Juddmonte Farms' Arrogate overcame a difficult inside post position, stalking the early leaders and powering away cleanly in the inaugural running of the world's richest horse race, the $12 million Pegasus World Cup. Despite coming eye-to-eye with Horse of the Year California Chrome down the backstretch, 4-year-old Arrogate was able to make his move around the far turn and romp by 4 3/4 lengths; California Chrome finished ninth after being hung wide on the first turn. Trainer Bob Baffert was emotional after the race, relaying that he won his first Grade 1 at Gulfstream Park. This time, the son of Unbridled's Song covered nine furlongs in 1:47.61 over the fast main track, coming to the wire just off the track record under jockey Mike Smith. Race creator Frank Stronach finished second with Shaman Ghost.
“He broke well, as well as he could,” Baffert said. “He just ran his race. I kept waiting for the matchup with Chrome, but he just didn't bring his race today. It's too bad.”
“There's a tremendous excitement for us to build up the rematch with California Chrome,” said Juddmonte's Garrett O'Rourke. “We're so proud to have a horse like Arrogate.”
As expected, Noble Bird took out for the early lead after a tremendous break from the gate. California Chrome appeared to be a bit slow from the gate in his outside post position (12), and Arrogate broke about as well as could be expected for a horse of his size. Mike Smith hustled Arrogate up to a spot just off the heels of Noble Bird, saving ground along the rail, while California Chrome had to expend a good deal of energy to rush toward the lead in the short run to the first turn. As the turn began, California Chrome was six paths off the rail, and as he continued to increase his speed, that path only decreased to being four-wide through the rest of the turn.
Neolithic also demonstrated great speed from the gate, ending up on the outside of Noble Bird in second as Arrogate was comfortably settled in third on the rail. Noble Bird set a first quarter fraction of :23.46. California Chrome made it to even terms with Arrogate at the top of the backstretch, and the two champions traveled stride for stride as they galloped along, tracking the leader through a half-mile in :46.14. Smith noted in his post-race interview that he could see jockey Victor Espinoza having to ask California Chrome to keep pace in the middle of the backstretch, and at that point said he began to believe that the big chestnut hadn't brought his “A-game” to the world's richest race.
“All this time, if (Mike Smith) could have been talking to me, telling me ‘don't worry Bob,' I'd have been a lot cooler,” joked Baffert after the race. The Hall of Fame trainer was concerned that if California Chrome were at his best, that Espinoza would have been able to trap Arrogate down on the rail approaching the far turn, delaying his final rally.
It was not to be. California Chrome dropped back just a bit just as Neolithic moved up to challenge Noble Bird, leaving room for Smith to tip Arrogate out and begin unleashing the gray colt's massive stride. Within a few jumps, Arrogate was even with Noble Bird and Neolithic, traveling three-wide to mark six furlongs in 1:09.80.
“Once I got out going into the far turn I knew we were going to be very tough to beat,” said Smith. “He had a lot of run today and I was very happy. As far as winning the world's richest race, I'm absolutely numb.”
Instead of rallying, California Chrome continued to lose ground through the turn. Espinoza tipped him to the outside and asked him for run a couple more times, but, receiving no visible response, the jockey intelligently wrapped up on the horse, thus saving California Chrome for his breeding career.
Meanwhile, Arrogate had blown past his rivals in the last part of the far turn, hitting the stretch an easy two-length leader. Smith never had to raise a hand as the immensely talented colt strode toward the wire with his ears pricked, flying home the record-setting winner of the world's richest horse race in just his seventh career start.
Shaman Ghost, meanwhile, closed from well back to finish second, 4 3/4 lengths behind Arrogate.
“I had a perfect trip,” said jockey Jose Ortiz, up on Shaman Ghost. “That's what we wanted to do, kind of be in the second group mid-pack and it worked out well. When I saw California Chrome at the half-mile pole getting done, I knew I had a good chance to run second or maybe win, but Arrogate drew off so I knew I got second. My horse was running really, really hard underneath of me and I couldn't get even close. In the end, [Arrogate jockey] Mike [Smith] wrapped up but it was a huge effort by my horse. I'm really, really impressed with how he ran. It was my first time on him and it was a great training job by Mr. Jerkens. I have to thank Mr. [Frank] Stronach and Jimmy for giving me this opportunity.”
