He needs no miracle, but now is definitely Arrogate's time

Profile Picture: Vance Hanson

September 26th, 2016

In the aftermath of Saturday's Pennsylvania Derby (G2), I began thinking of coach Herb Brooks' pep talk to the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team before their semi-final showdown against the Soviet Union, the so-called Miracle on Ice.

The speech and game were depicted in the 2004 film "Miracle," with Kurt Russell portraying Brooks. Laying on his finest and thickest Minnesota accent, Russell as Brooks paces the silent locker room and in less than two minutes challenges his young team of underdogs to rise to the occasion before barging out the door. The greatly condensed key points to the speech were:

Great moments are born from great opportunity. That's what you have. That's what you've earned.

Their time is done. It's over. This is YOUR time! Now go out there and take it!

Thoroughbreds obviously won't respond to pre-race pep talks, but if there was ever an apt moment to convey Brooks' sentiments to one now would be the time.

Connect won the Pennsylvania Derby, but the real winner was record-setting Travers (G1) hero Arrogate. Not only was he flattered by the performance of Connect and runner-up Gun Runner, whom he both crushed in the Travers, but they in turn handily defeated Nyquist and Exaggerator, who tried and failed to pad their own championship credentials.

Kentucky Derby (G1) and Florida Derby (G1) winner Nyquist, despite a perfect trip in the Pennsylvania Derby, has now lost three in a row by increasing margins. Exaggerator, the Preakness (G1), Haskell Invitational (G1) and Santa Anita Derby (G1) winner, continues to flounder on tracks not inundated with moisture.

Neither seems worthy of an Eclipse Award as champion three-year-old male based on their current form, yet one of them would most certainly win if the polls happened to close today. I suspect Nyquist would be the beneficiary as Exaggerator's wet track-only prowess is generally viewed as a negative by the wider electorate.

Another reason why Nyquist would get the nod is because Arrogate has had just the one stakes outing. A track-record shattering one, for sure, but only one. That is simply too thin a résumé for such an historically important division as this.

Only one horse older than two has ever won any kind of divisional title off a single stakes start and victory, and one could argue Native Dancer's older male and Horse of the Year title in 1954 was basically a career achievement honor after being pipped the year before by Tom Fool's then-legendary 10-for-10 campaign that included a sweep of the Handicap Triple Crown in New York and his last four races being run as betless exhibitions.

With the classic generation being the centerpiece of the sport, past voting patterns suggest there is a higher minimum standard of achievement required to claim this particular crown. No previous holder has ever earned it on the basis of a single stakes win, and not until Animal Kingdom in 2011 had one ever claimed it without winning past the first Saturday in May.

The Breeders' Cup Classic (G1) represents a great opportunity for Arrogate to create a great moment. I'm in no way equating California Chrome (or others) with the Soviet Union or their 1980 hockey squad, or suggesting Arrogate's odds of defeating him are as long as those faced by the team Brooks assembled. This is strictly about Arrogate's opportunity to fill the leadership vacuum in his own division created by Nyquist and Exaggerator, if not in the Breeders' Cup then possibly 20 days later in the Clark H. (G1) at Churchill Downs.

Nyquist's and Exaggerator's time is seemingly over. This is Arrogate's time. All he has to do is go out and take it.

(Teresa Genaro photo)