07/23/2017 6:21AM

Arrogate's lack of positional speed concerning

Emily Shields
Arrogate following his defeat in the San Diego Handicap on July 22, 2017.

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. – Obviously, it will take more time than an immediate post race analysis such as this to determine what exactly happened to Arrogate in his shocking no show in Saturday’s San Diego Handicap at Del Mar.

That said, it was clear very, very early in the San Diego that something was up with Arrogate.

Arrogate is not a speedball, but he is a horse with positional speed. He had enough quickness in last summer’s Travers Stakes to assume the early lead into the first turn before going on to score in a runaway. He was handy enough to middle move in last fall’s Breeders’ Cup Classic, which he won fairly and squarely from California Chrome. And perhaps most revealing, Arrogate had enough early zip in last winter’s Pegasus World Cup to establish prominent early striking position from the one hole so as not to get shuffled back in the short run to the first turn at Gulfstream, which might have been too much to overcome for even as tremendous a horse as him.

In fact, it is the positional speed that Arrogate had repeatedly shown that made his victory in the Dubai World Cup last March all the more amazing, what with him breaking poorly and having to circle the entire field, yet still winning decisively.

But on Saturday, Arrogate’s positional speed was totally absent. He lacked any interest in getting involved in the run to or around the first turn, and the little move he made on the far turn was actually an optical illusion enhanced by Arrogate only going by a stopping El Huerfano, whose rider was without the irons the first part of the San Diego ‘cap.

I hope all is well with Arrogate, and that his non-effort Saturday was just one of those crazy racing flukes that happen from time to time to keep everyone in the game on his or her toes. During his incredible Breeders’ Cup Classic/Pegasus/Dubai World Cup run, he showed greatness, a term I do not use loosely. I hope Arrogate rebounds, and rebounds in a big way. But that lack of positional speed Saturday … that’s a concern.

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**The whole world knows Lady Eli has a heart the size of the Grand Canyon after she overcame laminitis to not only survive, which in itself is a minor miracle, but to also win Grade 1 races on both coasts. But sometimes the story of her remarkable comeback overshadows just how immensely talented she is. And she is a huge talent. Huge.

Saturday’s Grade 1 Diana was a perfect reminder.

This Diana, which had a small but high quality field, did not set up well for Lady Eli. It set up even more unfavorably when she and barn mate Antonoe broke through the gate before the start, which is almost always the kiss of death, and don’t let anyone tell you differently.

But of equal importance, there was little pace in the Diana, which did not suit Lady Eli’s preferred closing style. And whatever notion there might have been to put Lady Eli a little closer to the early pace was dashed when she was shuffled back in the run past the stands for the first time.

These issues would have undone many a fine horse, but not Lady Eli. Despite a lousy set up against a strong field, she unleashed a terrific wide move into the stretch and methodically took the measure of the pacesetter Quidura to get there in time.

Quidura is a fine filly. She finished a sharp third in the Jenny Wiley in her first start this year, a race in which Lady Eli was narrowly upset by Dickinson, and was a terrific second in the New York Stakes when compromised by a glacial pace. She had everything her own way Saturday, so it seems fair to say that if she were ever going to beat Lady Eli, it would have been in the Diana, and she didn’t.

Antonoe was an unlucky third in the Diana. As noted, she also broke through the gate before the start of the Diana and she scampered off farther than Lady Eli did. And Antonoe was also squeezed back on the temporary rail in deep stretch, an incident that certainly didn’t help her, but one that did not, I believe, cost her a higher placing.

Nevertheless, Antonoe proved she is a very good filly with the awesome late run she generated to win the Just A Game on Belmont Stakes Day. So is Quidura, and several others in an especially strong female turf division. But Lady Eli reinforced today just who the boss really is.

** Perhaps it's just an early meet aberration, or maybe it's indicative of a larger trend, but Saturday’s Sanford Stakes at Saratoga was the sixth 2-year-old race run at the young meet, and Firenze Fire’s upset victory in it continued the perfect streak so far in Saratoga’s 2-year-old races by horses who made their last starts at tracks outside of New York.

On Friday, Beaux Arts and Southampton Way won the two juvenile maiden races after making their debuts at Monmouth and Pimlico, respectively. And Dream It Is, so dominant winning the Schuylerville Stakes, shipped in from Woodbine.

On Saturday, Untamed Domain and Sporting Chance won the two 2-year-old races on the undercard after racing at Laurel and Churchill Downs, respectively. And Firenze Fire came into the Sanford off a maiden win at Monmouth.

** With all due respect to Dream It Is and Proctor’s Ledge, smart winner of the Lake George, for my money the star of Friday’s opening day card at Saratoga was Takaful.

Takaful won his debut last fall at Belmont as though he were a cinch to be a serious horse, only to follow with three astonishingly dismal performances in graded stakes around two turns. Takaful returned from a freshening Friday (he was originally slated to return at Belmont but ran off pre-race and had to be scratched) and won a very good first-level allowance sprint laughing in blazing time for a Saratoga main track that was uncharacteristically slow.

Takaful was pegged with a Beyer Figure of 105, which I think was very conservative and could easily have been higher. In any case, whether it’s a 105 or a 114, if Takaful applies himself in the H. Allen Jerkens Memorial (formerly the King’s Bishop) on Travers Day like he did Friday, I’m not sure any other 3-year-old sprinter can stay with him. And that includes American Anthem, a wow winner of the Woody Stephens on Belmont Stakes Day.