A tale of two superstar favorites: Lady Eli lives up to billing, Arrogate flops
If Lady Eli’s Diana (G1) was just the dandy we eagerly hoped for, Arrogate’s flop in the San Diego (G2) was a letdown as gigantic as it was unexpected.
Their divergent performances on Saturday throw into relief their long-term career contrasts.
Lady Eli has had attitude right from the beginning, an indomitable mind, with the steely character to thrive in a fight. The Runnymede-bred was outstanding at two, extended her supremacy at three, and even laminitis couldn’t repress her spirit. After channeling her toughness to beat the killer disease, she’s continued to show the same level of performance and drive, as if she’d never been away.
Arrogate has been a different type, one whose mind was playing catch-up with his raw physical talent. Unraced at two, he was on a learning curve throughout 2016. As the Juddmonte colorbearer became a superstar out of nowhere, even his running style was changing. Before our eyes he was evolving from front runner to stalker to deep closer (thanks to flubbing the start) in the Dubai World Cup (G1).
But could his mind become his nemesis now? Is he simply losing interest in the game?
It’s not so much that he lost the San Diego – it was the way he lost that opens the door to this hypothesis. If you’d told me in advance that Arrogate would be upset, two possibilities would come to mind: either he’d be a bit too fresh off the layoff and get tired in deep stretch, or he’d come charging too late on the cutback in distance.
As pedigree guru Sid Fernando pointed out on Twitter, Bob Baffert’s past World Cup winners, Silver Charm and Captain Steve, were likewise subsequently beaten in the San Diego. Yet Arrogate’s display was different, and not just because he was making his first start back from Dubai and they weren’t. Silver Charm, who was a length second to Awesome Again in his Stephen Foster (G1) comeback, prompted the pace in the San Diego before giving way badly. Captain Steve, also a close runner-up in the Foster, faded to fourth in the Hollywood Gold Cup (G1) and was in declining form by the time he was third in the San Diego. They at least put up some kind of effort at some stage of this race.
Arrogate, on the other hand, simply went through the motions and appeared disengaged mentally. At one point he gave a glimmer of hope. Mike Smith cajoled him into improving his position swinging into the far turn, and for a few strides, he was moving with interest.
But midway on the turn, he lost the plot again and tuned out. Compare his body language with the victorious Accelerate, who cornered as if his very life depended on it, a gladiator in the arena needing the up-vote to survive and fight another day. Arrogate left Smith with little option other than to wrap up and take care of him as he trudged home a remote fourth of five. And if El Huerfano hadn’t had his mishap coming out of the gate, would Arrogate have managed to finish in front of him?
“Arrogate just not in the mood today,” Del Mar track announcer Trevor Denman intoned.
Immediate post-race (and morning-after) indications were that Arrogate was physically OK, just “flat,” as Baffert and Smith both put it.
“He wasn’t trying,” Smith added.
I’d swear that Arrogate was reading all of his press coverage since the Dubai World Cup. Perhaps he thought he had nothing left to prove: “The world’s highest rated horse, North America’s all-time leading earner, what else do you want from me?”
Or maybe he saw that he was in a Grade 2 worth $300,000 and thought that was a zero short.
Arrogate’s lackadaisical tour around the racetrack could be interpreted as his version of “I’m just here so I don’t get fined.”
Admittedly this is a knee-jerk reaction to his no-show, one that would be disproven quickly if a physical issue does come to light, or eventually if he does bounce back. Baffert obviously has time to get him right again for the Pacific Classic (G1). Arrogate may well wake up. His San Diego could yet prove a salutary “day away,” as Aidan O’Brien describes it when his pupils leave Ballydoyle for a racecourse gallop to get them back in the groove.
Let’s hope that any concerns about a deeper meaning to the San Diego are misplaced. We all knew that Arrogate wouldn’t be racing too much longer, with his title defense in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) presumably his grand finale. Please go out with a bang and not a whimper!
And speaking of the Breeders’ Cup, Accelerate will be tough to handle if he’s in this same dazzling form come the Dirt Mile (G1). His 8 1/2-length romp in the San Diego was good for a career-high 111 BRIS Speed rating. Third to Tamarkuz and Gun Runner in last year’s Dirt Mile at Santa Anita, as a three-year-old, the John Sadler trainee is now a year older, and a perfect three-for-three at new host site Del Mar.
