Baffert's champion ready for heavyweight title rematch
World's top-rated racehorse bids to extend winning sequence to six
Preview: USA, Saturday 10.40pm GMT (live on ATR)
Gulfstream Park: Pegasus World Cup Invitational Stakes (Grade 1) 1m1f | dirt | 4yo+
The first Pegasus World Cup found its mojo as soon as Arrogate and California Chrome were inked in for a rematch of their epic Breeders' Cup Classic battle.
Then, in an unforgettable race less than three months ago in the Santa Anita twilight, it was the then-three-year-old Arrogate who triumphed, by half a length after jockey Mike Smith pounced inside the final furlong.
Even so, it was California Chrome who won the popular vote to be crowned North America's Horse of the Year at the recent Eclipse Awards – only for Arrogate to claim the laurels this week as the top-rated performer at the World's Best Racehorse Rankings, where they again finished one-two.
Now battle is rejoined in the world's richest race at Gulfstream Park, where Arrogate must contend with several new factors. The lanky roan colt needed nearly every yard of the mile and two furlongs to take the Classic; now he cuts back a furlong at a Florida track that traditionally rides even faster than Santa Anita.
Moreover, trainer Bob Baffert has had to deal with an interrupted preparation as Arrogate missed his intended prep race owing to a muddy track; rain has also meant changing his work patterns. Not that Baffert is admitting to any concerns for his son of Unbridled's Song.
"He couldn't be doing any better," said the trainer. "We always knew Arrogate was going to be something special but he arrived late at the party, then progressed rapidly and bloomed at the right time. He's going to get better too, as they all get better as they get older. He's just a superior racehorse.
"I'm looking forward to the Pegasus because I’m coming in there with a horse who is doing really well," Baffert added. "It looks like a match-up, but it's a different vibe to the Breeders' Cup as it's the first time they've run the race. But any time two champions like that hook up it's very special. It's going to be a heavyweight title rematch, so hopefully we're ready for it and we're excited."
Another potential fly in the ointment came with the post-position draw: Arrogate breaks from gate one on the rail, which means jockey Mike Smith runs the risk of being cut off; then again, Arrogate isn't short of speed himself, having made all in his breakout performance in last summer's Travers Stakes for a record-smashing 13-length triumph. He has not tasted defeat since his career debut in April.
"He's sharp right now – he's been training very aggressive in the morning, and he needs to be aggressive leaving the one hole," Smith said. "With the short run into this first turn, you're going to have to hope your horse breaks really well and puts you into a good spot."
Smith claimed he would not be especially targeting California Chrome, saying: "Where everyone else is at, I really don't care. It's just about getting my horse into a comfortable place so I can let him run when I want to and he's happy, because I know when he's happy running, he's got a stride that's unmatchable."