Arrogate Stakes Breeders’ Cup Classic Claim in Travers Romp

Mike SmithArrogate totally destroyed a strong field in the Travers Stakes on Saturday in the fastest time ever recorded in the race at Saratoga, and it has a history going back almost 150 years. Trained by Bob Baffert, the colt beat his stablemate American Freedom by a breath-taking thirteen and a half lengths.

Arrogate broke the mile and a quarter race and track record of exactly two minutes by over half a second, posting a time of 1 minute 59.36 seconds. A massive winning distance always looks great but the record-breaking time suggests that the victory was something very special.

The winning jockey, Mike Smith (pictured) barely broke a sweat on the 11.7/1 shot. He took the lead from American Freedom by the first turn and kept it, setting fractions that might have been considered too fast if Arrogate had weakened. He did not, appearing to enjoy every yard of the distance, effortlessly powering away from his closest rival in the stretch.

Smith admitted after the race that he had trouble getting Arrogate to start but that when he got running he was incredibly impressive, especially when he lengthened his stride in the stretch. Smith said that he had to keep riding to the line because the colt was so immature that he was looking around every third stride and half-way thinking about pulling up.

Smith had ridden the colt’s ‘unbelievably talented father’, Unbridled’s Song and thought that Arrogate, who looks just like him, could be even better. Arrogate immediately became the second favorite in the Breeders’ Club Classic at around 4/1 with the top US-friendly sportsbooks behind the mighty California Chrome.

Connections of the third placed Gun Runner trained by Steven Asmussen were pleased with their colt’s performance. They thought he had run well but had the misfortune to encounter a ‘freak’. Gun Runner had been drawn wide of the unusually large field of 13, the biggest for over 30 years, and might have finished second if things had gone better for him.

It was Bob Baffert who literally had the luck of the draw on the day. Arrogate started from stall one, right next to American Freedom in stall two and was kept tight to the rail by Smith, not wasting a yard.

The Travers Stakes 5/2 favorite, Keith Desormeaux’s Preakness winner and Kentucky Derby runner-up Exaggerator, was held up at the back of the field during most of the race by Kent Desormeaux as usual but had only two horses behind him when he crossed the line. Before the race his trainer had insisted that he did not need a sloppy track to win, but needed a good pace to run at.

Exaggerator certainly had a fast pace to chase but this time the scorching pacesetter did not come back to him. Exaggerator’s three Grade 1 wins have all been on sloppy tracks and the fast conditions at Saratoga did not seem to suit him.

The Travers field included the first and second places horses from the Belmont Stakes too, Creator and Destin. Creator, the winner of the Belmont and the Arkansas Derby, finished seventh, beaten 22 lengths. He had been held up as usual by Irad Ortiz and, while he should not have been compromised by the track conditions, could not get anywhere near the winner.

Todd Pletcher’s Destin was kept closer to the pace by Javier Castellano but probably got tired and weakened in the final quarter mile, finishing ninth, beaten 31 lengths.  This son of Giant’s Causeway cost $400,000 as a yearling at Keenelands and had already repaid his purchase price, winning the Tampa Bay Derby and a Grade 3 at the same track.

Arrogate cost his owner, Juddmonte Farms $560,000 as a yearling at the same sale and was not expected by many to carry their colors to victory. This stunning gray colt had not been put into graded stakes company before.

The large framed Arrogate had not managed to hit the track as a two-year-old and was a late entry for the Travers. He had reportedly been showing plenty of speed at home but this was the first time he had shown exceptional ability in a race.

Instead, Arrogate cut his teeth on the racetrack winning three small races in California by unspectacular distances – two optional claimers and a special weight maiden. He was beaten once, first time out. Bettors had not chosen to support him with any confidence at Saratoga, despite the quality of his connections, hence the double-figure odds.

After Smith was told that Arrogate had smashed the track record he mentioned that Baffert had ‘been very high on him’. His interviewers then quoted Baffert claiming that he had said that this immature colt would be much better as a four-year-old. Baffert commented after the race that Arrogate looked ‘like a superstar in the making’ admitting that similar demonstrations of superior ability were ‘very rare’.

The victory certainly meant a lot to Baffert. The same race a year ago had been emotional for totally different reasons when his stable star, American Pharoah the 7/20 favorite, finished second to Keen Ice.

Baffert remembered that most of the town had come to the track to cheer American Pharoah home, expecting a performance similar to the surprise one of Arrogate.

If Arrogate’s performance in the Travers Stakes was not a one-off, and the clock tends not to lie, then he could well give California Chrome’s connections something to think about in the Breeders’ Cup Classic.