01/05/2017 6:26PM

2016 Eclipse Awards: Arrogate

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John Bambury

Arrogate came far and fast in 2016. He did not make his debut until 20 days before the Kentucky Derby, did not get his first win until 15 days after the Preakness and six days before the Belmont Stakes, and did not run in a stakes race until the Travers.

But his record-setting performance in the Travers, followed by his victory in the Breeders’ Cup Classic against top older horses such as California Chrome, has left him as the favorite to be named champion 3-year-old male against two other finalists – Nyquist and Exaggerator – who won Triple Crown races.

In a little more than 6 1/2 months, Arrogate went from an unstarted maiden to winning the country’s richest race.

If Arrogate is named the champion for this division, he will become only the third horse since the Eclipse Awards were founded in 1971 to claim the title without having competed in a Triple Crown race, joining Wajima in 1975 and Tiznow in 2000. Tiznow, Bernardini (2006), Curlin (2007), and Summer Bird (2009) are the prior 3-year-old male champs of the Eclipse Award era who did not race at age 2. Only Tiznow, who did not make his first start until April 22 of 2000, had a later debut than Arrogate’s April 17.

:: Eclipse Awards: 2016 finalists with profiles

Arrogate – a colt by Unbridled’s Song out of the Distorted Humor mare Bubbler – was purchased as a yearling for $450,000 by Prince Khalid Abdullah’s Juddmonte Farms, which re-established a West Coast presence in recent years after teaming up with trainer Bob Baffert. Arrogate did not race earlier owing to shin problems; Baffert gave him time to get through that common hiccup among 2-year-olds. When Arrogate began serious training in early 2016, “He had completely morphed,” Baffert said.

He lost his first start, a sprint at Los Alamitos, but after stretching out around two turns he was unstoppable. Arrogate won a maiden race at Santa Anita on June 5, then 19 days later won a first-level allowance. Only two horses faced him in a second-level allowance at Del Mar on Aug. 4, and he won that race comfortably, with Baffert already declaring before the race that it was a tune-up for the Travers.

The Travers is when Arrogate announced himself to the nation. His 13 1/2-length victory under Mike Smith took just 1:59.36, the fastest 1 1/4 miles in track history at Saratoga, a place that’s been around a few years.

As with American Pharoah in 2015, Baffert brought Arrogate up to the Breeders’ Cup Classic without a prep following the Travers.

“The only way you can do it is if you have a really good horse, like Pharoah,” Baffert said. “We don’t know how good Arrogate is. The only time we set him down was in the Travers. I haven’t seen anything to tell me he can’t do it again.”

His final works at Santa Anita were spectacular. It was clear Arrogate would give California Chrome a run for the money.

He did more than that, running down California Chrome in the final yards to complete his dynamic rise to the top. He earned Beyer Speed Figures of 122 in the Travers and 120 in the Breeders’ Cup Classic.

Arrogate ended the year with five wins in six starts and earnings of $4,084,600. He is currently in training at Santa Anita with Baffert, preparing for a 4-year-old campaign that, as of early January, was scheduled to begin with the inaugural Pegasus World Cup, worth $12 million, at Gulfstream Park on Jan. 28.