Updated on 01/27/2017 2:02PM

California Chrome, Arrogate throw down for $12 million Pegasus World Cup

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Emily Shields
Arrogate caught California Chrome in the Breeders' Cup Classic, but the Pegasus World Cup is a furlong shorter and Arrogate will not be receiving weight.

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. – An audacious plan hatched more than a year ago to have the richest race in the world at a time when the general sports public’s interest in racing is usually in winter hibernation awaiting the Kentucky Derby comes to fruition Saturday, when the $12 million Pegasus World Cup has its inaugural running here at Gulfstream Park.

Yet while the size of the purse was the story when the race was first announced, it is the tantalizing rematch between Arrogate and California Chrome that makes this compelling theater. Arrogate is the rising star, having knocked off California Chrome in the Breeders’ Cup Classic in their lone meeting. California Chrome is seeking to atone for that loss, his quest made more dramatic because this is the last time the immensely popular horse – a two-time Horse of the Year – will race before going to stud.

“I’ve been wanting a rematch,” said Art Sherman, who trains California Chrome.

There are 10 others in the race, but a victory by anyone other than Arrogate or California Chrome would be a significant upset. They finished more than 10 lengths in front of the rest of the field in the Breeders’ Cup Classic and earlier this week were adjudged as the top two horses in the world for 2016 by the International Federation of Horseracing Authorities.

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The Pegasus is the only reason California Chrome is still racing, and the only reason he and Arrogate get to meet one more time. Without this race, California Chrome already would be at stud – he’s headed to Taylor Made in Kentucky on Sunday – and Arrogate would still be in Southern California, perhaps pointing for a race like the Santa Anita Handicap in March.

“When something like this happens, something different, you want to support it,” Bob Baffert, the trainer of Arrogate, said Thursday. “This is a very important race.”

Arrogate caught California Chrome late and beat him by a half-length in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. This is his first start since then, mirroring his preparation for the Classic, in which he came in fresh following a track-record victory in the Travers at Saratoga. But there are a couple of differences from the Classic to the Pegasus:

◗ The Pegasus is a furlong shorter, covering 1 1/8 miles, one lap around the main track at Gulfstream Park.

◗ Arrogate was in receipt of four pounds (126-122) from California Chrome in the Classic, but both carry 124 in the Pegasus.

Arrogate and California Chrome couldn’t be farther apart in the starting gate, with Arrogate on the rail and California Chrome on the outside in post 12.

“The break is crucial,” said Baffert, who has Mike Smith on Arrogate. “If we don’t break, we don’t have an edge. Coming out of the first turn, we’ll know where we stand. Hopefully, he’ll be in a good spot, traveling comfortably.”

Arrogate had to navigate the wet weather that has plagued Santa Anita this winter in preparing for this race. Baffert on Thursday said he “got lucky” with the weather by being able to get in works at Santa Anita prior to the races on three straight weekends.

“Dennis Moore did a great job,” he said of Santa Anita’s track superintendent.

Arrogate did develop an abscess on the inside of his right hind foot a few weeks ago. Baffert pointed out on Thursday, when Arrogate was paddock schooling before the races, that he three-quartered that hind shoe – filing off the part of the shoe nearest to where the abscess was – a common tactic used to prevent an abscess from being concussed by the shoe and becoming a quarter crack.

“He’s been marching right along, no excuses,” Baffert said. “My job is to have him super-cherry to run. He wasn’t getting on that plane unless he was super-cherry.”

California Chrome, by contrast, has been at Gulfstream Park for three weeks and has worked twice here.

Shipping early and avoiding the weather in California “was the best move I could have made,” Sherman said.

Sherman wants jockey Victor Espinoza to aggressively send California Chrome from the gate, owing to the short run to the first turn. And he doesn’t want Espinoza to wait for Arrogate, as he did in the Classic.

“Chrome has tactical speed,” Sherman said. “Hopefully, he’ll be in position to open up and you’ll see a different horse.”

Sherman would dearly love for California Chrome to go out a winner.

“It’s kinda sad,” Sherman said. “He’s a once-in-a-lifetime horse. It’s been a hell of a ride.”

Of the others, Keen Ice, a distant third in the Classic, would benefit most from a hot pace. With Arrogate and California Chrome committed to go and Noble Bird needing the lead for his best, the pace should be quick.

“Keen Ice has trained very sharply for this,” said trainer Todd Pletcher. “He’d benefit greatly from a real, true pace, and it looks on paper like that could happen.”

Pletcher also trains the improving Neolithic. “He’s stepping up with the big boys,” Pletcher said. “We’ve seen some things to show he’s capable of being a top-class horse. He’ll get a chance to prove it.”

Shaman Ghost, the winner of the Woodward Stakes, is another who should get decent support.

The Pegasus is the last race on a 12-race card that begins at 11:30 a.m. Eastern. Preceding the Pegasus are six other stakes, three of them graded.

The Pegasus will be televised live by NBC in a 90-minute telecast beginning at 4:30 p.m.