The gates flew open under the darkened skies of the desert, and within seconds, trainer Bob Baffert began second-guessing his Hall of Fame judgment.
The horse who had been named the world's best—who had twice dismissed two-time Horse of the Year California Chrome and broken records in his first stakes try—had just walked out of the gate in the $10 million Dubai World Cup Presented by Emirates Airline (G1), giving an international field of top-level challengers every advantage they could have hoped for.
"When I was watching it I thought, 'I hope (jockey) Mike (Smith) takes care of him. Maybe I shouldn't have come here,'" Baffert said of seeing Juddmonte Farms' champion Arrogate break last, behind 13 challengers, in the 2017 edition of Meydan Racecourse's signature test. "I was actually listening to the crowd, and everybody was thinking, 'Oh, he has no chance.'"
Conventional wisdom said it was too much to overcome against such elite company, even for an equine wunderkind. Just as Arrogate's connections were coming to grips with a grandiose plan gone awry, the blue-gray son of Unbridled's Song demonstrated his unique ability.
Arrogate's last-to-first triumph over eventual Horse of the Year Gun Runner March 25 goes down as his supernova. Despite facing a doomsday race scenario, the leggy colt showed every bit of his class over the rain-soaked track when he heeded his unflappable Hall of Fame rider and delivered a freight-train of a rally that left him 2 1/4 lengths in front after looking hopelessly beaten for all but the final 800 meters.
"That was an incredible performance," Baffert said. "That is the best I have ever seen in my life."
Arrogate's international journey was as emphatic a testimony to his talent as any descriptors his team could put forth. He had already won three grade 1 races—a streak that began with his track-record, 13 1/2-length triumph in the 2016 Travers Stakes (G1) and was followed by victories in the Breeders' Cup Classic (G1) and the inaugural edition of the Pegasus World Cup Invitational Stakes (G1) in 2017.
He had run more experienced members of his class off their feet in his first graded stakes test and reeled in a seasoned champion in his first try against elders. After eating a face full of kickback over the Meydan main track, Arrogate flaunted brilliance, composure, stamina, and effortless explosiveness all during a 1 1/4-mile masterpiece.
"We won't see a horse like that, that threw in those kind of performances. That's just very rare," Baffert said. "I just can't see him missing in the breeding shed."
With his second career getting underway in 2018, expectations are understandably high that Arrogate's aptitude will translate into another generation of success for his sire line.
Physically, he boasts many of the same attributes that made Unbridled's Song one of the most popular stallions in the commercial marketplace. With his high cruising speed and ability to carry it over a route of ground, getting him a book of mares who can complement those traits has been a priority in his initial season—and there has been no shortage of desirable partners.
In the weeks after Mandy Pope purchased two-time Eclipse Award champion Songbird for $9.5 million at the 2017 Fasig-Tipton November sale, she announced the daughter of Medaglia d'Oro would be among the first dates for Juddmonte's newest stallion. Since the start of the breeding season, multiple grade 1 winner Paulassilverlining and graded stakes winner Bsharpsonata—a half sister to grade 2 winner Backtalk —have been confirmed in foal to Arrogate, whose book is restricted to 142 mares in 2018 at an advertised fee of $75,000.
"You have to offer the public what they want and ... I think probably the one thing we have done in limiting his book is trying to appease the breeders that feel like if they're going to spend that kind of money on a stud fee, they don't want to be overloaded with too much competition at the sales," said Juddmonte manager Garrett O'Rourke. "That is one of the biggest commitments we have made. We may take a hit in the early years on that end because of the number of mares we are limiting to. We may take a hit in income, but I think we'll make it up in the long term by making him into hopefully one of the next great sires, and putting him up there with the top stallions like the Tapits and the Curlins that are standing for huge stud fees.
"We're adapting to breeders' demands ... and at that level, it looks like there is strong demand."