the leader. Smith was content to canter round at the back, about seven lengths off the pace after half a mile, probably encountering the full force of downward kickback.

Shortly before they took the turn for home Smith finally realized that the pack was getting away, he started to push Arrogate with his hands and heels but did not receive a world-beating response. Espinoza had kicked for home well before the turn on Accelerate, gaining a significant advantage over his closest pursuers that increased in the stretch as his colt gamely ran all the way to the wire. El Huerfano had emptied after his premature challenge for the lead and was tailed off.

Espinoza must have wanted to look over his shoulder to see where the favorite was but chose to keep his head down and ride all the way to the line. He can be forgiven for excitedly punching the air to celebrate an impossible-looking victory.

Before the race the general consensus was that Arrogate would only have to turn up to win with ease. The super-sized gray colt should not have been inconvenienced by carrying the topweight of nine stone, nine pounds more than the winner. Arrogate looked race fit and ready as you would expect from any Baffert trainee.

Was Arrogate simply having a bad day, hating the kickback, or was there a physical issue that could explain his disappointing show?

Why did Arrogate disappoint?

Various reasons have been considered for Arrogate’s flop. One of the more convincing of them is that Smith and everyone else around the colt was so confident that he would win that the necessary energy did not flow. There was no sense of urgency in any aspect of Arrogate’s performance and Smith has to be held responsible for that. Returning to the race track after a break, Smith probably did not want to get his mount too lit up by pushing him early on but overplayed the ‘keep him relaxed’ approach.

Was Arrogate suffering from a physical problem at Del Mar? Nothing will slow a horse down like pain in a foreleg, Arrogate’s usually ultra-consistent former rival California Chrome failed to show on his swansong and was obviously slightly lame afterwards. There were no reports of a physical issue that would explain Juddmonte’s star colt’s disappointing performance. Arrogate’s subsequent work suggests that he was not carrying an injury so that line of investigation can probably be ruled out.

Baffert mentioned shortly after the race that being close to the pace at Del Mar is important. He also reported that Arrogate finished with a lot of kickback in his eyes and nostrils. Was that a wake-up call for Mike Smith to ride him more prominently and avoid the kickback next time?

Some horses are completely unaffected by the unpleasant sensation of sand and the other elements of an artificial racing surface landing in their faces whilst others understandably hate it. Arrogate may be in the latter category. His recent workouts have been kickback free.

Baffert has also diplomatically suggested that he may not have done enough work with Arrogate before Del Mar but that seems very unlikely. His prior mention of more prominent tactics being desirable at the track suggest that he has chosen to take some blame himself as a trainer as he does not want to criticize Smith.

Whatever the reason for Arrogate’s Del Mar flop we can expect to see him ridden much more prominently in the Pacific Classic.