Bob Baffert needed to see what his head and heart have been telling him since the evening of July 22.
The Hall of Fame trainer is counting on the no good, very bad day Juddmonte Farms' champion Arrogate had in the TVG San Diego Handicap (G2) being a one-off bobble rather than an indication of a sustained downturn from the world's top-rated horse. Lackluster as the son of Unbridled's Song looked when he hit the wire a disinterested fourth, if any horse is deserving of a mulligan, it is the 4-year-old colt who carved out his illustrious reputation by toying with multiple heralded divisional challengers.
That Arrogate, the one who routinely makes the challenging look effortless, is the one Baffert happily watched get over the Del Mar track Aug. 1. In his first workout since his stunning San Diego Handicap defeat, the gray colt breezed four furlongs in a bullet :47 1/5 and remains on point for a start in the Aug. 19 TVG Pacific Classic (G1).
"I went into (this work) feeling pretty good. I knew we could just draw a line through (the San Diego) so I wasn't too worried," Baffert said after Arrogate's move. "He's looked fantastic since then, galloping. He just had a bad day, so we're regrouping.
"But today, he was moving beautifully. He was really happy, so I was really happy with it. He looked like he went in :49. He never took a deep breath, so we're good."
Even those who gambled on Arrogate going down in defeat in his first start since his stirring triumph in the March 25 Dubai World Cup Sponsored by Emirates Airline (G1) didn't foresee him barely picking up his feet en route to a 15 1/4-length loss to Accelerate in the San Diego. Baffert was quick to put the heat on himself, saying he may have been too confident in his handling of the gray stunner heading into what was supposed to be stepping-stone start.
"That sort of got me a bit, but we're good now," Baffert said. "I sort of changed my plan a little bit and it didn't work. You learn from your losses, you learn what not to do. You hate to get them beat, but we know what a great horse he is, and we're fine now."
Where the initial theory was that Arrogate may have been too short form-wise for the San Diego, Juddmonte Farms' manager Garrett O'Rourke counters that the colt's bullet six-furlong move at Santa Anita Park July 15 may have actually drained the reserve a little too much one week out from his first start off a four-month layoff.
"His final work, he went 1:11 for six furlongs and then galloped out another three-eighths, so he basically ran the equivalent of about a mile and an eighth race. Then the following day he shipped to Del Mar, and then just hadn't gotten over that work," O'Rourke said. "Because he was coming off a four-month layoff. ... it was like he asked him two very big questions a week apart. The first one was a workout, but he probably exerted himself more in that workout than he did in the race, but it left him fatigued for the race. That is Bob's interpretation.
"The biggest positive is there wasn't a reason (for his loss) related to unsoundness, which we feared. And now Bob feels like he did so much with him in that workout followed by that race, that the horse got a lot out of those efforts and he might not have to squeeze as much going into the Pacific Classic."
O'Rourke laughed that before he could finish his conversation with Baffert after Arrogate's Tuesday work, social media was already telling him his trainer was beaming with the result.
"That's how quickly word gets around," O'Rourke said. "(Baffert) seemed relieved as much as anything that the horse is back on track. Fingers crossed it was just a bump in the road."
Four-time grade 1 winner Arrogate is likely going to be tested by one of his own stable buddies in the Pacific Classic. Fellow Baffert trainee Collected, a 14-length winner of the Precisionist Stakes (G3) June 24, was also confirmed for the the 1 1/4-mile race after he worked six furlongs in 1:11 2/5 Tuesday at Del Mar.
"He worked really well. He's going to go in there too," Baffert said. "So as long as he's still training like he is, we'll give him a chance at it."
Among the plethora of top horses Baffert is spoiled with trying to juggle is multiple grade 1 winner Abel Tasman. The Longines Kentucky Oaks (G1) winner showed her mettle when she made a bold move to the front and then held on to best Elate by a head in the July 23 Coaching Club American Oaks (G1). Baffert said he is still debating whether to ship the daughter of Quality Road back to Saratoga Race Course and, if so, which spot to go in.
"I don't know yet. We just got her back and she's shipped three times now," Baffert said. "The (grade 1) Alabama (Aug. 19) might be too soon, and I'm also looking at the (grade 1) Personal Ensign (Aug. 26) maybe. We also have the Cotillion (at Parx Racing, Sept. 23) that might be a spot, but I don't want to run her too much because I really want her fresh for the Breeders' Cup Distaff (G1). I really think she's going to be a huge player in the Distaff.
"I can see the difference in her, she's grown. And she's just a dream to be around."
Mor Spirit, runaway winner of the Mohegan Sun Metropolitan Handicap (G1) June 10, is a candidate for the Forgeo Stakes (G1) Aug. 26, Baffert added.
"Either him or (champion sprinter) Drefong could go in the Forego, whichever one is doing better," Baffert said.