HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. -- Just after Arrogate came over to the paddock at Gulfstream Park on Thursday afternoon for a schooling session for the Pegasus World Cup on Saturday, trainer Bob Baffert spoke briefly with jockey Mike Smith. As they parted, Baffert called to Smith, "Just don't [mess] it up."
Baffert knew. He knew that despite all the rainy weather he had to navigate in Southern California, he had Arrogate, as he said earlier in the week, "super cherry" for the richest race ever run.
And then Arrogate went out and put the cherry on top of this $12 million sundae. He powered home in dominating fashion, winning by 4 3/4 lengths in a race where his primary rival, California Chrome, ran poorly and exited the race with an injury to his right knee.
There were 12 horses in the race, but the anticipated match race between the two best horses in the world never materialized. California Chrome finished ninth, beaten 29 1/2 lengths, in the final start of his career. The result of the Breeders' Cup Classic -- in which Arrogate had run down California Chrome -- had been confirmed, and then some. All hail Arrogate.
"He's a superior racehorse," Baffert said. "He has a stride that's just incredible."
Arrogate used that stride to leave a struggling California Chrome in the dust more than three furlongs from the wire. Once Arrogate took the lead from the early pacesetter, Noble Bird, the only question was the margin of victory, and the final time. He completed 1 1/8 miles -- one lap around Gulfstream Park's main track -- on a surface rated fast in 1:47.61.
Shaman Ghost rallied for second, 3 1/2 lengths in front of Neolithic, who pressed the pace of Noble Bird and held on for third. Keen Ice was fourth and was followed, in order, by War Story, Noble Bird, Semper Fortis, Breaking Lucky, California Chrome, Prayer for Relief, War Envoy and Eragon.
Arrogate (4-5) was favored over California Chrome (6-5). He paid $3.80.
Arrogate broke from the rail, and Smith rode him aggressively into the first turn to make sure he wasn't shuffled back. Smith smacked Arrogate with the whip on his rump and on his shoulder several times in the opening strides, and Arrogate put himself in a terrific stalking position as the field went into and around the first turn.
California Chrome was marooned in the fast outside post. Owing to the short run to the first turn, jockey Victor Espinoza threw the reins at California Chrome leaving the gate to try to prevent him from being caught wide. He was five paths wide when he reached the first turn, but was able to slide over to the No. 3 path before the midway point of the turn.
As the field advanced up the backstretch, Noble Bird led narrowly over Neolithic, with Arrogate just behind them, and California Chrome just to Arrogate's outside. It was seemingly an ideal spot for California Chrome to try to pin in Arrogate, but California Chrome had trouble keeping up shortly after passing the half-mile pole, and Smith was able to slide Arrogate off the rail to take dead aim on the two leaders three furlongs out.
"I saw Victor knuckling on him. I knew he wasn't going to fire. Once I got out, I was loaded," Smith said. "Victor had me where he wanted, but Chrome didn't fire."
Arrogate, as he showed in his victories in the Travers and Breeders' Cup Classic, gets stronger as a race progresses, and this was no different. Once turned loose by Smith, Arrogate immediately opened daylight on his outmatched rivals. He was four lengths in front with a furlong to go, and Smith let him coast to the wire.
"He was geared down the last 100 yards," Smith said.
This was Arrogate's first start since the Breeders' Cup Classic. But unlike his preparation coming into that race, with fast tracks on which to work at Santa Anita, the rainy winter in California forced some improvisation. There were many mornings when Arrogate could only jog, but on work days Santa Anita allowed Arrogate to drill before the day's races, and he was able to stay on a regular work schedule.
"The elements were the worst with the rainstorm, but Santa Anita has a great track man," Baffert said, referring to Dennis Moore, "and everybody worked to make it happen.
"He was working on nothing but mud. This is the first time he's seen a dry track in a month."
Arrogate got here Tuesday. California Chrome, by contrast, left California three weeks in front of the Pegasus and had two works here, his training uninterrupted. But something was clearly amiss midway through the race, as he had no response when asked by Espinoza to keep up with a little less than half-mile to go. Back at the barn, the reason became apparent.
As California Chrome cooled out, he began showing some discomfort in his right knee, trainer Art Sherman said. Sherman said there was fluid on the knee, a sign of swelling, "but it's not like he's dead lame."
California Chrome is scheduled to fly on Sunday morning to Kentucky, where he is scheduled to go to stud at Taylor Made Farm. Sherman said California Chrome would still be on that flight unless his condition unexpectedly worsened Saturday night. He said California Chrome would be checked over by noted veterinarian Dr. Larry Bramlage. Sherman theorized that California Chrome at worst had a chip in a knee. If so, he said he expected it would be removed arthroscopically.
While this was the final start for California Chrome after 27 races, Arrogate is still in the infancy of his career; this was just his seventh race in a career that began only in April. While Arrogate lost the Horse of the Year vote to California Chrome at last Saturday's Eclipse Awards, he was named best horse in the world by the International Federation of Horseracing Authorities, and he is clearly the front-runner for 2017 Horse of the Year. There's no one close to him in ability now.
Arrogate has now won six straight starts since losing his debut. He has put together successive victories in the Travers, Breeders' Cup Classic, and now the Pegasus World Cup, all Grade 1 races. His $7 million payday brought his career earnings to more than $11 million.
Arrogate, 4, is a son of Unbridled's Song owned by the Juddmonte Farms of Prince Khalid Abdullah.
"He just goes from strength to strength," Garrett O'Rourke, the manager of Juddmonte Farms, said of Arrogate.
Baffert had said before this race that Arrogate -- last year's champion 3-year-old male -- likely would get a freshening, as he wants to point for the second half of the year, his primary focus now a title defense in the Breeders' Cup Classic. That's a race Baffert has won three straight times, with Bayern, American Pharoah and Arrogate. He doesn't mess it up.
- additional reporting by Jay Hovdey and Mike Welsch