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Gene Kershner’s Post Time: Arrogate runs away with Travers Stakes

SARATOGA SPRINGS – It wasn’t even close.

Lightly-raced Arrogate, a colt who before Saturday had faced only 15 opponents total in four career races, flattened his Travers Stakes opponents by 13½ lengths in front of 48,630 at Saratoga Race Course.

As late afternoon shadows extended in front of the long Saratoga grandstand, the son of Unbridled’s Song ran away from his competition setting both track and Travers records, scorching home in 1:59.36.  His final quarter mile was run in 23.84 as he sprinted away from the rest of the field of 13.

It was a performance of historic magnitude from a colt that was facing graded stakes competition for the first time.  Arrogate broke the Travers record that had stood for 37 years, ever since General Assembly ran the mile and a quarter in 2 minutes in 1979.

Arrogate has now won four straight races by a combined 25 lengths after he dropped his career debut in April. Saturday’s margin of victory was the third largest in Travers history.

Trainer Bob Baffert captured his second Travers win, his last coming in his first attempt in 2001 with Point Given. He avenged last year’s loss by American Pharoah and put to bed any thoughts of being jinxed at Saratoga.

“Last year we were hoping we were going to do this and it was so disappointing,” said Baffert. “We have been waiting on this race for a year, sometimes it works out,” said Baffert.

Baffert was already having a big day at the Spa winning the Grade 1 King’s Bishop with Drefong, another speedster shipping in from the trainer’s West Coast barn. Arrogate’s win in the 147th edition of the Travers was worth $670,000 for owner Juddmonte Farms.

Arrogate returned $25.40 to his backers for the win, $12.60 for second and $8.40 for the show. Stable mate American Freedom paid $6.70 for the place and $4.60 to show. Kentucky Derby third-place finisher Gun Runner finished third and paid $6.80. The $2 exacta between the Baffert duo returned $134.50 and the $2 trifecta lit up the tote board paying a whopping $2,028.

Mike Smith continued his dominance of Grade 1 races at Saratoga during the meet, adding a third Travers riding win to his Hall of Fame résumé. He won the Travers previously in 1994 (Holy Bull) and 1998 (Coronado’s Quest).

Smith was aboard Drefong earlier on the card and completed the Alabama-Travers double with Arrogate’s win. Last weekend Smith won the Alabama on top of 3-year-old superstar filly Songbird.

Smith who rode Unbridled’s Song to victories in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, Florida Derby and Wood Memorial, sees his father’s potential in Arrogate.

“He was an unbelievably talented horse and his son might be even more talented,” said Smith. “It’s crazy. He just did a mile-and-a-quarter and as you can see galloping out, I had trouble getting him to stop,” said Smith.

Jockey Rafael Bejarano conceded his horse was second best, but was still proud of American Freedom’s effort. “It was a good second for my horse. The winner, he was just the best,” said Bejarano. “The winner, he went for it and he was still holding. I knew this horse [Arrogate] could run all day; it was the best I could get from my horse.”

Bejarano, who rode Arrogate to his last three victories, was disappointed he didn’t get the call to ride the winner. “It is what it is. I was supposed to ride this horse, but because of the owner, I had to pick up the other one,” said Bejarano.

Gun Runner, who dueled with Nyquist down the stretch in the Derby, finished a decent third from an outside post position that had never produced a Travers winner. Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen lauded his horse’s effort.

“We ran into a freak today, who ran the fastest Travers in history,” said Asmussen. “I honestly thought 2:02 would win the race. I think that’s right about where we were with Gun Runner,” he said.

Asmussen was happy with jockey Florent Geroux’s ride despite angling four wide into the upper stretch. “I thought Florent gave him a great trip from the No. 14 draw. He wheeled out a little early at the three-eighths pole because he thought he had a lot of horse, but that horse on the lead, he didn’t back up at all,” said Asmussen.

Geroux confirmed that the post may have cost Gun Runner a second-place finish. “My horse ran his race, just got beat by a better horse,” said Geroux. “With a better post I could have maybe finished second.”

Post time favorite and classic winner Exaggerator was never a factor, finishing a disappointing 11th. The 3-year-old male division is still very wide open, with Exaggerator probably having a slight edge with wins in the Preakness and Haskell, albeit both over a wet track. Belmont Stakes winner Creator finished a non-threatening seventh.

Baffert was noncommittal regarding Arrogate’s next start, but the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic at the same mile-and-a-quarter distance as the Travers is definitely on the radar. “I think that he’s the kind of horse that, after what he did today, he could go into the Breeders’ Cup fresh like Pharoah did,” said Baffert.

This race surely sets up an interesting fall leading up to the Classic at Santa Anita on Nov. 5. The last key restricted race for 3-year-olds is the Pennsylvania Derby at Parx in late September. It’s doubtful that Baffert would send Arrogate back east after today’s supreme effort.

“That was a pretty big jump that he made today. I’m sure that all his beyers and sheet numbers are going to be off the chart. There’s no big rush,” said Baffert.

The Breeders’ Cup Classic looms to be a tremendous race with California Chrome, Frosted and now, Arrogate delivering superb performances this summer on the road to Santa Anita.

Gene Kershner, a Buffalo-based turf writer, is a member of the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters Association, and tweets @EquiSpace.

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