03/25/2017 2:37PM

Arrogate simply breathtaking in last-to-first Dubai World Cup victory

Andrew Watkins/Dubai Racing Club
Arrogate, under Mike Smith, overcomes a horrendous start in which he spotted the field some 10 lengths to win the Dubai World Cup by daylight.

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates – All week in Dubai, the outcome of the $10 million World Cup felt preordained: The great horse Arrogate could not lose.

Then the starting gate clanged open, and there was no way Arrogate could win.

Arrogate broke like a tourist gaping up at the 2,700-foot-tall Burj Khalifa that towers across a stretch of desert from Meydan. Quickly coming to his senses, he realized it was time to run, but Arrogate bumped once, twice, three times with the filly Furia Cruzada to his inside, losing his stride. The race was 100 yards old, and Arrogate already was 10 lengths behind the leaders and zero places ahead of anyone.

“I was headed for the backdoor after the break. I said, ‘Where’s the exit? They’re going to string me up,’ ” trainer Bob Baffert said.

But as scattered raindrops wended their way down through the lights at Meydan, Baffert and the assembled throngs watched Arrogate and Mike Smith start to wend their way through the 13 horses ahead of him. They passed a couple on the first turn, several more on the backstretch, kept moving around the far turn, and suddenly, coming into the stretch, there was Arrogate, rolling home.

Mubtaahij drifted out and bumped him twice with a quarter-mile to run, and Arrogate ran through the contact like a man rushing into a fire to save a child. He ran over Neolithic with 300 yards to go and came up to Gun Runner, who was finishing after a good trip but was left behind in a few strides.

At the end, it wasn’t even especially close. Arrogate had won by more than two lengths in a race he should not have been able to win at all.

“Can you believe it?” Baffert asked while waiting near the winner’s circle for his horse to come back. “Can you believe he won?”

Arrogate had won .His margin of victory was 2 1/2 lengths, his time on a muddy track 2:02.15. Gun Runner ran an excellent race in his own right, finishing five lengths ahead of third-place Neolithic, who also performed admirably. Then came Mubtaahij, a very encouraging fourth in just his second start this winter, who was followed by Awardee, Hoppertunity, Keen Ice, Lani, Apollo Kentucky, Move Up, Long River, Special Fighter, Furia Cruzada, and Gold Dream.

“This horse can do anything,” said Smith. “He can do 22 [seconds] on the lead, he can come from dead last. He’s the best I’ve ever been on; he really is. He proved it right there.”

Smith said Arrogate’s problems started just before the break. “He’s used to having a starter on him. I don’t know if the guy misunderstood me, but I said, ‘Make sure you keep his head straight,’ and he got out of there instead. I was like, ‘No, no, no.’ The wind’s blowing so hard, my horse just didn’t realize he had to break.”

Into the first turn, Arrogate had passed Lani to get out of last, and then he went by Keen Ice, but turning into the backstretch, those were the only two horses behind Arrogate. Still, Smith, who had decided to hark back to his days riding the deep closer Zenyatta, was starting to feel much better about his situation.

“After we straightened up down the backstretch and leveled off, I said, ‘Okay, we’re here, we’re here, we’re here,” Smith said.

Smith kept Arrogate wide to avoid the muddy kickback before steering back toward the inside before the far turn to begin moving up in earnest about four paths off the rail.

“I was thinking at the break, ‘Boy, maybe I shouldn’t have brought him,’ ” Baffert said. “Maybe he’s getting tired. All these things are going through my mind. Down the backside, I didn’t know if he was running or not. I saw Mike was sitting on the outside. I thought, ‘Maybe Mike will take care of him, won’t abuse him.’ On the far turn, he started making a little move, and I said, ‘Wait a minute, I got a little hope.’ He turned for home, and I thought, ‘If he wins this race, he’s the most incredible horse I’ve ever seen.’ ”

He is incredible, and Arrogate, without hyperbole, has to rate as one of the greatest horses of at least the modern era. His stakes debut, a track-record-setting 13 1/2-length win in the Grade 1 Travers, was followed by wins in the Breeders’ Cup Classic and the Grade 1, $12 million Pegasus World Cup. After another $6 million payday in Dubai, Arrogate has earned $17,084,600 while winning seven of his eight starts for Prince Khalid Abdullah’s Juddmonte Farms. A son of Unbridled’s Song and the Distorted Humor mare Bubbler, Arrogate was purchased as a Keeneland yearling for $560,000 – money well spent.

Arrogate finished third in his career debut, acting up before the race and running in blinkers he has not worn since, and has not come especially close to losing after that. California Chrome’s half-length loss to him in the Breeders’ Cup Classic is aging especially well.

Gun Runner, away slightly tardily Saturday, sat comfortably outside Long River’s pace before easily taking the lead on the far turn.

“I waited and waited,” jockey Florent Geroux said. “He ran a big race. Before, this distance was a little questionable for him, but now he just keeps on going. If somebody can beat Arrogate, this is the guy.”

No one will get the chance – however slight it might be – to beat Arrogate for a while now. He has a long-range goal of another win in the BC Classic, and after returning to California next week, Arrogate will just chill. “He deserves a good freshening, and we’re going to give him one,” said Baffert.

After all the early drama, when Arrogate came into the clear full of run a quarter-mile out, Baffert said a wave of emotion washed over him, the sheer thrill of being closely involved with such an animal.

“I think what we saw today, I think he stamped his legacy,” Baffert said. “I mean, how incredible is this horse?”

Incredible, Bob, incredible.