03/23/2017 1:16PM

All eyes on Arrogate in Dubai World Cup

Mathea Kelley/Dubai Racing Club
Arrogate has traveled from his California base to New York, Florida, and now Dubai.

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates – Bob Baffert runs a lot of his horses in blinkers, a holdover from days long ago training Quarter Horses, and so it was no surprise to see a Baffert-trained colt named Arrogate wearing blinkers while finishing third in his career debut last April.

When Arrogate returned to race six weeks later, he had lost his hood, and the colt has not lost since. It turned out that Arrogate wanted to be able to see the world around him. And now, Baffert and Juddmonte Farms, Arrogate’s owner, are letting the world see Arrogate.

After cross-country trips to win the Travers Stakes at Saratoga last summer and the Pegasus World Cup at Gulfstream in January, Arrogate has traveled across the world to start Saturday in the $10 million Dubai World Cup. The humans readying him to race will fit him with a small blue shadow roll, a tongue tie, and earplugs – no blinkers – give a leg up to jockey Mike Smith, and send Arrogate out as the odds-on favorite to win his seventh in a row.

“If he runs the way he’s supposed to, he should win,” said Baffert. “You still gotta go out there and do it.”

Arrogate faces 13 rivals and breaks from post 9 in the World Cup, a two-turn race contested at 2,000 meters, or about 1 1/4 miles, over the sand-and-clay dirt track at Meydan Racecourse. Arrogate never has raced on a wet track but faces that possibility Saturday, with a 50 percent chance of a thunderstorm from 3-5 p.m. local time and a smaller chance throughout the evening. Post time for the World Cup is 8:45 p.m. local time, which is 12:45 p.m. Eastern.

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First post for the nine-race card is 7:45 a.m. Eastern. The program, worth a total of $30 million, starts this year with the Godolphin Mile. The Kahayla Classic for Arabians goes as race 2, and the card ends with five straight Group 1 races, including strong editions of the $6 million Dubai Turf and $6 million Sheema Classic. NBC Sports will air a three-hour telecast covering the card. Wagering is available at DRF Bets.

Arrogate is the odds-on favorite in overseas betting markets and for good reason will be similarly favored on the North American tote. Arrogate never had been turned loose in his maiden win and two allowance victories, and when he was allowed finally to stretch out in the Travers, he ran 1 1/4 miles in a track-record 1:59.36 while winning one of America’s most prestigious races by 13 1/2 lengths.

Fluke? Not at all. Held out of action until the Breeders’ Cup Classic, Arrogate pounced on 2016 World Cup winner California Chrome at the top of the stretch and, in one of the great races of the modern era, beat him to the wire by a half-length. By comparison, the $12 million Pegasus, in which California Chrome failed to fire, was child’s play for Arrogate.

Arrogate could provide Khalid Abdullah’s Juddmonte Farms with its first World Cup win, and Smith also has yet to win this race. Baffert has won it with Captain Steve in 2001 and Silver Charm in 1998.

“When I took Silver Charm, he’d won the Kentucky Derby, and when you have a horse like that, you have added pressure and anxiety,” Baffert said. “When you’re expected to win, you just hope he runs as well as he’s training. The key is going to be the break.”

Arrogate, a robust gray son of Unbridled’s Song, schooled calmly in the gate before galloping Thursday. If he breaks without incident, Smith can press or stalk the leader, depending on the pace in front of him. Arrogate obviously gets the 1 1/4-mile distance, and he has shown no chinks from his long journey this week. As a bettor, it is difficult to oppose him.

Baffert has a realistic chance to sweep the top two placings with Arrogate and Hoppertunity, who was third in the race last year, has become a seasoned traveler, and appears to be sitting on a strong performance in his second start of the year.

“Hoppertunity, he loves it here,” Baffert said. “I really think he’s going to run a big race.”

It is Gun Runner, however, who might have the best chance of shocking the favorite. The 4-year-old Candy Ride colt finished third in the Kentucky Derby last year and has improved considerably over the last several months. After finishing third in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile, he won the Clark Handicap over Shaman Ghost, the Pegasus runner-up and subsequent Santa Anita Handicap winner, and Gun Runner began his 2017 season with a flashy score in the Grade 3 Razorback at Oaklawn Park.

Gun Runner faded slightly in the Kentucky Derby, his first try at 1 1/4 miles, and was third, beaten 15 lengths by Arrogate, in the Travers, his only other 1 1/4-mile start.

“His two mile-and-a-quarter races last year were not bad,” said Steve Asmussen, who trains Gun Runner for Winchell Thoroughbreds and Three Chimneys Farm. “He went 45 and change in the Derby and in the Travers drew the far outside, and I think he’s better now than he was then. He’s a very fast horse right now.”

Gun Runner is a pace player under Florent Geroux from post 5. Long River on the inside and Neolithic and perhaps Special Fighter on the outside might try to go with Gun Runner, and Arrogate should not be far behind. The Meydan main track has appeared to favor front-runners and inside-running horses for much of this season, and an early scramble for position is possible. That is exactly what a horse like Keen Ice needs to have a chance.

Keen Ice shocked the world when beating Baffert’s Triple Crown winner, American Pharoah, in the Travers, closing into a taxing middle pace. Keen Ice rallied for third in the Pegasus while going a furlong shorter than the World Cup and at a track, Gulfstream Park, with a much shorter homestretch than Meydan’s.

“He needs to be in position turning for home and not get fanned wide like horses do in 14-horse fields,” said Jerry Crawford, managing partner of Donegal Racing, which owns Keen Ice. “If he can save ground on that turn and come running, well, we’ll see.”

Mubtaahij, trained locally by Mike de Kock, nearly won the Woodward over Shaman Ghost last summer in America and finished second in the 2016 World Cup, but de Kock had hoped to get two starts into him before Saturday’s race, and Mubtaahij only has raced once.

“He hasn’t had an ideal prep for this, but then nothing in life is straightforward,” de Kock said.

What about Arrogate? He’s pretty damn straightforward. And if things go as they should, he will shoot like an arrow toward the Meydan finish line Saturday night.