The lightly-raced Neolithic ran a big race in holding on to finish third, while Keen Ice rallied from very far back to be fourth.
“For Neolithic we wanted to establish some position into the first turn and we wanted possibly to make the lead if he could the right way. When he didn't we thought he got into the spot we needed to be. I thought he ran really well,” said trainer Todd Pletcher. “Keen Ice got a little further back than we wanted. It seemed like it took him awhile to get on track. Finally in the last eighth of a mile he finished up well. It was one of things we were concerned about him was Gulfstream at a mile and eighth is probably not his perfect distance. He really is a mile and a quarter horse. It takes him awhile to get going. But I think he ran really well.”
War Story and Noble Bird followed the first four across the wire. California Chrome faded to ninth, beaten 29 1/2 lengths.
“California Chrome just wasn't himself today; he didn't break well,” said trainer Art Sherman. “But down the backstretch he had a chance, and no excuses.
“It's been an unbelievable journey with him, even in defeat. You have such a good run. Not every horse can keep the record up like he has.”
Back at Barn 2 after the race, California Chrome was cooling out and making laps around the shed row. According to TVG's Mike Joyce, Sherman said that the horse looked a bit off in his right front, but that it didn't appear to be anything serious. Plans were laid to have California Chrome examined once he arrives in Kentucky on Sunday.
“He faded by the half-mile pole,” Espinoza said of California Chrome. “I was pretty much done by that point, but the whole race he never really got into the race. I sent him from there to get position but I didn't want to get too wide, and I was perfect. I was just third and so nice and at the five-eighths pole I didn't feel like I had that power. There wasn't enough gas in there. He was empty. I hope he's OK.”
California Chrome was in the midst of an undefeated, record-setting season in 2016 until young upstart Travers winner Arrogate bested him in the Breeders' Cup Classic. Still, California Chrome is a two-time Horse of the Year, and holds the current record for richest North American racehorse in history with earnings of more than $14 million prior to Saturday's race. The son of modest parents was expected to make the Pegasus World Cup the final race of his career before retiring to part-owner Taylor Made Farm for stallion duty, where he will stand the 2017 season for a fee of $40,000.
Arrogate, on the other hand, jumped straight from allowance company to G1 competition with his effort in the 2016 Travers, where the son of Unbridled's Song broke a 37-year-old track record and won by more than 13 lengths. His next race wasn't until the Breeders' Cup Classic, in which a clever ride by jockey Mike Smith beat Victor Espinoza and California Chrome late in the stretch. Though he was not voted Horse of the Year, Arrogate was awarded the honor of Longines World's Best Racehorse in 2016, besting his chestnut rival once again.
Overall, Arrogate has won his last six races, compiling earnings of over $11 million. As California Chrome heads toward retirement, Arrogate appears poised to pick up his mantle as the world's top dirt handicap horse. Should Arrogate stay in consistent training after his Pegasus effort, it would not be impossible for him to make the $10 million Dubai World Cup in March, where a win would allow him to pass California Chrome's earnings record.
Bred in Kentucky by Clearsky Farm, Arrogate was a $560,000 purchase at the Keeneland September Yearling sale. His only loss came in his first career start.
The Pegasus World Cup is the first race of its kind, allowing owners to purchase one of 12 slots in the starting gates at a price tag of $1 million apiece. Across the field, some owners entered their own horses, some made deals with the owners of other horses, and still others purchased all or part of a new horse to enter it in the world's richest race. One of the other unique aspects of the race is that each of the slot-holders get a piece of the proceeds on the day, from wagering and media rights and even ticket sales. This year's owners also get the first chance to buy a slot for the 2018 edition of the Pegasus World Cup.
Preliminary reports indicate that a new wagering record was set at Gulfstream, totaling more than $40 million on the day.
Watch the race replay here:
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