Arrogate: did not have to work as hard as in the Breeders' Cup ClassicPICTURE: Getty Images
Arrogate strolls to Pegasus as Chrome flops
Report: USA, Saturday
Gulfsteam Park: Pegasus World Cup Invitational (Grade 1) 1m1f, dirt, 4yo+
EVERYBODY said it would be a two-horse race and everybody was wrong.
The inaugural Pegasus World Cup was the very definition of a one-horse race as Arrogate produced a superlative performance to claim the most valuable race on the planet at Gulfstream Park.
Among those left trailing in the big-striding galloper's shadow was America's most popular horse California Chrome, who exits the scene to take up stud duties after a glorious career on the back of a thoroughly downbeat showing.
Clearly the sentimental choice of the Florida crowd, the newly crowned US Horse of the Year could beat only three home, virtually pulled up nearly 30 lengths behind his arch rival. It later emerged that he had come out of the race with some fluid on a knee.
If the Breeders' Cup Classic had been an epic two-horse war, the world's richest race was a less extraordinary rendition, a sequel lacking the drama of the original.
However, one of the lead actors gave a sensational performance, as Arrogate showed just why he is the world's top-rated racehorse with a display of complete authority.
The Bob Baffert-trained four-year-old was utterly dominant; in hindsight, the result was not in any serious doubt from the moment Mike Smith chivvied him out sharply from the potentially troublesome inside berth. The rest was little more than a walk in the park as Arrogate strolled home nearly five lengths clear of Shaman Ghost to claim the first running of this innovative $12 million event.
Smith: 'Another incredible performance'
"I say this with all due respect to the other horses - he got to gear down for the last good hundred yards," marvelled Smith. "He's got some turn of foot and some stride," added the 51-year-old, who is known as 'Big Money Mike' owing to his record in top-dollar races.
Carrying the colours of Khalid Abdullah's Juddmonte operation, Arrogate sat third on the rail a couple of lengths behind front-running Noble Bird before Smith moved him three wide on the far turn and the lanky roan colt stretched his legs. At the same time, California Chrome - never happy after being hung out five wide from his horrible draw in gate 12 - came under a ride and had absolutely nothing to offer.
Arrogate strode clear, to the extent that Smith was able to take it easy inside the final furlong. He still won by four and three-quarter lengths from Shaman Ghost, who duly won $1.75m for Pegasus founder Frank Stronach, with Neolithic taking third place another three and a half down. Arrogate stopped the clock in 1m47.61s.
"It was another incredible performance and I was able to use the first turn to our advantage by staying on the rail and then it was a matter of getting the trip," said Smith, who pointed to the heavens after the race in memory of his late father, who died just before Christmas.
"I looked halfway down the backside and I saw Victor [Espinoza] having a nudge on Chrome and I thought 'maybe he ain't there today'. He had me right where he wanted me but Chrome just did not fire today believe me, that's not his race at all. The California Chrome I know would have been on top of me so I was blessed to be able to take out and once I got out, I was loaded. He was gone."
Baffert: 'His stride is just incredible'
Baffert admitted he had some big-match nerves after Arrogate's interrupted preparation owing to the persistent rain in southern California in recent weeks. Despite his confidence in his horse's wellbeing, a post position in gate one hardly offered soothing balm to an unquiet soul.
"I knew with the one-hole he had to break cleanly, he couldn't be shuffled back with a lot of horses in front of him," explained the west-coast legend. "He broke well, as well as he could and he just ran his race. His stride is just incredible and he came back and he's really not that tired."
Arrogate just shaded favouritism at 9-10, with California Chrome sent off an even-money chance. It was 6-5; it was 16-1 bar two. "When he made that move at the three-eighths pole I knew right there: boy, this horse is throwing into the gears and it was going to take something really special to run him down," added Baffert. "To be able to train a horse like that is pretty incredible. He's getting better - he's such a superior horse."
Arrogate's defence of his Breeders' Cup crown is Baffert's priority this season, and the trainer also mentioned coming back to the Pegasus again in 12 months' time; Dubai, though not entirely ruled out, seems an unlikely prospect.
Juddmonte's US manager Garrett O'Rourke commented: "Today obviously was the primary goal. We want, of course, the horse to have a championship season. So the end of the year is very important. At the moment we won't think about anything until we get out a few weeks."
Sherman: 'Chrome couldn't get his footing'
For all Arrogate's talents, there is no doubt he was not the marquee name in the race in publicity terms in comparison to California Chrome, who featured heavily in news broadcasts on NBC and ESPN and became front-page news on the Miami Herald in the run-up.
Yet much to the dismay of the 'Chromie army' of fans, he will go to stud after an uncharacteristically tame effort. "He didn't break as sharp as he usually does and then he got hung wide," said trainer Art Sherman.
"It looks like he scrambled away from there and couldn't get his footing. It looked like he wasn't getting a hold of the racetrack, like maybe his feet were getting out from under him.
"I don't know why - he worked good over it," he added. "Down the backside he settled in and had no excuse but he didn't have that oomph today that he usually kicks in a the three-eighths pole, he just looked listless.
"This is the first bad race he's ever run for me but we had a great run. He's going to the breeding shed and I just hope his babies come back to me. It's been one hell of a journey for me."
Later, news of the knee problem emerged. "It might be a chip, which we could take out arthroscopically," said Sherman, speaking to the Daily Racing Form.
California Chrome's jockey Victor Espinoza said he had "never really got into the race", adding: "He faded by the half-mile pole. I was pretty much done by that point. At the five-eighths pole I didn't feel I had that power - he was empty. I hope he's okay."