When it was over, even his trainer couldn't believe what Arrogate had done.
Juddmonte Farms' Unbridled's Song colt broke slowly out of the starting gate in the $10 million Dubai World Cup Sponsored by Emirates Airline (G1), got squeezed between two horses early, raced behind a talented field, and still got home first by 2 1/4 lengths.
In winning his third straight "world" title, Arrogate was so dominant that jockey Mike Smith said he geared the gray down at the top of the stretch to avoid taking the lead too early.
After the slow start trainer Bob Baffert said he was hoping Smith would simply take care of the superstar colt. Instead, Arrogate started picking up horses, reached contention, and swept by Gun Runner, who held second easily over Neolithic, giving American runners a 1-2-3 finish in the finale of the world's richest night of racing.
"I missed the break completely," Smith said. "I said, 'I'm just going to ride him like Zenyatta. I had no choice but to just sit there and let him collect himself."
Baffert, who scored his third Dubai World Cup victory, said the terrible break took the wind out of his sails and caused him to question his eleventh-hour decision to bring Arrogate to Dubai after his victories in the Pegasus World Cup Invitational (G1) at Gulfstream Park and the Breeders' Cup Classic (G1) at Santa Anita Park.
"I was thinking, 'Maybe I shouldn't have brought him. Maybe he's getting tired.' ... I thought, 'If he can't win, Mike will take care of him and not abuse him.'"
But as Arrogate worked his way into contention, the Hall of Fame trainer's mood shifted.
"I thought then, 'If he wins this race, he's the most incredible horse I've ever seen,'" he said.
By that point, Smith had totally regained his confidence.
"I actually kind of geared him down a little bit, because I didn't want him to hit the lead at the quarter pole," the jockey said. "Whatever happened, it happened for a reason. It might have been a boring race."
The Dubai World Cup was run over a track officially labeled "muddy" after a torrential rainstorm Saturday morning capped a week of turbulent weather. Despite the off track, significant kickback, and his long trip from California, Arrogate finished the 2,000 meters—about 1 1/4 miles—in 2:02.23.
Gun Runner, whose racing schedule was interrupted when he was trapped by the Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots quarantine due to an equine herpesvirus outbreak earlier this year, ran gallantly in defeat and was five lengths clear of Neolithic at the wire.
"He ran great," said Gun Runner's owner, Ron Winchell. "We got a great thrill out of it."
He also earned $2 million for finishing second. Arrogate got $6 million and Neolithic, who also finished third in the Pegasus, collected $1 million.
Mubtaahij, who came in second behind California Chrome in last year's World Cup, finished fourth while a budding Japanese star, Awardee, finished fifth. Baffert's other starter, dual grade 1 winner Hoppertunity, came in sixth, while Keen Ice, trained by Todd Pletcher, finished seventh. Last year's UAE Derby (G2) winner, Lani, crossed the wire eighth. He was followed home by Apollo Kentucky, Move Up (GB), Long River, Special Fighter (IRE), Furia Cruzada (CHI), and Gold Dream (JPN).
Baffert said his one regret was about Hoppertunity, his stable favorite.
"I just wish Hoppy had run a little better," Baffert said of the Any Given Saturday horse, who finished third in last year's World Cup.
The win boosted Arrogate's career bankroll to $17,084,600, making him the highest-earning North American-based Thoroughbred in history. He eclipsed California Chrome among runners with one start in North America. He ranks third among all earners worldwide behind Orfevre ($19,005,275) and Gentildonna ($18,468,392).
Out of the Distorted Humor mare Bubbler, Arrogate was bred in Kentucky by Clearsky Farms and was a $560,000 Keeneland September yearling sale purchase in 2014.
Baffert and Garrett O'Rourke, racing manager for Juddmonte, said Arrogate will get a long rest now with an effort to repeat in the Breeders' Cup Classic, which is still the long-range goal for the year.
Baffert said he was glad he brought Arrogate to the desert, even beyond the prestige and purse money.
"Everybody who was here tonight is going to say, 'I'm glad I was here to see that,'" he said. "If anybody wasn't super impressed with that, they just don't like horse racing. I still can't believe he won the race."