Shorter trip favours Chrome in Pegasus clash
Sam Walker on the biggest races and best performances around the globe
The best horses on the planet will battle it out in the world’s richest race, the Pegasus World Cup, on Saturday.
With a $1m entry fee attached to each of the dozen places in the starting line-up, there were concerns that organisers would struggle to fill the field when the idea for the Pegasus was first floated.
But all 12 berths were sold by May last year and on Saturday a full complement will go to post for the inaugural running of the race, which will surpass the Dubai World Cup as the most valuable in the world, worth $7m to the winner and $12m in total.
The promoters behind the groundbreaking event have done a sterling job on recruitment, having attracted the world’s two highest-rated horses in Arrogate and California Chrome.
California Chrome came out on top at the Eclipse Awards last week when named Horse of the Year, but he was a ‘body of work’ champion given Arrogate held the upper hand on the only occasion they have met on the racecourse.
That clash came in the Breeders’ Cup Classic in November when Arrogate finished half a length in front of California Chrome and the pair pulled ten and three-quarter lengths clear of the field.
They earned RPRs of 136 and 135 in that race, which put them in clear first and second on the world list in one of the greatest contests we’ve seen since the Racing Post started handicapping races in 1988.
Arrogate’s mark of 136 put him on the all-time RPR top ten list with the likes of Montjeu and Dayjur, while California Chrome’s 135 was the highest RPR ever achieved in defeat.
The Classic in November thoroughly lived up to its name and the rematch at Gulfstream Park on Saturday should be another thriller. The bookies cannot split the big two.
Arrogate is the young, lightly raced improver who has already beaten his more experienced rival. Under normal circumstances when a horse with that profile gets the better of the seasoned champion the scales tend to tip increasingly in favour of the younger horse.
But that theory does not tell the whole story of these two champions and, with the Pegasus run over a furlong shorter than the Classic, there is a good chance California Chrome can gain his revenge.
Arrogate’s strength is his stamina. That came to the fore in both of his huge wins last season. He was relentless in the Travers, where he kept going as his opponents faltered, clocking a record time, and he dug deep to grab a late win in the Classic, both over 1m2f.
Over 1m1f we are firmly in California Chrome territory and, while the six-year-old has been a fan favourite for a few years, there is no suggestion he is past his best. Indeed, his last six performances have been better than at any point in his career and he has posted 130+ figures on each of his last four starts.
Back in trip he can get Arrogate in trouble earlier and keep up the pace on the front to hold on for a fairytale victory, which would see the rags-to-riches chestnut – bred and owned by a team of amateurs – become the highest-earning racehorse of all time.
Arrogate would need to be a complete freak to overcome the distance and pace angles. However, he still could be and, whatever happens on Saturday, he looks set for a great 2017. He should rack up a string of Grade 1 wins before going for back-to-back wins in the Breeders’ Cup Classic.
In contrast, Team Chrome had talked about retiring the six-year-old to stud after the Pegasus; he’s got mares booked in already. But he’s been going so well in training they have had second thoughts about running him in the Dubai World Cup in March.
All should become clear on Saturday.
Longines rankings flatter Aussies
If you believe the Longines World’s Best Racehorse Rankings that came out this week, then Australia has had an exceptional year.
Star mare Winx equalled Black Caviar’s best ever rating of 132 on the WBRR, while Hartnell, who finished third in the Melbourne Cup on his latest start, also made his way into the world’s top ten.
Hartnell was comprehensively beaten by Winx the three times they met in 2016, but the world rankings committee still saw something which made them think he was as good as Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe winner Found and triple Group 1 winner Postponed, giving him a mark of 124.
In reality, Hartnell, who won the Queen’s Vase for Mark Johnston in 2014, has not suddenly become better than the top European horses and, while he may look good in weaker races in Australia, he could probably not win a Group 1 race back in Britain, France or Ireland. Maybe Italy.
The Aussies also overperformed in the Longines Top 100 races list, which saw the Cox Plate rank as the joint second-best race in the world – ahead of the Champion Stakes and the Arc.
Perhaps the biggest pro-Australian howler was with the George Ryder Stakes, a 7½f race won by Winx, which apparently ranks as the seventh best race in the world – ahead of the QEII – despite the fact the second, third and fourth failed to win even the lowliest of Australian Group 1s last year.