ARCADIA, Calif. – The Travers was no fluke, folks.
Arrogate, the speedball colt out of the Bob Baffert barn, defeated California Chrome, the top-ranked horse in the world, in the $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic at Santa Anita Park on Saturday evening.
The roan colt thrilled the 72,811 race fans attending the ninth Breeders’ Cup World Championships held at the Great Race Place under the beautiful San Gabriel Mountains in Southern California.
His win in the Midsummer Derby at Saratoga seemed almost unnatural, breaking a track record that stood since 1979. He backed that performance up on Saturday, defeating a horse in California Chrome who has dominated older horses all year.
As the shadows from the Santa Anita grandstand crept over the California track, the sophomore sensation set his sights on Chrome at the top of the stretch and gained on him through the final furlong and corralled him 20 yards from the wire.
Arrogate became the third straight 3-year-old to win the Classic, and fifth since 2007.
The son of Unbridled’s Song completed an improbable Travers-Classic double, vaulting him to the top of the 3-year-old division. He possibly enters the Horse of the Year discussion with his effort and victory over Chrome, although Chrome’s six straight wins may be too much to overcome.
The Classic win added $3.3 million to Arrogate’s coffers, stretching his career earnings over the $4 million mark. Arrogate completed the mile-and-a-quarter trek in 2:00.11 overcoming the front-running Chrome in deep stretch.
Arrogate, as the second choice, returned $5.40 to his backers for the win, $2.80 to place and $2.60 to show.
California Chrome paid $2.60 for place and $2.60 to show. Keen Ice completed a $2 trifecta that paid $149.20, and paid $5.80 to show. The Pick-6 pool totaled $4,564,686 and 11 winning tickets paid $292,423.
Arrogate, whose name means to claim or seize without justification, wrestled the Classic away from California Chrome, a horse that had won a record $13.4 million coming into the race. He denied Chrome the one race his connections have coveted, after finishing third in the 2014 Classic.
The victory was a record third straight Classic for Baffert, who also won his fifth career Breeders’ Cup Sprint, earlier in the day with Drefong. Ironically, Baffert also won the King’s Bishop on Travers Day at Saratoga with Drefong, so the day set up in similar fashion.
Baffert thought Arrogate was destined for second as Chrome was galloping around the race course.
“Turning for home, it looked like he was going to run second,” said Baffert. “At the eighth pole, he got into that gear and he was inching away at him.”
Baffert could hardly contain himself in the post race press conference. “To run down a great horse like California Chrome, that’s what the Breeders’ Cup is all about. Big money Mike Smith, won that today. It was a wow opportunity,” said Baffert.
Jockey Mike Smith continued his Breeders’ Cup domination, extending his record to 25 Breeders’ Cup races by winning his fourth Classic aboard the sophomore colt. His previous Classic wins were aboard Skip Away (1997), Zenyatta (2009) and Drosselmeyer (2011).
Smith was complimentary of Chrome, who suffered his first loss of the year. “California Chrome is an incredible horse, he actually pulled away from me,” said Smith.
But Smith’s horse, third on the backside run behind Chrome and Melatonin, turned on the afterburners as he headed for home to catch Chrome.
“He’s relentless. He never stops coming at you,” Smith exclaimed. “He’s like Lebron James, full of talent, and he can go all day,” Smith said. “This horse has run only five times and he beat California Chrome. That’s incredible.”
California Chrome had nothing to be ashamed of in defeat. He set the early fractions of 23.28, 47.15 and 1:10.96 through the first three quarters and seemed to have the race in control. He was tracked by Melatonin through a mile that went 1:35.72, and put him away as he rounded the far turn.
Chrome’s trainer Art Sherman was gracious in defeat, proclaiming that there is still one race left on Chrome’s dance card. “We got outrun, but he’s still the best horse I’ve ever had,” said Sherman. “We’re on the trail for the Pegasus Cup. That will probably be his last race before he heads to the breeding shed.
The race was projected to be a duel between Chrome and the 3-year-old phenom. Once again horse racing delivered a big performance and dramatic finish one of its biggest days of the year.
The two California-based horses could square off again early next year in the inaugural $12 million Pegasus Cup at Gulfstream Park in Hallandale Beach, Fla., a race contrived by Canadian Frank Stronach. His enterprises own Santa Anita, the Maryland Jockey Club and Gulfstream Park among others.
Here’s hoping for a rematch in South Florida in January.
Gene Kershner, a Buffalo-based turf writer, is a member of the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters Association, and tweets @EquiSpace.