DEL MAR, Calif — When it comes to racing at the track made famous by a Bing Crosby tune, the connections of Arrogate could have appropriately changed the horse’s name to Ambivalent.
There were no smiles on faces, and certainly no winning races in the camp of the former heavyweight champion of the world, Arrogate, who closed out his career Saturday in a disappointing fifth-place defeat in the Breeders’ Cup Classic.
Instead, a disenchanted Bob Baffert, who pushed on by near the paddock shortly after Gun Runner cleared the wire to win the $6 million race, was heard saying, “This track is brutal for him.”
Nobody could disagree with that sentiment. Now 0-for-3 at Del Mar in 2017, Arrogate hit the board just once, with a second place run in the Pacific Classic, which was the last race started by the son of Unbridled’s Song prior to the classic.
Do we chalk this up to a disappointing chapter in an otherwise top-notch career?
I wouldn’t. In fact, when you consider just how brilliant Collected’s run was in the Pacific Classic — after the half mile pole where the horse kicked for full acceleration — you would understand that nobody who hit the board had a bad run at Del Mar that day. The final time of 2:00.70 in the 1 1/4-mile kept Arrogate's late charge at bay.
The "Big A" was simply beaten by the better horse.
Saturday was certainly no indictment on that pesky scapegoat that is Del Mar’s surface, either. Arrogate broke awkwardly from the gate. Jockey Mike Smith showed a little strength and resolve just to stay aboard, and the two never recovered from the poor start, despite Arroate showing shades of his old self in the stretch, chasing down Gunnevera for a dead heat in fifth.
Maybe we can point the muddy stick at Dubai, where Arrogate strung together a last-to-first finish of a lifetime to edge Gun Runner in the World Cup. He didn't visit the winner's circle again.
That trip home served as the antithesis for Gun Runner, who hasn’t lost a race since that second-place showing in the middle east, smoking through a cavalcade of stiff competition in four Grade 1 wins, including Saturday’s Classic win over Collected and West Coast.
The only real conclusion with substance left is the idea that Arrogate is not the horse that was sold to us.
“If he wins, this is the greatest horse that we’ve seen since Secretariat,” Baffert told the small media contingent shortly after Arrogate’s win in Dubai.
It was at that moment in time, the power of hyperbole, visceral reaction and a river of emotions in the form of a nationally-publicized sentence turned a good horse with a nice streak into a great horse with a stellar legacy.
Unfairly for Arrogate, heavy lied the crown from that point on.
Sure, for his brief stint as a racehorse, Arrogate did show tastes of greatness. He’s Baffert’s third Breeders’ Cup Classic champ, and there’s a Travers and a total of four Grade 1 wins under his saddlecloth. He punched that clock at Saratoga to the tune of a 1:59.36 track record. The pride of Juddmonte Farms is 2-0 against the then-swan song singing California Chrome, and will forever own the 2-1 series win over 2017’s clear cut horse of the year Gun Runner. And oh yeah, he’s the richest horse in the history of the sport with a cool $17,302,600 earned.
That doesn’t make him great. That doesn’t declare legendary status. That doesn’t make you the best of an illustrious barn, and it sure as hell puts you nowhere near the breath of a Secretariat.
In fact, if he could read, American Pharoah alone would scoff at those highlights while reviewing his own resume. Silver Charm might be lining up numbers in his stall at Old Friends.
Bayern, War Emblem and Point Given would see Arrogate as nothing more than a drinking buddy, in which the evenly felt out crew are just waiting to one-up that new retiree with their own war stories.
There’s nothing disparaging to say about a horse like Arrogate. You’d be nuts. He had a brutal run in the San Diego Handicap back in July, and he had another falling out on Saturday. That’s what happens to good horses. Sometimes, they just don’t have it that day. It’s also what separates good from great.
Remember Arrogate for the darn good racing career he had. But when you’re searching for your next historically great racehorse, keep in mind you likely watched another good horse achieve a great accomplishment.