As I said previously, without the Pegasus World Cup and the vision of Frank Stronach and the rest of the Stronach Group, we never would have seen Arrogate and California Chrome square off again. California Chrome would have likely retired and where and when Arrogate would have run is anyone’s guess. That alone makes the race a success and assures its continuation and further development.
Although it was the inaugural running, both the day and Gulfstream Park had an atmosphere of electricity and excitement in the days leading up to the race. And it was amplified on race day.
From the moment you walked in, the place had that feel of something special about to happen. Although the high prices likely kept the crowd smaller than Gulfstream Park officials would have liked, it didn’t diminish the excitement, the atmosphere or the anticipation. It was a big day and you could feel it.
Although Gulfstream is reporting record attendance of more than 16,000, I can tell you I have been to Florida Derbys in the new facility that felt way more crowded. There were seats available throughout the day just about anywhere one wanted and wagering — even at the last minute — was not a problem.
Gulfstream Park, which is notorious for “one minute to post” meaning “you can go and grab lunch before the race starts,” did not operate that way on Saturday. Races went off as scheduled and things were well organized. The smaller-than-anticipated crowd probably helped, as did good planning for the event. The post time issue was probably neutralized by NBC’s coverage of the race, as the broadcast was dependent on a strict 5:40 pm EST post time.
The smaller crowd ensured that those who did pay were not overcrowded and had a very pleasurable experience.
Handle was strong — a Gulfstream Park record, in fact — and the guaranteed late pick-5 and pick-4 pools were exceeded. (Those guarantees were $500K and $1 million, respectively.)
Unfortunately for bettors, the last races were rather predictable, and the pick-4 and pick-5 came back rather light: $102.80 for the 50-cent pick-4, and $342.60 for the 50-cent pick-5.
Going into the Pegasus, the main backstory, which escalated into what turned out to be a baseless rumor, was that Arrogate was going to scratch. Prior to the race it was reported (and this part was accurate) that Arrogate had an abscess and was wearing a three-quarter hind shoe to prevent a quarter crack. The scratch rumor was more of a social media thing, as nobody I saw at the races was talking about it, nor did anyone seem worried about it. To the contrary, Bob Baffert looked loose, comfortable, and confident.
The Arrogate camp was transparent about the abscess and the three-quarter shoe and felt it was a non-issue and no excuse. Baffert went so far as to report that Arrogate was “super cherry” for the Pegasus.
He was obviously spot-on.
Here’s Arrogate before the Pegasus (video by Jonathan Stettin):
I spoke to Mike Smith before the race. He was calm, cool and confident. He resided himself to the fact that he drew the rail and that, as a result, he would need to be aggressive from the gate. He planned to do all he could to get a good jump and go on with it from there. If that put him on the lead, so be it, he’d take it. If it kept him close and in position to get the jump on California Chrome or whomever might be making a winning move, then that is what he’d do. If you watch the race, and factor in Mike’s pre-race comments to me, you see just how prepared and insightful this consummate professional athlete was.
The race played out as he expected, and he rode it just like he said he would. You can see him go to the whip and snap the reins a few strides out of the gate, something you rarely see a rider do on a favorite in a race of this magnitude. Smith knows what it takes.
Interestingly, before the race, the usually reserved Art Sherman was extremely confident in his horse and publicly stated many times that he was anxious for a rematch with Arrogate and he felt he had the better horse and would win. Baffert was the more reserved of the two in this case. I found that interesting, especially considering that I felt the “better horse” argument had already been settled on the racetrack. Arrogate beat California Chrome on the square in the Breeders’ Cup Classic and I didn’t see a reason for any change. In fact, I thought Arrogate had a lot against him on BC Day and would improve in the Pegasus.
I also spoke to Jimmy Jerkens. I couldn’t help but ask about what I thought was an interesting backstory: Here was the son of one of the greatest trainers of all time, known so much for legendary upsets that they called him “The Giant Killer,” with a chance to pull off an epic upset of not one, but two, great champions… in the world’s richest race, no less.
Jerkens said he was trying not to think about that, but admitted, should it happen, it would be hard not to.
Other than California Chrome running the worst race of his career, the rest of the race was run per form and was predictable. Arrogate was “super cherry” and smoked them. He proved without question that his recent designation as Longines Best Horse in the World in 2016 was well deserved.
He set himself up to become the biggest money winner of all-time, although the escalation in purses somewhat downplays that achievement. (The money still spends though, and it is what it is.)
Shaman Ghost did his part to keep “The Giant Killer” legacy alive by finishing second. He just ran into a monster.
California Chrome balked at the crowd and gate briefly, but loaded without incident. He broke well enough, but could not get over as quickly as jockey Victor Espinoza would have likely preferred. He was in a good stalking position with Arrogate pinned on the inside, a place Chrome always hated to be, but that did not seem to faze Arrogate in the least.
A funny thing happened about midway down the backstretch, however — California Chrome just could not match strides with the younger, faster, improving Arrogate. He tried and Espinoza urged him on, going to the whip early, but it was futile. Smith used Arrogate’s acceleration and long stride to get out and get the jump on the field and the race was pretty much over at the half-mile pole.
It was a little sad to see California Chrome go out the way he did. He was toiling, trying to keep up, but was obviously overmatched by Arrogate that day, just like he was on Breeders’ Cup day.
California Chrome had a brilliant career and has quite a resume, but Saturday was his “No Mas” Day just as it was Roberto Duran’s back in 1980 against Sugar Ray Leonard, just as it was Sham’s back in 1973 against Secretariat.
Even the great ones only have so much to give. I have seen excellent horses in the past hook a better one and simply say, “that’s it.”
When you think about it, as great as California Chrome was (and he was great), he always liked things his own way. He lost all the “fights” he got into. Tonalist beat him in a fight, Shared Belief beat him in a fight, Bayern beat him in a fight and Arrogate beat him in a fight.
That’s not taking anything away from his brilliance or his resume, just simply pointing out a fact about his career. Yes, he was a war horse; yes, he had longevity at the highest level; and yes, he turned in his share of breath-takers. But he lost his share of fights too — and Saturday was, unfortunately, one of those days.
Early on, California Chrome picked up a loyal legion of fans dubbed “Chromies.” They probably won’t like my analysis of Chrome’s last hurrah on the racetrack, but I assure them all: I appreciate the horse and his accomplishments, but I also call it the way I see it and I believe the best horse won.
After the race, it was amazing how many experts saw from their arm chairs and couches that California Chrome wasn’t right or was “off” in his right front knee. I found it interesting anyone could even offer such an opinion given the scrutiny he was under prior to the race.
Did these folks miss the fact that Sherman was there, vets were there, some of the best horsemen in the world were there? I was a foot away from him, literally, and he was fine going into the race. Taylor Made has confirmed that Chrome is in his new stall on the farm — healthy and happy (perhaps, because he knows Arrogate has no plans of heading that way).
Here is California Chrome before the race. If you see him off at all, I suggest you get into the horse business as you are seeing more than many experts, presently company excluded. He looked great.