Young upstart Arrogate ran by California Chrome in the shadow of the wire Nov. 5 at Santa Anita Park, handing the 5-year-old runner his first defeat of 2016 in the $6 million Breeders' Cup Classic (gr. I) and answering the question an entire sport—even his Hall of Fame trainer—was asking.
"Deep down, I really wasn't sure if we could beat California Chrome, because I still have total respect for the horse. He's a great horse," Bob Baffert said. "Turning for home, I thought I was going to run second, but there's nothing wrong with that, because Chrome is a really good horse, and running second to him is no bad thing ... I never thought he would be able to catch Chrome."
When Arrogate set his sights on the chestnut beast at the top of the lane—a force countless runners tried to run down this season to no avail—the colt's record-setting Travers (gr. I) victory was proven no fluke. A lethal gray streak to California Chrome's perfect season, 3-year-old Arrogate closed a 1 1/2-length gap with powerful strides, and blurred under the wire for a half-length score before a Santa Anita Breeders' Cup record crowd of 72,811.
California Chrome, who went winging his way out on the front end under Victor Espinoza for all but the final strides of the 1 1/4-mile Classic, and Arrogate, facing elders for the first time under all-time leading Breeders' Cup rider Mike Smith, separated themselves 10 3/4 lengths from the rest of the field after Arrogate made his move from third and shifted outside for the drive. The final time was 2:00.11.
"This was incredible today," said Smith, who picked up his 25th Breeders' Cup win. "You just don't see things like this from a young 3-year-old. He literally was prancing after the race was over. ... He's so talented. He's got amazing stamina. He doesn't quit. He could have gone around again. He's incredible."
California Chrome had no excuses after racing unchallenged through fractions of :23.28, :47.15, and 1:10.96 as the 4-5 favorite in a nine-horse field.
"I was all by myself in the front and thought I could save something for the end," said Espinoza, who still held the advantage through a 1:35.72 mile.
The 8-5 second choice behind California Chrome, Arrogate returned $5.40, $2.80, and $2.60. Back in the second tier, Keen Ice edged Baffert-trained Hoppertunity by a neck for third. The order of finish was completed by Melatonin, Frosted , Effinex, and War Story. Win the Space did not finish; he was eased but returned to the barn in fine order according to trainer George Papaprodromou, who said he "just inhaled too much dirt and stopped."
Three straight years now, Baffert has won the Classic with a 3-year-old. Triple Crown winner American Pharoah , whose Stall 33 on the Santa Anita backside is now Arrogate's home, was the pinnacle after Bayern 's 2014 score—a race in which California Chrome ran third by a neck en route to Horse of the Year honors after taking the first two legs of the Triple Crown.
"All I can say is, Art Sherman has done an incredible job with California Chrome," Baffert remarked. "That's why this place was packed today."
Baffert delivered a masterful training job of his own with Arrogate, bringing the son of Unbridled's Song in ready to rumble off a 10-week layoff. Arrogate won the Aug. 27 Travers by 13 1/2 lengths, blazed the 1 1/4 miles in 1:59.36, and won a grade I in his first try against stakes company in just his fifth start. He has now won five in a row.
"To come back and sit on him for two months, it was something I used to do in the Quarter Horse business, and I wasn't worried about it," said Baffert, who has now won 14 Breeders' Cup races overall.
The win was a first in the Breeders' Cup Classic and fifth Breeders' Cup victory overall for Prince Khalid Abdullah's Juddmonte Farms, whose operation bolstered its West Coast presence after the death of Bobby Frankel by purchasing horses for Baffert to train. Bred in Kentucky by Clearsky Farms out of theDistorted Humor mare Bubbler and a $560,000 Keeneland September yearling sale purchase from the consignment of his breeder, Arrogate showed his promise early on for Baffert.
"I remember calling (Juddmonte manager) Garrett (O'Rourke) around October," the trainer recalled. "I said, 'Garrett, I think I've found one that's going to pay for all of them.' I said, 'I think we've stumbled onto a really good horse.'
"He always showed run, but we never let him go in the mornings. We never let him run. He's a big horse. He came around on his own."
Arrogate's future, while bright, remains to be determined. His connections plan to race him next year, but which races remain to be seen. In the moments after the Classic, Sherman called for a rematch in the Jan. 28 Pegasus World Cup (gr. I) at Gulfstream Park, but Juddmonte does not own a spot. They could buy in to the 12-horse field if another ownership group was willing to sell a spot. Along those lines, California Chrome's course is relatively set. Perhaps one race, perhaps not, and then a start in the inagural edition of the $12 million event.
"That winner is the real McCoy," Sherman said. "I knew he was the one we had to beat, but I didn't know how good he was."