There could be better to come from Pegasus star Arrogate
A look at the biggest races and best performances from around the globe
Some folk have a problem with Arrogate. They love his speed, class, determination and consistency and even the fact he’s grey. But what they don’t like is that he only runs on dirt.
They saw him win the Breeders’ Cup Classic and the Pegasus World Cup on Saturday, but still they ask: how can a dirt horse be crowned the best in the world? Yes, he’s won the best dirt races, but what does that mean if he can’t do it on turf?
The simple answer is that dirt racing is way bigger than some folks realise. Turf may be the surface of choice in Europe, but in America dirt has been number one for hundreds of years, carrying its own rich prestige and history – and America is by far the biggest racing nation in the world.
In fact, there are more horses in training and races run in the US in any given year than in Britain, Ireland, France, Germany, Japan and Hong Kong combined.
If success stems from a combination of investment, skill, opportunity and luck, then America should always have something near the top of the tree, since they rule the roost on bloodstock value, quantity of horses and number of races run.
Since American horsemen have dirt as the surface of choice, then now and again a dirt horse is bound to rise to the top of the Racing Post Ratings, as they have three times in the last decade with Invasor (2007), American Pharoah (2015) and Arrogate (2016). It would be just the same if their surface of choice was powdered custard.
So a better question is not why a dirt horse should be crowned world champion ahead of turf horses, but how do we gauge the relative merits of dirt and turf horses given they are completely different spheres within the same sport; a bit like apples and oranges. Or hurdlers and chasers.
The truth is that at an individual level we can’t know for sure whether the leading dirt horse from 2016 (Arrogate) or the leading turf horse (Winx) is ‘better’ than the other, since on their own surface they would smash the other to bits.
However, what we can compare is their ability within their own sphere, both historically and against their contemporaries.
For example, Frankel never raced outside Britain but we know historically how strong the European milers perform all over the world and we know how well his collateral form lines performed overseas. We also know how rare it is to find a horse who is that far clear of his contemporaries, who manages to maintain his form for two full seasons and whose rivals win scores of Group 1 races in their own right.
After decades of international raids between one country and another and a bustling foreign trade in thoroughbreds we can also be pretty sure about the standards on offer in each country via what we term ‘crossover form’: form lines from horses who run in different countries or on different surfaces.
An example of this came at the end of what was a lean spell at the top of American dirt racing, when two horses who were not the best in Europe came close to winning the Breeders’ Cup Classic. Declaration Of War finished a nose and a head behind Mucho Macho Man in 2013, while Toast Of New York was beaten a nose by Bayern in 2014.
In these cases the supporting evidence suggested that the best American dirt horses were at that time clearly no match for either their forefathers on the dirt or the best turf horses around and their RPRs reflected that.
If you multiply up this crossover evidence into hundreds of lines a year you get to see the web of form that builds up to give us an idea of who might or might not be the best around at any point in time.
In the case of Arrogate and Winx it is fairly straightforward, as both horses have looked exceptional, but Winx achieved her status in a division (Australian middle distance) that is historically weak in relation to Europe or Japan and which did not look any stronger than normal last year.
There were no meaningful lines between Winx and a horse trained in Europe or Japan last year. The only direct line with the second best horse in Winx’s division, Hartnell, came when he finished between top European handicappers Heartbreak City and Qewy when third in the Melbourne Cup, which suggests he would be just below Group 1 standard in Europe.
The current mediocre standards in this division were further highlighted by the runaway success Godolphin had when winning five Australian graded races in a month with horses who were handicappers in Europe, arriving with peak RPRs of 109-112.
Nothing against Winx. She’s superb and on RPRs she was ranked as the best turf performer in the world – ahead of the best Europeans and Japanese. That’s where the levels put her.
It’s just that when Arrogate beat California Chrome, the pair pulling miles clear of a Grade 1 winning field, he proved himself the best of the best, adding to his historic win in the Travers Stakes and rightfully becoming world champion.
The champ made a bright start in his bid for a second world title on Saturday, winning the Pegasus World Cup by an easy four and three-quarter lengths from Shaman Ghost (115).
With California Chrome disappointing in ninth the bare form was poor and even factoring for ease the winner ran below his best with an RPR of 128.
That said, there is every chance of better to come this year, as he didn’t have an ideal preparation for this race and it came over a trip just shy of his optimum.
He should get better opportunities to showcase his incredible talent back over 1m2f, where he will look pretty much unbeatable this season. On dirt at least.