Smith confidence in Arrogate growing as Classic showdown nears
Whisper it quietly, but Arrogate might be on the way back.
A dazzling workout at Santa Anita on Monday left trainer Bob Baffert drooling and forced British bookmakers to trim his odds for next week's Breeders' Cup Classic.
Another impressed onlooker was big-race jockey Mike Smith, the man who knows more about riding Breeders' Cup winners than anyone else – and whose belief in the grey is returning.
Two defeats at Del Mar – where the action takes place next week – came after Arrogate soared to the top of the world rankings with storming wins in the Classic, held at Santa Anita 12 months ago, the inaugural Pegasus World Cup and Dubai World Cup, making him the highest-earning thoroughbred in history.
Smith, talking to the Racing Post, feels the latter may have left its mark on the Khalid Abdullah-owned colt, a dim fourth of five at 1-20 in the San Diego Handicap before a slightly improved second in the Pacific Classic on his US comeback this summer.
"He travelled a lot before he went to Dubai and the way the race shaped after getting eliminated at the start and having to make up all that ground, and run as hard as he did to win, I just think it took a little more out of him than we thought, but we're really happy with the way he's training," said the rider, who concedes Del Mar may not suit Arrogate as well as other venues.
"When we ran him back the first time at Del Mar it was also a short race for him and the track was very deep. He didn't pick his feet up at all and didn't even try to run, but the second time there he certainly ran a whole lot better. In doing so, he still didn't run his A race, but still almost pulled it off.
"Since then, they've freshened him up and he's been training brilliantly. He worked on Monday and worked so well. Del Mar's never going to be his favourite track – it's just the surface and he doesn't seem to care for it, but the last time he ran he showed he could run on it. But if he goes there and tries and gets a chance to, I think he's going to be tough to beat."
Smith, one shy of equalling the legendary Jerry Bailey's record of five Classic triumphs, thinks next week's line-up could be one for the ages.
"It might shape up to be one of the toughest Classics of all time, Gun Runner is training so well, as are Bob's other two horses West Coast and Collected; it's going to be some race," the 52-year-old added.
"Arrogate's going to have to bring his A game and if he does that I think he's going to run big. We're just going to have to see where that puts us, hopefully in front. Without a doubt he's capable of bringing that, especially the way he's training now.
"This could really top his career off and we hope he can do it and I know he can do it. I know he's capable; he's just got to run his race, that's all. With this time off he's had he seems to have flourished. He's put his weight back on, he looks really and is training really well so I think we're back on track."
Arrogate, who will be retired after the 1m2f Grade 1, is the 3-1 second-favourite for the Classic behind the 7-4 Gun Runner. He is not, however, the only major chance Smith has of adding to his 25 Breeders' Cup winners.
He said: "Drefrong should have a really big chance in the Sprint and is training extremely well right now. Unique Bella should run really, really big in the Filly & Mare Sprint and Abel Tasman is the same, although it's a tough Distaff this year.
"I'm blessed to have some super horses going in and I just hope they get a chance to show what they can do. I wouldn't trade places with anyone with the horses I have – I really like those four."
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