On the morning following Arrogate's stakes record-smashing performance in the Grade 1, $1.25 million Travers presented by NYRA Bets at Saratoga Race Course, Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert had nothing but accolades for his new stable star.
“I watched the race again a couple of times and I still can't believe the way he kept on rolling. It was just incredible,” he marveled. “You're always hoping that they're that good. I knew he was good, but I didn't know he was really, really that kind of good.”
Arrogate, whom Baffert picked out of the Keeneland September Sale as a yearling and was purchased by Juddmonte Farms for $560,000, was asked to step all the way up from the optional claiming/allowance ranks into Grade 1 competition against top-notch rivals in a crowded field of 13 Saturday.
The son of Unbridled's Song responded with brilliance, carving out blistering fractions under Hall of Fame rider Mike Smith as he completely crushed his competition and charged down the lane to win by a dominating 13 ½ lengths.
His final time of 1:59.36 for the 1 ¼-mile distance eclipsed General Assembly's Travers and track mark of 2:00 that had stood for 37 years.
Arrogate was stabled on the Saratoga backside in Barn 25; the same barn where trainer LeRoy Jolley housed General Assembly.
“To me, LeRoy Jolley is an icon. When I grew up I thought he looks like what a thoroughbred horse trainer is supposed to look like. He's up here, and he will always be that way to me,” Baffert said of his fellow Hall of Fame member while raising his arm high above his head.
Baffert, who recently ran older horses Dortmund and Hoppertunity in the Grade 1 Pacific Classic against multiple champions California Chrome and Beholder, said he originally planned to enter Arrogate in that race but the colt developed a mild virus, forcing him to change course. Arrogate then joined stablemate American Freedom, who finished second in the Travers under Rafael Bejarano, on the trip to Saratoga to take on fellow sophomores.
Even though the four-time Eclipse Award winner as Outstanding Trainer (1997,1998, 1999, 2015) has won 14 Triple Crown races, 12 Breeders' Cup events, the 2001 Travers with Point Given and 2,680 races overall, he said he felt like any other spectator watching Arrogate's exceptional effort.
“After he ran like that I was like everybody else, and thought 'Wow!' I was like a fan, thinking 'Wow! What did we just witness?'” he said.
Nevertheless, Baffert stopped far short of saying that Arrogate's record-setting performance made up for American Pharoah's loss – the only loss in his Horse of the Year campaign – in the 2015 Travers.
“A lot of people are saying this is redemption for last year, but I don't feel that way. I just came here to win a horse race,” said Baffert, who also won the Grade 1 King's Bishop with sprinter Drefong Saturday. “I also came in here to win the King's Bishop and to see how good these horses are. Last year was more about showing off American Pharoah to Saratoga and letting the fans see him run. He's such a great horse. When we got beat, I felt like we let down the town, the crowd, and the horse. I felt bad for the horse. We still miss him.”
He also wasn't ready to elevate Arrogate, now a winner of four of his five starts, into American Pharoah's class.
“Maybe this horse will take the sting out of not having him around. What we saw yesterday, at least it gave us a little hope. Every time I have a horse like Pharoah, when he leaves, I think, damn, I'll never have anything again close to him at all, and then this horse goes out and does that. I'm not going to crown him yet, but at least he's got us excited and something to think about. But there will never be another Pharoah.”
Arrogate is on course to replicate American Pharoah's path from the Travers straight to the Breeders' Cup and Baffert has an embarrassment of riches for the $6 million Classic. Arrogate, Dortmund, Hoppertunity, American Freedom and Cupid are eligible to represent the barn.
“I don't know yet what I'm going to do with American Freedom. I'll go back and figure it out,” he said. “I've trained all of these horses and I know where I stand with all of them. I can tell. I knew this horse [Arrogate] was a really, really good horse but we had never set him down. He can run with those other horses [in the Classic].”
Baffert was also high on Drefong's win in the King's Bishop.
“Drefong came back great. He smoked out of there and did his thing,” he said. “That was pretty neat to watch him run. The plan for him is the Breeders' Cup Sprint.”
Arrogate, American Freedom, Jazzy Times and Drefong all head back to Baffert's barn at Del Mar Monday morning. Arrogate, particularly, gives him good reason to look forward.
“I'm surprised at the way he's getting better because a lot of those Unbridled's Songs can get a little hot, get a little anxious. As long as you keep them happy, they're fine. So we're just going to keep him happy and keep that motor running. Yesterday he got to rev it up pretty good,” he said.
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