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Will the real Arrogate please stand up

Author: Nicholas Godfrey

17/08/2017
1

The Secret to great comedy, so they say, is timing. In which case my most recent column in these pages can go down as a barrel of laughs. No sooner had I pointed out the highly creditable form worldwide of horses to have run on Dubai World Cup night than the mighty Arrogate, or ‘not so mighty’, as it turned out, threw in the clunker of all clunkers to finish only fourth at odds of 1/20 in the Grade 2 San Diego Handicap, which went to his unheralded fellow 4yo Accelerate, winning for the first time in ten months.

Arrogate was beaten, and soundly beaten at that, for the first time since his career debut at Los Alamitos in April 2016; Accelerate, incidentally, finished in front of him that day as well. And while connections of the world champion said he just ran ‘ flat’, any such assertion carried a distinct risk of understatement. Looked at from any vantage point, this was a proper shocker, a result and performance destined to go down in the annals of US racing infamy alongside Man O’War’s sole reverse against Upset at Saratoga and the notorious defeats of Secretariat and American Pharoah at the same venue, or the ending of Cigar’s winning spree at Del Mar at the hands of 40/1 shot Dare And Go in the Pacific Classic, the Grade One event that is still set to provide Arrogate’s primary target before the Breeders’ Cup Classic.

Abject defeat that it was, however, one potential explanation has been notable only for its absence in the various post mortems. Yep, you guessed it: our old friend, the supposed ‘Dubai bounce’. Nowhere has an arduous trip to Meydan been cited as a possible cause for such a below par effort, which is probably sensible given that so many others have given the lie to the idea, as my last effort detailed. (Not Jack Hobbs, mind, who seems to have gone backwards back in Blighty; that said, Arrogate’s Dubai victim Gun Runner has been in imperious form in the States, winning the Stephen Foster by seven lengths before a five length romp from Keen Ice, who also ran in Dubai, in the $1.2m Whitney at Saratoga.)

So what precisely did happen to the highest prize money earner of all time to produce such a dismal display in the San Diego Handicap? Trainer Bob Baffert was left blaming himself rather than his horse, the trainer suggesting he may well have been over confident and left Arrogate undercooked in what was meant to be an easy prep race. If that’s the case, then Arrogate must have been seriously unready; Baffert said with hindsight, he would have given him a workout on the

Del Mar track instead of preparing at his Santa Anita base. On the other hand, Juddmonte Farms’ US manager Garrett O’Rourke voiced the idea that rather than not having done enough, Arrogate may have done too much in a potentially draining 6f ‘bullet’ workout before his return after a four month layoff following such a sensational effort at Meydan. “His final work, he went 1min11sec for 6f and then galloped out another three-eighths, so he basically ran the equivalent of about a mile and an eighth race,” said O’Rourke. “Then the following day he shipped to Del Mar, and then just hadn’t gotten over that work.

Because he was coming off a four month layoff. . . it was like he asked him two very big questions a week apart. The first one was a workout, but he probably exerted himself more in that workout than he did in the race, but it left him fatigued for the race.” Either way, it is sounding a bit like trainer error, and O’Rourke even added that his thesis is also now ‘Bob’s interpretation’. We will probably never really know what happened but at least no physical reason has come to light: though at times like these, at times you almost wish there was a minor issue of some kind to explain such a dreadful showing.

It was just too bad to be true, wasn’t it? Even so, there must be some degree of worry given he has now twice fallen out of the gate and looked less than interested in the early stages of a race. Be that as it may, at the time of writing, Arrogate remains on course for the $1million Pacific Classic on 19 August, when he will be looking for revenge on Accelerate in a field that could theoretically include the superstar filly Songbird. Baffert was pleased, and understandably relieved, with Arrogate’s first major work at Del Mar since the defeat, after which he said they were ‘good to go’. “He was floating over the track,” reported Baffert.

“I can breathe easy; we’re right on schedule. Just had to hit the reset button. “I knew we could just draw a line through the San Diego so I wasn’t too worried,” added the trainer (quite boldly in the circumstances, I thought). He’s looked fantastic since then. He just had a bad day, so we’re just basically regrouping.” Let’s hope he does indeed turn up for the Pacific Classic. And if he does, one thing’s for sure: rather more is now on the line than it was a month ago. The question is straightforward: will the real Arrogate show up?

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