Everything on paper says the gray son of Unbridled's Song, entered in Del Mar's ninth race July 22, has the easiest job of anyone in his camp.
All Arrogate has to do is show up and be Arrogate, and Saturday's $300,000 TVG San Diego Handicap (G2) is a foregone conclusion.
If the horse rated the world's best uncorks a fraction of the form that shook the racing world last summer with his record-setting Travers Stakes (G1) victory, twice bested two-time Horse of the Year California Chrome , and had his Hall of Fame trainer awestruck after the colt's last-to-first masterclass in the Dubai World Cup Sponsored by Emirates Airline (G1), the four other entrants in the 1 1/16-mile race will battle for the honor of running second to North America's all-time leading money earner.
That's what every piece of handicapping evidence says will play out once the gate is sprung, which is exactly why Arrogate's connections will stress until they see the expected ending for themselves.
The more accolades Arrogate seamlessly collects, the heavier the burden of expectations becomes each time Juddmonte Farms' champion colt emerges for an on-track spectacle. In what will be his first race since his March 25 Dubai World Cup win, the 4-year-old has the first-world problem this weekend of being expected to not just win, but to do so in a manner befitting a horse hailed as the best handicap runner on the globe.
While Arrogate has to carry the 126 pounds he was assigned for the San Diego, those in charge of getting him there acknowledge the weight of obligation never really gets easier to tout, even after decades of being associated with some of racing's best. It is the reason trainer Bob Baffert routinely adds phrases like, "as long as he's doing well."
"I mean, there is a lot of responsibility that comes with the opportunity to ride a horse like that and certainly to train a horse like that," said Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith, who has been Arrogate's race-day partner since their Travers win. "Yeah, they're that talented, but yeah, they're expected to win and everyone else expects them to win too. So there is that added pressure that goes along with them, which is rightly so.
"But in saying that—man, that's what I live for. I can't wait to get him back to the races and, good Lord willing, we'll run well and come out of this in great shape and move on to the next spot. It's exciting to get him back."
While Baffert said the San Diego's 8 1/2 furlongs is not Arrogate's optimal distance, the four-time grade 1 winner and earner of more than $17 million is nonetheless undefeated in three starts at the distance, including a 1 3/4-length allowance win at Del Mar Aug. 4. Whether he's on the lead, off the pace, or eating a face full of kickback at the rear of a field, Smith says he has yet to find a race scenario that is capable of knocking Arrogate off his lengthy stride.
"He's a great horse for the sport," Smith said. "He just does things that—again, I keep looking for a word for it, but I just keep calling him different. He does things that are different that I haven't seen done before."
Smith has some fresh perspective on guiding an overwhelming champion against a supposedly overmatched bunch. A week ago he pushed Rick Porter's Songbird more than expected during the stretch of the Delaware Handicap (G1)—just her second start of the year—and then heard those who believed the fact that the nine-time grade 1 heroine "only" won by a length was a sign that she is regressing.
"People were expecting her to draw away and win by 20 and you can't just drain her that hard to make her do that," Smith said. "I mean, we have a lot of the year left and we have a lot of steps we have to get through to have her ready for the Breeders' Cup. But she pulled it off."
With Accelerate the only other graded stakes winner in the five-horse San Diego field, the expectation is for Arrogate to take care of business without having to draw hard air. What need not be forgotten when analyzing the outcome is that the champion's first start in nearly four months is still a stepping stone toward the Aug. 19 TVG Pacific Classic (G1) and the Nov. 4 Breeders' Cup Classic (G1).
"The good ones get the job done," Smith said. "I think everyone here at Del Mar is just excited about watching him run again."