HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. – The torch was officially passed at Gulfstream Park in the inaugural Pegasus World Cup as Arrogate collected a cool $7 million winning the richest horse race in history.
As the shadows lengthened over the South Florida track, Arrogate romped ahead of his 11 rivals and took over the reins from California Chrome as racing’s next superstar and claim the top prize of the $12 million race.
The big matchup never materialized between the two top horses in the world. It was California Chrome’s final race and the 6-year-old chestnut will now head to the breeding shed in the next chapter of his career. He finished a disappointing ninth, 29½-lengths behind Arrogate, his worst finish in a stellar 27-race career.
Arrogate, the Longines top-ranked horse in the world, defeated Chrome for the second straight time, backing up his big win in the $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic with the Pegasus win. The mammoth winner’s share of the purse brought Arrogate’s career earnings to $11,084,600.
The roan horse broke from the rail and settled in behind Noble Bird and Neolithic, the early pace setters, staying out of trouble into the first turn. He dueled with California Chrome briefly down the backstretch and then left him in the dust as he made his patented move on the far turn to streak into the lead.
As the sun set beyond the Gulfstream oval, the winner took over at the top of the stretch from Neolithic and roared down the stretch much to the dismay of Chrome’s many followers.
The son of Unbridled’s Song once again dazzled a nationally televised audience with his tremendous speed in capturing his third straight Grade 1 race. The speedy colt pulled off the Classic-Pegasus double to kick off his 4-year-old season.
Arrogate, who went off as the post time favorite, returned $3.80 to his backers for the win, $2.80 to place and $2.20 to show.
Shaman Ghost, the 2015 Queen’s Plate winner, ran on late to finish second and paid $8.60 for place and $5.80 to show, collecting $1.75 million. Neolithic paid $6 to show and completed a $2 trifecta that paid $208 and received $1 million for his third-place effort. The fourth through twelfth place finishers each received $250,000.
Total handle on the 12-race Pegasus day card was $40,217,924, a Gulfstream record, eclipsing the 2016 Florida Derby day 14 race total of $32,082,270. Arrogate completed the nine furlong trek in 1:47.61, finishing ahead of Shaman Ghost by a convincing 4 3/4 lengths.
The race, the brainchild of Gulfstream Park owner Frank Stronach, featured 12 stakeholders each paying a $1 million for a gate in the race. The track wasn’t overly crowded, was manageable to move around and was proclaimed a success. “I was always try to do things that benefit the racing industry,” said Stronach after the race.
Each of the 12 stakeholders will have a right-of-first-refusal for a spot in next year’s race. Revenue sharing of the day’s handle and sponsorships help defray some of the entry fee paid by the stakeholders.
It was a positive outcome for thoroughbred racing, as Arrogate has quickly moved to the head of the class as he will continue to campaign through the 2017 racing year. The ultimate target will be a chance to repeat in the Breeders’ Cup Classic in November at Del Mar, which will host the Cup for the first time in its 33-year history.
Trainer Bob Baffert was happy with the win, but admitted that it wasn’t quite his “A” game. “He just ran his race. I kept waiting for the match-up with Chrome, but he just didn’t bring his race today. It’s too bad,” said Baffert. “We expected to win, but he got a little tired at the end. He probably needed it badly.”
Mike Smith once again showed up on racing’s big stage and came away with another big win. “Once I got out going into the far turn, I knew we were going to be very tough to beat,” said Smith. “He had a lot of run today and I was very happy. As far as winning the world’s richest race, I’m absolutely numb.”
Victor Espinoza, Chrome’s jockey, didn’t make any excuses for California Chrome. “I was just third and so nice and at the five-eighths pole I didn’t feel like I had that power,” said Espinoza. “There wasn’t enough gas in the tank. He was empty.”
Jockey Jose Ortiz was happy with Shaman Ghost’s performance, the house horse in the race for Stronach Stables. “He broke well, was in good position and I followed Arrogate all the way around,” said Ortiz. “By the time he made his move, I knew California Chrome was done, I knew I had a good chance to get second. I was very happy with the way my horse ran.” Shaman Ghost went off at nearly 20-1 and completed a $2 exacta with Arrogate that paid $33.80.
Hall of Famer Johnny Velazquez was short and sweet with his assessment of Neolithic’s race. “Perfect trip, third best I guess, that’s all I can say.” The son of Harlan’s Holiday broke well and was overtaken in deep stretch by Shaman Ghost, but still cashed one of the three big checks for Starlight Racing at odds of 23-1.
What the Pegasus can do for racing is keep some of the older horses in training longer. It will serve as a kickoff to the handicap racing division and is spaced perfectly between the Classic in November and the Dubai World Cup in March on the racing calendar. In addition, it garnered attention nationally in the week before the Super Bowl.
It also places the 4-year-old Arrogate squarely as the face of the sport heading into the Triple Crown season for 3-year-olds.
It’s on to the Derby trail next with a number of great prep races that will bring us to the First Saturday in May.
On this one Saturday in January, however, Arrogate established himself as the top thoroughbred in training under the palm trees in style.
Gene Kershner, a Buffalo-based turf writer, is a member of the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters Association, and tweets @EquiSpace.