Awesome Arrogate overcomes adversity to win in stunning fashion
Baffert hails 'the greatest horse I've ever seen run'
Was it a mirage in the desert? It had to be, right? Wrong. Arrogate, already the best horse on the planet, secured his legacy in the most spectacular fashion, giving some of the best dirt horses in the world a huge lead from the stalls before circling all 13 rivals to send Meydan into mayhem with an astonishing performance.
Trainer Bob Baffert has until now refused to compare Arrogate with his Triple Crown winner American Pharoah but he was left without doubt, as was any right-minded individual privileged enough to stand among the masses at Meydan, that he was not only the best he has trained but potentially the best of the best.
“He's the best I’ve ever seen in my life,” said Baffert. “I can’t believe he’s won. When he walked out of the gate I gave him no chance at all - I said why did I bring him? This was a mistake. That’s the greatest horse I’ve seen since Secretariat. That was like the movie Seabiscuit.”
Not only did he fluff the start, Arrogate had to overcome a dirt track that had never been raced on so close to a thunderous storm that had left Dubai airport unserviceable and the city in chaos just hours earlier.
Before a herd of tractors and harrowers did their best to revive a course that looked borderline raceable at best under a sea of standing water at the start of the day, there was plenty of talk if the meeting should be going ahead but thank the lord it did, because Arrogate had something special to share.
“When he started making that move I think the crowd helped him get there,” said Baffert. “To me, I’ve never seen a horse do what he did tonight. I thought he was going to be second or third from the gate. That was the plan. He’s just a great horse.”
With plans A, B and C gone, veteran rider Mike Smith still refused to panic. Not only did he break slowest from stall nine, Arrogate was also badly barged as the field left him behind on the charge to the first bend.
Smith still had ten lengths to make up leaving the back straight but under him he had more horsepower than a Formula One starting grid and he gradually built up the revs and flicked through the gears.
As Arrogate extended his monumental stride, he made up five lengths in a heartbeat and as he levelled for home the unachievable was on. He didn’t even need the length of the straight, getting upsides leader Gun Runner - who had sat second early on while Arrogate toiled out the back - with over a furlong to run, then coming clear by two and a quarter lengths as Meydan shook to its core.
Smith, 51, said: “I rode the great mare Zenyatta and when I got away so bad I said ‘You know what buddy? You can do it just like she did’. He was slipping and sliding from the word go but once I got to the back side he levelled out and I made five lengths so quick.
"Then I tried to be patient, let everyone else work their way in so I didn’t have to tip out too wide and it worked out great. I had plenty of horse at the end.”
Smith said Arrogate had turned his head just before the gate had opened, causing the chaos that followed and added: “I know it’s not funny to say but Bob had a heart attack last time he was here and I think I had one too at the start.
"Having had the opportunity to ride a great mare like Zenyatta, sitting back there and having to have so much patience on her, it all came out tonight.
"God has blessed me so much to give me a horse like this towards the end of my career, I’m lost for words; I’m going to break down and cry. He’s the best I’ve ever been on - he proved it right there. He’s the world’s horse now.”
Perhaps most astonishing of all is this time last year Arrogate was an unraced three-year-old, yet 11 months later he is the highest prize-money earner of all time, with his career earnings rocketing through the $17 million mark here.
Baffert had earlier in the week called Arrogate America’s Frankel and with the World Cup winner set to race on, time will tell if he can challenge Frankel’s record 140 rating.
Both champions carry the silks of Khalid Abdullah’s Juddmonte Farm and the owner’s racing manager Teddy Grimthorpe said: “That was unbelievable. You don’t see that in dirt racing; they don’t circle the field like that. How lucky can we be?”
The answer is incredibly. As are we all to have witnessed such an astounding performance.