Thankfully the Diana was a race to savor, with end-to-end drama, a no-holds-barred stretch battle, and a heroine as easy to root for as she is deserving.
Lady Eli’s stablemate Antonoe was expected to present her sternest test. It didn’t augur well for Antonoe, however, when the Juddmonte homebred broke through the gate prior to the start and cantered some way before Javier Castellano steered her back. Not one to let a rival have an edge, Lady Eli also popped her gate open but didn’t have as much of an adventure about it.
In a race lacking an obvious pacesetter, Quidura took the initiative, saw off Dickinson turning for home, and dug in gamely while bracing for the Chad Brown fusillade of Lady Eli and Antonoe. Lady Eli accosted Quidura on the outside, coming in under urging and leaning into her as they wrestled for command. Antonoe stuck to the inside path, and during Lady Eli’s brushing with Quidura, she had room to maneuver as she advanced into a contending third. But Antonoe wasn’t exactly blowing through the seam.
The deeper they advanced in the stretch, Lady Eli straightened out enough so as not to make contact with the longtime leader. Quidura then began to drift in herself, though, and it was at that point that Antonoe’s path was closed. (Tough day at the office for Juddmonte, between Arrogate and Antonoe.) She had to steady in the final yards, leaving Lady Eli and Quidura to vie for the honors. Lady Eli was simply implacable in besting Quidura by a head.
Given the crowding in the stretch, and Antonoe’s bad luck, the inquiry sign had to be posted. The stewards decided to let the result stand, and I agree. Had Antonoe gotten shut off when Lady Eli was muscling in on Quidura, it would have been a very different case. But Antonoe was squeezed back afterward, when Lady Eli was not physically herding Quidura, and at a time when it was unclear whether Antonoe was on her way to finishing a close third in any event.
The chartcaller notes that Lady Eli still “intimidated” Quidura in deep stretch, without touching her, and that’s a fair characterization. But if a horse is reacting to the other’s sheer force of will – not to physical contact – I’d rather not disqualify. That’s not denying a fair chance to an opponent; rather, it’s imposing one’s presence on an opponent. Quidura had room to hold her ground, but flinched under the withering stare of Lady Eli.
As Brown observed, the Diana may rank as Lady Eli’s finest hour. She was conceding eight pounds to Quidura, and according to Trakus, covered 23 extra feet.
“In light of (breaking through) the gate, weight, going wide and still overcoming, it's probably her best performance.”
Lady Eli must be in a better position going into the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf (G1) this time around. Last year, she was making only her third start back from laminitis, and just got mugged by a head. Now she’ll have a proper campaign under her belt in advance of the Del Mar renewal, which will be held over 1 1/8 miles. Despite the slightly shorter distance of the Filly & Mare Turf, you’ve got to think that a title defense in the 1 1/4-mile Flower Bowl (G1) is the presumptive path.
Quidura, who ran her heart out, would be a fascinating type for the August 12 Beverly D. (G1) – if trainer Graham Motion wants to bring her right back off such a tough beat. Looking longer term, the October 15 E.P. Taylor (G1) may be an attractive spot to hunt for a Grade 1 trophy. Being a Dubawi half-sister to German highweights Querari and Quasillo, and out of an Acatenango mare, Quidura would appreciate the added ground, and the chance of a softer course at Woodbine. That said, if Belmont gets rain a week earlier in the Flower Bowl, Quidura ought to take her chance there.
As far as Antonoe goes, I’d love for her to point for the Breeders’ Cup Mile (G1). She certainly ran very well in her first nine-furlong try in the Diana, but she was positively ethereal in the one-mile Just a Game (G1). Granted, she carried a feathery 113 pounds that day (compared to 121 in the Diana). Still, her kick may just be more explosive at a flat mile. Why not give her a test spin versus the boys in the Woodbine Mile (G1)? Past Juddmonte celebrity Ventura, trained by Brown’s late, great mentor Bobby Frankel, provides a precedent.
Arrogate photo courtesy Melanie Martines (@SkimtheRail)
Lady Eli photo courtesy NYRA/Coglianese Photography/Susie Raisher (@ponyace)