Juddmonte Farms’ Arrogate was bestowed with the accolade of 2016 Longines World's Best Racehorse at a glittering ceremony in London Jan. 24. The 4-year-old colt, trained by Bob Baffert, prevailed over California Chrome and the Australian mare, Winx, for an award determined strictly on racing merit.
A delighted Baffert was present to collect the award, as he had been 12 months earlier when American Pharoah won the same accolade.
"Having the Longines World’s Best Racehorse is quite an honor," he said. "After getting it last year with American Pharoah, I know what kind of presence Longines has in racing. It is a huge honor to get this award two years in a row."
Bred in Kentucky by Clearsky Farms, Arrogate earned a rating of 134 by a panel of handicappers who gathered under the auspices of the International Federation of Horseracing Authorities. His half-length defeat of California Chrome in the Nov. 6 Breeders' Cup Classic (G1) saw him rated one pound ahead of California Chrome, with Winx, an eight-length repeat winner of Australia's premier weight-for-age race, the William Hill Cox Plate (G1), rated one further back with 132.
Connections of all three horses were on hand to accept commemorative gifts from Longines.
Tangentially, Arrogate's Breeders' Cup Classic triumph helped to propel the 10-furlong contest into first place among the world's elite races. At 125 1/4, the Classic accrued the highest average rating combining the first four horses to finish (Arrogate, California Chrome, Keen Ice, and the Baffert-trained Hoppertunity). This placed it a half-point ahead of a three-way tie for second place, which was shared by the QIPCO Irish Champion Stakes (G1), the $1 Million TVG Pacific Classic (G1) and the Cox Plate.
Craig Fravel, president and CEO of the Breeders' Cup, was on hand to pay his own tribute.
"Arrogate showed all of us what he was made of in the Breeders’ Cup Classic," he reflected. "That is what this horserace is intended to do—identify champions."
There was a celebratory mood among invited guests at Claridge's Hotel, a London landmark. In their number was Her Majesty the Queen's grandson Peter Phillips, brother of Zara, who was part of the Great Britain equestrian eventing team that won the silver medal at the 2012 Olympic Games in London.
Baffert, for his part, was generous toward the horses vanquished by Arrogate.
"It was special to beat a horse like California Chrome (in the Classic), who has beaten me more times than I have beaten him," he said.
And after seeing footage of Winx winning her 13th straight race in the Cox Plate, he added: "This Winx —what a racemare she is."
Although disappointed, Winx's co-owner Debbie Kepitis, was visibly moved during the ceremony.
"Winx is very special," she said before her emotions engulfed her. "I'm sorry, I'm lost for words. It's amazing to have our wonderful horse recognized like this."
Trainer Chris Waller was equally proud.
"The pinnacle would be for Winx to win a third Cox Plate, and after that, we will take her onto the world stage."
He then quipped: "I guess we've got to race her on dirt to try and win the Breeders' Cup Classic if we want to be the best horse in the world."
Consolation for Winx's connections is that she closed 2016 as the high-rated turf horse in the world, and the high-rated filly or mare.
Kelly Martin, daughter of California Chrome's co-breeder and co-owner, Perry Martin, paid heartfelt tribute to the 6-year-old.
"He has taken us on a wild ride," she said of the chestnut. "My personal favorite memory was when he won the Dubai World Cup (G1, Sponsored by Emirates Airline, in March). It took my breath away; it blew my mind."
Baffert was visiting London for the first time 12 months ago. He fell in love with the city, and confided that an abiding ambition was for him to ride in one of the Royal Carriages that make their way down the home straight before racing at Royal Ascot every day.
"That would be big," he said. "I watched Ascot on television last year and enjoyed that procession most of all."
Among the garlands handed out to Baffert was a Longines watch; he had received another after American Pharoah won the Preakness Stakes (G1) in 2015.
"It was raining that day and the cases were open for the presentation ceremony," he reflected. "The next time I opened it, the case had got moldy. I had to throw it away."
But don't be tempted to feel too sorry for Baffert. Juan-Carlos Capelli, vice president of Longines, teased Baffert from the presentation podium: "I'm thinking: 'How many watches do you have now?' Enough to open your own shop."
After finishing third in his debut in April last year, Arrogate (Unbridled's Song—Bubbler, By Distorted Humor ) won his next five starts, among them the Travers Stakes (G1) by 13 1/2 lengths in track record time. He races in the green, pink, and white silks of Prince Khalid Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, who has also campaigned a pair of iconic European turf horses in Dancing Brave and Frankel.
A $560,000 yearling purchase from the 2014 Keeneland September yearling sale, Arrogate will square off with California Chrome again on Saturday in the inaugural Pegasus World Cup Invitational Stakes (G1). Arrogate is expected to close his racing career after a repeat bid for the Breeders' Cup Classic at Del Mar in November.