11/05/2016 9:28PM

Arrogate rallies past California Chrome in epic Breeders' Cup Classic

Barbara D. Livingston
Arrogate and jockey Mike Smith win the Breeders' Cup Classic by half a length Saturday.

ARCADIA, Calif. – On March 26, California Chrome won the Dubai World Cup. Three weeks later, Arrogate made the first start of his career at Los Alamitos and lost.

Yet in the 6 1/2 months since that race, Arrogate came far and fast, and on Saturday, in only the sixth start of his career, he knocked off California Chrome in the $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic at Santa Anita, announcing himself as the horse ready to take the mantle from California Chrome as the best dirt horse in the world in 2017.

The victory should have serious implications for year-end awards. Arrogate, with his victories in the Travers and Classic, has made a compelling case for champion 3-year-old male. And while California Chrome has the best body of work for the year, and has champion older male dirt horse locked up, there is bound to be at least some sentiment for Horse of the Year for the only horse who beat him this year.

Arrogate ($5.40), the second choice, had to be at his very best to run down California Chrome, who was favored at 4-5. California Chrome shot to the early lead in the 1 1/4-mile race and was clear of his rivals until Arrogate caught him in the closing yards to prevail by a half-length. Underscoring the quality of their performances is that California Chrome finished 10 3/4 lengths in front of third-place Keen Ice, who beat Hoppertunity by a neck.

Melatonin was fifth and was followed by Frosted, Effinex, War Story, and Win the Space. Shaman Ghost was scratched Saturday morning.

Arrogate was timed in 2:00.11 on the fast main track.

As remarkable as Arrogate’s ascension has been trainer Bob Baffert’s skill at winning the Classic. This was the third straight year he won it, and he used the exact template this year as he did last year with American Pharoah, training Arrogate straight into the Classic without another race following the Travers.

“You can only do that with a great horse,” Baffert said. “I cannot believe what he’s accomplished. He’s just a big kid, learning how to run.”

Arrogate, who started from the outside post in the field of nine, was third in the early going as California Chrome led from Melatonin. California Chrome had broken like a shot from the gate and immediately took the track from his rivals, with Victor Espinoza taking him off the rail though fractions of 23.28 seconds for the opening quarter, 47.15 for a half, and 1:10.96 for six furlongs.

Just as it looked as though California Chrome might sneak away three furlongs from home, Arrogate suddenly darted inside of Melatonin and took up the chase.

“I wound up cutting the corner going into the far turn, and he really picked it up,” said Mike Smith, who rode Arrogate. “Then I got outside, and he was relentless. He’s got some stamina.”

California Chrome still led by 1 1/2 lengths a furlong out, but Arrogate steadily gained ground and caught California Chrome just before the wire, giving Smith his record 25th victory in a Breeders’ Cup race.

“I thought there was no way. California Chrome is a great horse. I didn’t think we could run him down,” Baffert said of his thoughts as the horses came through the lane. “I thought he’d get second. I’m thinking, ‘At least he showed up.’ But then I saw Mike getting down on him, and that big stride of his.

“That was an incredible race by two incredible horses.”

California Chrome had won six straight races this year coming into the Classic. In addition to the nearly $2.3 million difference in prize money between first and second, he also missed out on a $1 million bonus he would have gleaned if he’d have added the Classic to prior victories in the Pacific Classic at Del Mar and Awesome Again at Santa Anita.

“He just got outrun. No excuses. He ran his eyeballs out,” said Art Sherman, who trains California Chrome.

The figures bore that out. Arrogate got a Beyer Speed Figure of 120. California Chrome’s 119 was a career-best, but he got beat.

Sherman said California Chrome is scheduled to race once more, in the $12 million Pegasus at Gulfstream in January, before retiring to stud.

Arrogate, a son of Unbridled’s Song, did not get to the races until April owing to shin problems at age 2. Baffert, who trains Arrogate for Prince Khalid Abdullah’s Juddmonte Farms, gave him the proper time to recover, and the results in recent months have proved the wisdom of patience.

Arrogate has won five straight races since that losing debut, and the $3.3 million he earned on Saturday brought his career earnings to more than $4 million.

Garrett O’Rourke, the racing manager for Juddmonte Farms, reiterated after the race what he had said before, that Arrogate would remain in training at age 4.

If there had been doubt as to who would take California Chrome’s place at the top of the charts when he exited, there is no doubt now.