Baffert: more to come from world champion Arrogate
Arrogate, crowned the Longines World's Best Racehorse of 2016 with a rating of 134 at a ceremony in London on Tuesday, could be even better in 2017 according to Bob Baffert, and we need wait only until Saturday for the first opportunity to see if the trainer will be proved right.
The $12m Pegasus World Cup Invitational at Gulfstream Park, the world's richest race, offers Arrogate the chance to confirm his Breeders' Cup Classic superiority over dual US Horse of the Year California Chrome, on 133 the second-best horse in the world, and Baffert is relishing another battle between "two Titans".
Speaking at Claridges while enjoying what he described as a "rare opportunity for a mini-vacation", leaving his assistant to ship Arrogate from Santa Anita to Gulfstream Park, Baffert spoke of an extraordinary colt who "showed a lot of speed and has huge lung capacity, and so just doesn't get tired".
He described Arrogate as a very different type to American Pharoah, his Triple Crown winner of 2015 who was also the top-rated horse of his year on 134, but said he is "getting bigger and stronger" and has trained well in unseasonably wet California.
Baffert said: "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."
A repeat win in the Breeders' Cup Classic, which was confirmed as the 2016 Longines World's Best Horse Race, is the ultimate target this year, but for now Baffert is concentrating on Saturday's race.
He said: "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.
"He couldn't be doing any better. If the race had been around last year it would have been a great send-off for American Pharoah. I never thought I would have two great horses like that back to back."
Connections of California Chrome, already the highest earner in American racing history and due to go to stud after Saturday's race, were represented by Kelly Martin, racing manager and daughter of co-owner and breeder Perry Martin.
Martin, who singled out the chestnut's 2016 Dubai World Cup win as his career highlight, said California Chrome is pleasing in his preparation and reflected: "He's such a great horse and had a magnificent 2016. I’m so honoured that he's the second-best racehorse in the world. He has taken us on a world ride and it has been wonderful to watch."
World awaits Winx – but not just yet
Chris Waller was not serious when he said Winx might switch to dirt and take on Arrogate in the Classic if she is successful in her bid for a third Cox Plate in October.
However, he is ruling nothing out in 2018 for his brilliant mare, whose third place overall with a rating of 132 after eight straight wins, six of them Group 1, equalled the best mark given to her compatriot Black Caviar.
A trip to Royal Ascot this year briefly seemed a tantalising possibility after Winx's eight-length demolition of Hartnell in the Cox Plate, and while that has been ruled out Waller is not discounting it for 2018, although he does not know how best to place a mare who he described as " dominant at home from 1,400 metres [seven furlongs] to 2,000 [a mile and a quarter]."
Waller, who said Winx's "exceptional determination and will to win" are what distinguishes her, pointed out that while she hasn't won any of her ten barrier trials, "in a race she is just possessed".
He added: "That determination has taken us on a ride which is quite exceptional, and it could get us out of trouble in England, France, America or wherever we decide.
"The Breeders' Cup Classic is the best race in the world, or maybe the Arc de Triomphe would be the right race for her. Bob Baffert says she races like a horse who would be effective on dirt, and she's by Street Cry, so why not, but if she went to the Breeders' Cup why wouldn't she run in the Mile on turf?
"We've got to be level-headed and try to pick one or two out, rather than try taking them all on. But if she wins that third Cox Plate I don't think there's any more to achieve [at home] and I'm sure the owners would agree to a world experience."