Thoroughbred racing is all about information and the constant quest for answers. We are provided with information in the past performances, in the pedigrees, in the workouts, in backstretch gossip and tips, and to the less informed, in names and lucky saddlecloth numbers.
We delve into speed figures, pace figures, trip notes, observational skills, and anything else we can to enlighten us on how a horse is going to perform in a given race.
Somewhere in all that morass of data and other forms of information, we expect to find answers, and those answers are supposed to result in winning wagers and predictable results.
Never before in my memory can I recall a horse that left people as bewildered as Arrogate has. Bewildered in his meteoric and overnight rise from allowance company to superstardom, and then equally bewildered by his sudden and dramatic decline.
Going into the Breeders’ Cup Classic, handicapping experts and TV analysts attempted to unlock the mystery of Arrogate. Were his lackadaisical efforts in the San Diego Handicap and to a lesser degree the Pacific Classic the result of something physical or mental, or the effects of his trip to Dubai and his mind-boggling performance in the Dubai World Cup, or perhaps a disdain for the Del Mar surface?
There was plenty of speculation and plenty of opinions. Yes, he hated Del Mar. No, Del Mar had nothing to do with it. Yes, he was knocked out from Dubai, even though the horse he defeated, Gun Runner, came back to win three grade 1 stakes. No, he was fully recovered from the Dubai trip. Yes, he was suffering from an undisclosed back or hind end problem. No, his last couple of workouts prior to the Breeders’ Cup Classic suggested he was back to his old self, physically and mentally.
As happy as one might have felt seeing Gun Runner score a much-deserved victory in the Classic, nailing down Horse of the Year honors, one had to feel badly seeing Arrogate once again lope around the track, showing little interest in the proceedings. How can this be the same horse who had veteran racegoers searching for superlatives to describe his spectacular string of victories, from the Travers to the Breeders’ Cup Classic to the Pegasus World Cup and finally to that otherworldly performance in the Dubai World Cup, breaking two track records along the way and dominating Gun Runner on two occasions?
He won on the lead in a 13-horse field, shattering a 37-year-old track record, while romping by 13 1/2 lengths; he won stalking from just off the pace, once running down a loose on the lead two-time Horse of the Year, and once breaking a track record; and he won coming from dead-last in a 14-horse field after a horrible break, turning in one of the most unbelievable performances anyone had ever seen.
How can a Thoroughbred this gifted suddenly turn into a non-competitive, seemingly disinterested horse who apparently lost his desire to win?
It was hoped someone could supply an answer following his uninspired fifth-place finish in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, his career finale. But no one did. Even those closest to him could only say he simply lost it. And that is the way he left the racetrack and headed to his new career as a stallion.
Even after he crossed the wire in the Classic, he left people puzzled by galloping out several lengths ahead of everyone. If he had lost interest in racing why did he keep running past the wire, making up the 6 1/4 lengths he was beaten and then continuing to open up?
Could there have been a hidden physical problem that went undetected? Many of the experts and analysts and some top local horsemen said they did not like the way he was moving, specifically the way he was pushing off from behind, during the summer when he turned in a couple of subpar works in addition to his pair of defeats. But that will never be proven, and one would think there were enough astute and knowledgeable horsemen around the colt to detect something like that. That would never escape a Hall of Fame trainer like Bob Baffert. So that brings us back to “why?”
Unfortunately we will never know. Racing people, as mentioned earlier, strive for answers, and it is rare to see a mystery such as this go unsolved, just as it is rare to see a horse as brilliant and dynamic as Arrogate suddenly cease being competitive.
We obviously cannot get inside a horse’s head, so it will have to remain a mystery. All that is left now is to determine just who Arrogate was in the grand scheme of things and where he belongs in the history books.
We saw two distinctly different horses, and there is no doubt the one that tore through the Sport of Kings like the proverbial tornado from August, 2016 to March, 2017 was the real Arrogate, and somewhere hidden inside that powerful gray machine with the humongous stride lies the answers explaining why the horse we saw at Del Mar this year was an imposter.
And that is why we should remember the Arrogate who raised goose bumps on our arms and left us numb from the experience of watching him run. And we should ignore the phantom who floundered at Del Mar, as we would any mirage.
The ending of Arrogate’s career reminds me of the final scene from Casablanca. One of the great romances in screen history failed to provide the ending people had hoped for. But it did give moviegoers an uplifting conclusion when Humphrey Bogart says to Ingrid Bergman, “We’ll always have Paris.”
The final scene of Arrogate’s career failed to provide the ending racegoers had hoped for, but “we’ll always have Paris.”