What a difference a year makes.
Last season Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert saw Triple Crown winner American Pharoah defeated for the first time in his 3-year-old campaign by Keen Ice, with a brutal beat in the Travers Stakes (gr. I).
This year Baffert showed up with Juddmonte Farms' Arrogate—a colt previously untested in graded stakes competition—and blew apart the 3-year-old division with the fastest Travers performance in 147 years of history, and a new track record for 1 1/4 miles at Saratoga Race Course.
"Last year you probably could have poured me out of a shot glass," Baffert recalled. "We were pretty dejected. I felt bad for the horse. The horse got beat. He ran hard. ... He ran his heart out. So we were sitting here and it was just emotional. The whole town came out to see him do something like Arrogate did today. We were all looking for that turn for home, cheer up, great end of a movie theme. ... I'm just glad to be back here with another chance at it.
"And my horse ... what he did today is pretty incredible. He looks like a superstar in the making. I think the fans will remember watching a horse like this, because I know, when I see performances like this, they're very rare."
With jockey Mike Smith in the irons from post 1 in a field of 13, Arrogate broke like a shot and set quick fractions of :23.23 and :46.84 through a half-mile. He ran three-quarters in 1:10.85, then opened up by daylight coming off the final turn. Baffert stablemate American Freedom followed Arrogate the whole way around, but was no match down the Saratoga stretch.
Clicking off a 1:35.52 mile, the son of Unbridled's Song blazed under the wire in a final time of 1:59.36, with a 13 1/2-length margin of victory.
"We headed for home and he picked it up when I asked him," Smith said. "I got after him just a little bit, to keep his mind on business, and I was amazed at how he lengthened his stride and opened up."
The Steve Asmussen-trained Gun Runner completed the trifecta, while Preakness (gr. I) winner Exaggerator , favored at 2-1 on the merits of his Betfair.com Haskell Invitational (gr. I) score last time out on the Monmouth Park slop, was never a factor and finished 11th. Belmont Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets (gr. I) winner Creator, also trained by Asmussen, came in seventh.
"We ran into a freak today," Asmussen said. "I thought 2:02 would win it."
Arrogate capped a huge day at Saratoga for his connections. Earlier on the card, Juddmonte took the Sword Dancer Invitational (gr. IT) with Flintshire , and Baffert sent Charles Chu's Drefong to win the Ketel One King's Bishop (gr. I).
Bred in Kentucky by Clearsky Farms out of the Distorted Humor mare Bubbler and consigned by his breeder to the 2014 Keeneland September yearling sale, Arrogate was a $560,000 purchase by Juddmonte—which typically excels with turf contenders, many of them homebreds. Prince Khalid Abdullah decided to have Baffert select and train horses for his California program after losing the late Bobby Frankel as his West Coast conditioner.
"After Bobby died, we didn't have any horses in California, and (Prince Khalid) said he'd like to have some horses in California," said Juddmonte president John Chandler. "Obviously, he chose Bob. Our breeding program didn't quite produce the sort of horses that Bob trained, and he said, 'Well, buy some horses, then.' ...The prince trusted (Bob) to do that. And this turned out pretty big today.
"He's obviously the best (dirt) colt we've ever had."
Clearsky has consigned a Medaglia d'Oro half sister to Arrogate to the upcoming Keeneland September sale. She is Hip 226.
Arrogate, off at odds of 11-1, returned $25.40, $12.60, and $8.40. American Freedom paid $6.70 and $4.60, while Gun Runner brought $6.80. Completing the full order of finish were Gift Box, Governor Malibu, Connect, Creator, My Man Sam, Destin, Forever d'Oro, Exaggerator, Jim Dandy (gr. II) upsetter Laoban , and 131-1 shot Anaximandros. Majesto was scratched.
Arrogate will ship back to Southern California Aug. 29, and could train up to the Nov. 5 Breeders' Cup Classic (gr. I) at Santa Anita Park.
"That was a pretty big jump that he made today," Baffert said. "I'm sure that all his (speed figures) and sheet numbers are going to be off the chart. There's no rush. I think that he's the kind of horse that, after what he did today, he could go into the Breeders' Cup fresh like Pharaoh did. I don't think that's a big problem for him."