Just a blip or the beginning of the end for Arrogate?

The word Arrogate means ‘to take or claim something without justification’, and whilst 2016’s American Champion Three-Year-Old and World’s Best Racehorse has certainly taken and claimed plenty of scalps and prizes over the past three years, it would be hard to argue that his achievements were without justification. After all, at €560,000 as a yearling he was hardly cheap, and with Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner Unbridled Song as a dad and a handy six-time winning mare doing the carrying, there was always more than a fair chance that Arrogate would be decent. However, only in owner Khalid Abdullah’s dreams would he have turned out to be as good as he is. With over seventeen million dollars in the bag, courtesy of wins in the Travers Classic and the Breeders’ Cup Classic, where he beat California Chrome, but more so, because of his victories in the World’s two richest races, the Pegasus World Cup Invitational at Gulfstream Park, and the Dubai World Cup at Meydan.

They were all impressive displays in their own right but it was his scintillating win in the Middle-East that really raised the bar and got people outside of America talking about him, too. Lining up at odds of just -300, Arrogate was slow to stride and hampered shortly after exiting stall nine and looked too far back for comfort at half way. However, a full half a mile out Mike Smith began to circle the field, covering what would be far too much unnecessary ground for any normal racehorse, and took the lead with a furlong still to run. It was a magnificent display of mid-race pace and marked Arrogate out as something really special.

So, it was somewhat surprising when Arrogate reappeared in a Grade 2 Handicap at Del Mar a few weeks back and could only manage fourth, beaten 15 lengths behind winner Accelerate at ludicrously short odds of -2000. What had happened to the great horse in his two months off the track?

Now granted, connections of the horse would not have been considered the $160,000 prize at Del Mar among their priorities for the season, and the horse was returning from a break and giving weight to all his rivals over a distance shorter than ideal, but this was still a performance of some concern given how far he was beaten and how lacklustre he appeared throughout the contest. His trainer, Bob Baffert, said he was ‘I thought he’d run better than that, he just didn’t want to go’ and odds of -2000 tell you all you need to know about how he ran vs how he was expected to run.

One can point to the fact that every racehorse needs forgiving one poor performance, but an Arrogate at even 50% fitness should have beaten that bunch, so, although it is very early to be writing him off, it at least raises some reasonable doubt as to whether Arrogate will be able to reproduce his outstanding Grade 1 form again this year, and beyond.

The most concerning of all the post-race comments were those from jockey Mike Smith that seemed to question Arrogate’s attitude during the run. ‘We were going around there okay and then I took him outside like I did in Dubai but he just didn’t pick it up. He wasn’t trying.’

Now, successful gamblers will tell you that backing horses that don’t want to win, or indeed race, is the quickest way to the poorhouse, and, if Arrogate is turning into one of those then he will have problems winning more races, that’s for sure. It can happen as horses get older and wiser and realize that they’re actually not getting much joy out of these long haul flights round the world and would rather be chilling out in the field.

Still, it really is too early to be concluding that Arrogate has lost the hunger to race, and the proof will be in the pudding when he heads back to Del Mar for the $1 million Pacific Classic on August 19th as the next step on a journey which connections hope will lead to a defence of his Breeders’ Cup Classic title, for which he is available to back at odds of +162.50 with betting site Betway at the time of writing on 07/08/17.

Although you’ll need to forgive him that horrible effort last time out, that exceptional run of four Grade 1 wins in a row are also fairly fresh in the memory. We will either get to see another flop or a bounce-back on August 19th, and either of those will ensure fascinating viewing.