08/27/2016 6:21PM

Arrogate wins Travers by 13 1/2 lengths - and a star is born

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Barbara D. Livingston
Arrogate, Mike Smith up, sets a track record of 1:59.36 for 1 1/4 miles in the Travers on Saturday.

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. -  As he walked briskly into the post-race interview area at Saratoga, trainer Bob Baffert said: “This is better this year. Why didn’t we do that last year?”

A year after making a similar walk - though with less enthusiasm - following Triple Crown winner American Pharoah’s defeat in the Travers, Baffert floated on air after the previously unheralded Arrogate put on a performance for the ages, winning Saturday’s Grade 1, $1.25 million Travers Stakes by a whopping 13 1/2 lengths over stablemate American Freedom. Moreover, Arrogate’s final time of 1:59.36 for 1 1/4 miles was a track record, demolishing the mark of 2:00 set by General Assembly in the 1979 Travers.

“That was ridiculous,” Baffert said.

The win capped a sensational hour for Arrogate’s owner, Juddmonte Farms, which also won the Grade 1, $1 million Sword Dancer Invitational with Flintshire on Saturday. It was also a two-win day for Baffert, who won the Grade 1 King’s Bishop with Drefong.

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But Arrogate eclipsed all performances on a Breeders’ Cup-type card at Saratoga, where 13 3-year-olds went into the starting gate for the 147th Travers but only one will be remembered.

Arrogate, a son of Unbridled’s Song, had never run in a stakes race before Saturday. His three wins coming into this race came against a total of 10 horses. On Aug. 4, he beat two horses in an allowance race, coming from last of three.

When Arrogate drew the rail for the Travers, Baffert knew Mike Smith would have to put him into the race from the outset. Smith hustled Arrogate away from the gate but was third under the wire the first time as American Freedom and Laoban had outbroke him.

But by the time the field entered the first turn, Arrogate was in front, running an opening quarter of 23.23 seconds. The gray locomotive kept rolling at a brisk clip of 46.84 seconds for a half-mile and 1:10.85 for six furlongs while basically in hand.

“So smooth, so strong,” Smith said. “He would look around a lot because he’s so immature. Every time he looked too much I’d say, ‘Hey,’ and, man, he would jump to it.”

Entering the far turn, Arrogate widened his lead and he came to the quarter pole two lengths in front after running a mile in 1:35.52, equaling the second-fastest mile fraction in the history of the race.

Smith said he kept busy on Arrogate in the stretch because he was afraid someone was coming, but no one was in shouting distance as Arrogate came to the wire in front of 48,630 spectators.

Sent off an 11-1 shot, Arrogate returned $25.40 and keyed a Baffert exacta that returned $134.50.

It was Baffert who picked out Arrogate at auction for Juddmonte, which three years ago retained him as their Southern California trainer following the death of Juddmonte’s previous U.S. trainer Bobby Frankel several years earlier. Arrogate brought $560,000 as a yearling.

Rafael Bejarano had ridden Arrogate in his three previous victories, but he also had ridden American Freedom to a victory in the Iowa Derby and a runner-up finish in the Haskell Invitational. Bejarano said owner Gary West wanted him to ride American Freedom.

“I wanted to ride [Arrogate], but there was nothing I could do because the owner wanted me to ride that other horse,” said Bejarano, adding that Arrogate “was much better than the other horses and he loved the distance.”

American Freedom finished a half-length in front of third-place finisher Gun Runner, who finished 3 3/4 lengths ahead of Gift Box in fourth. He was followed, in order, by Governor Malibu, Connect, Creator, My Man Sam, Destin, Forever d’Oro, 5-2 favorite Exaggerator, Laoban, and Anaximandros.

Jockey Kent Desormeaux was on Exaggerator, who he said “was empty before the running started.”

In addition to trying to boost his credentials for the 3-year-old championship, Exaggerator was trying to disprove the notion he is simply a wet-track specialist. He has won three Grade 1’s in the slop this year. His last effort on a fast track was an 11th-place finish in the Belmont Stakes.

“I’m not going to scratch my head, I’m going to accept it as racing and I’ll figure out what happened in the ensuing days,” said Keith Desormeaux, trainer of Exaggerator. “I can assure you there’s nothing physically wrong with him. It kind of mimicked his Belmont race. It’s hard for me to accept that it’s all about the track.”

Trainer Steve Asmussen was glad to see Gun Runner bounce back from his fifth-place finish in the Haskell with a respectable third-place showing in the Travers.

“On a dry track we saw Gun Runner is of very high quality,” he said. “It is very comforting to be able to throw out the Haskell.”

Creator, the Belmont Stakes winner, also trained by Asmussen, finished seventh. Asmussen deduced that Creator had the same troubles with the turns at Saratoga as he did at Fair Grounds this winter.

“Saratoga’s probably not for him,” Asmussen said.

They used to say that about Baffert. They weren’t saying it Saturday.