I Thought I had Seen it All

Sometimes in Thoroughbred racing we have a tendency to spew out superlatives in the immediate aftermath of a spectacular performance. We start comparing the winner to the greats of the past, and then, like always, time has a way of tempering our spontaneous hyperbole and jolting us back to reality.

So, following Arrogate’s mind-boggling performance in the Dubai World Cup, I wisely decided to wait for the goose bumps to subside and my hands to stop trembling before letting my fingers go anywhere near a computer keyboard. My brain was filled with so many awe inspiring and impassioned words and descriptions of what I had just seen it left my thought pattern in total disarray.

But I have settled down and am cool, calm, and collected…sort of. I am not going to rattle off a litany of superlatives, for I guarantee every one of them has been or will be used.

So, I am going to dig into my memory bank that goes back 50 years and see if I can recall anything that even resembles what we all saw on a windy, drizzly night in Dubai. And while I’m at it, anything that remotely resembles what we have seen from Arrogate in the four Herculean performances since he burst on the scene from seemingly out of nowhere last August with his other worldly feat in the Travers Stakes.

Can a horse actually be considered one of the greats of all time based on four races? Can you compare Arrogate to the likes of Secretariat, who singlehandedly raised the equine genus up a notch? That would seem blasphemous. Let me reiterate, we’re talking about four races. But after today it makes one wonder; is it possible to encapsulate a typical all-time great career into four races if they as a whole not only define the word great, but take it to plateaus never witnessed before, and in such a short period of time. Can a horse conceivably earn just under $17 million in only four races?

It’s almost as if Arrogate has taken on the best qualities of different great horses in each of his four stakes victories.

In the Travers, he ran with the fiery spirit and reckless abandon of Dr. Fager, who had the ability to carry his blazing speed long distances of ground and set track records. How else can you describe a horse who ran a top-class field into the ground from the start and won by 13 1/2 lengths, shattering a 37-year-old track record that not even the greatest 3-year-olds of the past could approach. It is a record that likely will never be broken. If he were a filly, there wouldn’t be one person following the Travers who didn’t compare him to Ruffian, the only filly who ran with that kind of speed, fury, and power. He also brought back the very recent memory of American Pharoah, who would just run his opponents off their feet on the lead.

No, he hasn’t carried the weights Dr. Fager and the champions of the past carried, but that no longer is a criteria for greatness, and Secretariat never carried those high weights either.

In the Breeders’ Cup Classic, he demonstrated the versatility and adaptability of Spectacular Bid, the horse who could do everything. By changing tactics and sitting back off the pace and then delivering a powerful knockout punch to run down Horse of the Year and the leading money-winner in history in North America, California Chrome, and in fast time, Arrogate showed that he, like, The Bid, could do anything, adjust to any scenario, and do it against top-class older horses.

In the Pegasus World Cup, the richest race in the world, Arrogate looked like a composite of the great horses of the ‘90s, Cigar, Holy Bull, and Skip Away. While Cigar liked to lay back a bit off the pace, and Holy Bull and Skip Away could beat you on the lead, they all won major races just off the pace and then left their opponents for dead in the stretch, as Arrogate did, winning by 4 1/2 lengths in track-record time.

And finally, we come to the Dubai World Cup, and here we can only compare him to Secretariat in the way he did something no other horse ever did or ever will. In Secretariat’s case, it was running each quarter in the Kentucky Derby faster than the one before; it was his unprecedented, mind-blowing dash from last to first on the clubhouse turn in the Preakness Stakes, in which he was moving so fast and running with such power he literally blew the number off the sleeve of the jockey on the lead as he roared past him; and finally it was his iconic 31-length masterpiece in a record-smashing 2:24 in the Belmont Stakes that will forever stand alone in the annals of the Turf. If a horse can rival Big Red's magnificent stride, it is Arrogate, who covers an amazing amount of ground.

Put all these remarkable qualities together on canvas and you have a portrait of Arrogate, as unfinished as it may be. And even with all the magnificent performances mentioned above, we have never seen anything like what we saw from Arrogate in the World Cup. We saw a pure speed horse like Seattle Slew break badly in the Kentucky Derby, bull his way to the lead, shoving horses aside, and then battle through fast fractions and still win. We saw Forego make miraculous runs from the back of the pack and just get up to win; and we saw Damascus inhale his field on the far turn and draw off to convincing victories.

But we have never seen a horse who has either been on the lead or no more than two to three lengths off the lead in all of his races break badly, his back legs giving out, then get bounced around repeatedly from both sides like a three-cushion billiard shot by two horses who then put the squeeze on him, forcing him to check badly, dropping back to last, some 15 lengths off the lead in a strung-out 14-horse field…and still win, first racing wide and then cutting inside horses and then moving to the outside again.  This was Seattle Slew’s Kentucky Derby, Secretariat’s Preakness, and Damscus’s Woodward Stakes all rolled into one…and then some. We’ll even throw in a bit of Silky Sullivan, Canonero II, and Zenyatta for good measure. None of those horses, however, as amazing as their victories were, did what Arrogate did in the World Cup. This one defied description, even after 50 years of thinking I had seen it all.

I can honestly say I have never seen a horse do what Arrogate did in the World Cup, nor do I expect to. And I have never seen a horse do what Arrogate has done in a four-race span, and in international competition. Does that qualify him as one of the all-time greats already? Let's just say he has re-written the qualifications and has established his own niche in the history books.

Within seconds of the finish of the World Cup, social media resembled the sandhill crane migration, filling the sky with a cacophony of “tweets,” many people still in disbelief at what they had just witnessed.

Me, all I tweeted was “How the hell did he do that?” Then I just sat on my couch and uttered a few awestruck words to my equally stunned wife and let my emotions settle down until I was ready to be rational and objective. Can’t you tell?

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