Arrogate's two-stakes campaign and accepting change

Profile Picture: Vance Hanson

November 7th, 2016

I've been a fan and follower of Thoroughbred racing for 30 years and have worked in the industry in several capacities for around 20. The longer you're in the game, the more you come to realize that on some matters the clock won't be turned back, the genie can't be put back in the bottle, and catching the horse that left the barn is unlikely.

Depending on one's personal tastes and beliefs, this can encompass all sorts of issues both large and small. For example, if you're less than thrilled about the way things are in regards to, say, raceday medication, takeout rates, stallion book size, or fratricidal date overlaps and market saturation, well, you pretty much have to live with it buddy.

One change over time that took me awhile to grudgingly accept is that, generally speaking, the age of the long stakes campaign is over. Expecting the crème de la crème to showcase their talents an average of once a month over 10-12 months is no longer realistic or practical. Increasingly over the past couple of decades, stakes campaign lengths for champions three years of age and older have started to resemble those of their counterparts in Europe, where the major flat racing season is only seven months long, more than those turned in by the American greats that raced before the bloodstock and purse boom of the late 1970s and early 1980s.

Huge stakes purses, in some instances now reaching into the eight figures, and seemingly unlimited options have made it a buyer's market if you have one of the best racehorses in the land. You simply don't have to run as much anymore to make the money. I suppose the only way for that to ever change is if the country's most lucrative stakes rarely exceeded a certain amount. In the 1950s and 1960s, that number was generally $100,000-$150,000. Not only would no one be interested in doing some sort of artificial "cap" these days, but it would be impossible to implement.

With lighter stakes campaigns the new norm and with improved accuracy in precision-like targeting by some horsemen, it should come as no surprise that a horse like Arrogate has come along and swooped down to earn divisional honors (for three-year-old male no less!) off just two stakes appearances. Now, jumping from allowance company to the Travers (G1) and then heading straight to the Breeders' Cup Classic (G1) is not going to become "trendy." In fact, I would be dumbfounded if it was ever replicated. However, it's a sign of the times and the foreseeable future that the nation's best Thoroughbreds are not going to be gracing us with their presence very often. Nor do they necessarily need to in order to prove they are the best.

It appears that, despite his loss to Arrogate in the Classic on Saturday, California Chrome is the clear-cut favorite for Horse of the Year. Having read several early opinions from known voters, one of the major talking points in favor of Chrome is that he "had a better campaign," which in the round I take as simply a euphemism for "longer."

In that there is no doubt. It was a really good one, too.

But if by ignoring what happened over the course of two minutes on Saturday, when California Chrome had every possible advantage and still did not prove best, a majority of Eclipse voters also feel they are discouraging future stakes campaigns of stealth by not recognizing their superior achievement, it's unlikely to work in the long term. The wind of change is blowing, whether we like it or not.

It's a clock hand that can't be turned back, a genie that no longer fits through the top of a bottle, and a loose horse forever lost.

(Benoit Photos)