Not buying Arrogate as Pegasus pacesetter

Profile Picture: James Scully

January 25th, 2017

The sense of anticipation reigns supreme for any Thoroughbred racing fan this week as American Horse of the Year California Chrome and Longines World’s Best Racehorse Arrogate battle one final time. It’s a rematch of the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1), a race that left both camps with their heads high after Arrogate ran down California Chrome in the final strides of the 1 ¼-mile race.

The match-up is happening because of the inaugural running of the $12 million Pegasus (G1).

Monday’s post draw proved less than ideal for both horses, with Arrogate stuck down on the rail in a full field and California Chrome facing a short run to the first turn from post 12. I give the advantage to California Chrome because of his speed, which makes it possible to avoid losing too much ground.

Arrogate faces a more daunting task in my estimation because he must work out the proper trip, with speed nearby in posts 3 (Neolithic) and 4 (Noble Bird) potentially complicating matters.

But the tough draw isn’t an issue for some Arrogate supporters who believe he is fast enough to sprint forward and lead wire to wire if Mike Smith sends him. His greatness makes it possible and the Travers (G1) serves as Exhibit A.

I debated this issue Tuesday with Vance Hanson and Ed DeRosa tweeted his support for Vance’s position:

James Scully‏@James_Scully111: Debating Arrogate's quickness w @VPHanson, who thinks he's fast enough to set pace; I don't if Noble Bird breaks, maybe 2nd or 3rd early

Ed DeRosa ‏@EJXD2 : @James_Scully111 Lean toward @VPHanson. Arrogate is Ghostzapper level, which makes me think he can lead but won't need to here

The “Ghostzapper level” comment refers to the 2004 Breeders’ Cup Classic when Ghostzapper led wire to wire from the rail post at Lone Star Park. Roses in May was a quality front-runner in the Classic field, utilizing his speed to capture the Dubai World Cup (G1) and other graded stakes from gate to wire, but nobody could run with Ghostzapper from start as he powered his way to a three-length victory.

However, I doubt Arrogate can dominate California Chrome and others in similar fashion at this stage in his career.

For starters, Ghostzapper was making his sixth stakes appearance and everything fell into place perfectly as the Bobby Frankel trainee moved forward upon his final scheduled prep, a hard-fought neck score in the Woodward (G1).

Bob Baffert planned to use the January 1 San Pasqual (G2) at Santa Anita as a set-up but was forced to scrap the prep due to wet conditions that also affected Arrogate’s training, with a 12-day gap in works in early January. These details will be repeated often if Arrogate loses.

Arrogate possesses speed, leading all the way in 3-of-5 wins, but he wasn’t dealing with any serious front-runners in those victories, allowing him to catch a breather each time. When he beat stablemate American Freedom to the lead entering the first turn of the Travers, Rafael Bejarano conceded the advantage and sat second – Bejarano wasn’t going to risk running both Baffert-trained horses into the ground by dueling head-to-head with Arrogate, who led by about a length down the backstretch and into the far turn.

Arrogate is the first horse I’ve ever seen open his racing career six consecutive triple-digit BRIS Late Pace ratings, earnings figures as high as 114. A dynamic late kick, which was on full display in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, is his forte presently and connections will be risking his best chance by becoming embroiled in a speed duel with California Chrome or longshots like Neolithic and Noble Bird, whose only chance to post a major upset is wire to wire.

I will give him all the credit in the world if he can win from the rail post in his first 1 1/8-mile start and Arrogate may be good enough to get it done from just off the pace in the Pegasus. But I’ll be surprised to see him showing the way early.

(Benoit Photo)