08/19/2017 11:12PM

Collected holds off Arrogate to give Baffert 1-2 finish in Pacific Classic

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Emily Shields
Collected held off stablemate Arrogate to post a half-length victory in the Grade 1 Pacific Classic on Saturday at Del Mar.

DEL MAR, Calif. – Bob Baffert had just finished one-two in a $1 million race, but the look on the trainer’s face Saturday as he stared at a video screen in the Del Mar paddock betrayed his emotions. While he had to be understandably proud that Collected had run to his great morning training and had made off with the Grade 1 Pacific Classic, roiling was the undercurrent that Arrogate, though having finished second, still was not performing at the brilliant level of late last year and early this year.

“It feels weird,” he said.

Indeed, the post-race celebration was muted.

“We’re the only ones smiling,” Peter Fluor, co-owner of Collected, said at a post-race press conference. “I told Bob I hope he runs one-two, but I have a preference.”

Collected ($8) led virtually every step of the 1 1/4-mile race under jockey Martin Garcia, but he was stretched to the end by Arrogate, the 7-10 favorite, who rallied with determination after looking like he was struggling on the final turn and came up a half-length short.

It was another 3 3/4 lengths back to Accelerate in third, then came Curlin Road, Hard Aces, Royal Albert Hall, and Donworth. Sorry Erik was scratched earlier in the day.

Collected was timed in 2:00.70 on a fast main track, which should produce a strong Beyer Speed Figure, underscoring that Collected has raised his game this year, and that Arrogate ran a respectable race. But Arrogate raised the bar high – with successive wins in the Travers, Breeders’ Cup Classic, Pegasus World Cup, and Dubai World Cup – and he’s not quite back there.

“I feel like my older son was beaten by my younger son,” Baffert said.

Indeed, Collected has been in the considerable shadow of Arrogate, but he is performing brilliantly since returning to action in April following a 10-month layoff, and he has taken it to a new level here at Del Mar. He had won all three of his starts earlier this year, and trained like a superstar here.

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“Collected is a nice horse and he loves this place,” said Baffert, who was winning the Pacific Classic for the fifth time. “You have to like this track.”

Collected had never before run in a 1 1/4-mile race, but the Pacific Classic victory will define the rest of his 2017 campaign. The Pacific Classic offers a fees-paid berth to the Breeders’ Cup Classic, which will be run for the first time at Del Mar on Nov. 4. Had Collected not handled the distance, he would have been pointed to the Dirt Mile.

“He’s not going to run in the Dirt Mile,” Baffert said.

Collected, drawn in post 2, used his natural speed to take the lead, with Accelerate right alongside him, and Arrogate – having been hustled away from the gate by Mike Smith – three deep.

“His weapon in his speed,” Baffert said of Collected.

Collected set fractions of 23.76 seconds for the opening quarter and 47.19 seconds for a half-mile, with Accelerate right with him. As the field neared the half-mile pole, at which point Collected had covered six furlongs in 1:11.06, Smith started to get more animated with Arrogate, and for a moment it looked like he was not going to fire, just like when he flopped in the San Diego four weeks earlier.

Meanwhile, Collected kept on motoring. He reached the top of the stretch in 1:35.27 for one mile, then kicked clear and led by 2 1/2 lengths with a furlong to go. Accelerate could not keep up, but then Arrogate switched out to the middle of the track and made one, final, desperate bid.

“It felt like a big animal was coming,” Garcia said. “It was like being in a little car and the big car comes up next to you.”

Smith said he never felt like Arrogate was pushing off like he can.

“I don’t feel like he’s running his race,” Smith said. “He doesn’t seem like he gets over top of it. He’s certainly not running his ‘A’ race.”

Baffert said “Arrogate was trying to get there.”

“I’m encouraged that he tried to win. Last time,” he said, referring to his ugly fourth-place finish in the San Diego, “he never tried.”

Baffert said he still believes he messed up Arrogate’s campaign by running in the San Diego instead of merely awaiting the Pacific Classic, which he said “messed up his psyche.”

“You learn from your mistakes,” he said. “I’ll freshen him up and train him up to the Breeders’ Cup. I need to prepare him like I did for his other big races, bring him in fresh.

“There was a lot of uncertainty about Arrogate. The last race was so uncharacteristic of him. If he was going to run in the Breeders’ Cup, he had to show me something today. For a while it didn’t look like he’d get anything. I’m happy he dug in.”

For Collected, though, he may be in the right place at the right time. He is now 4 for 4, and clearly a much faster horse at age 4 than he was at 3. His lone Triple Crown race appearance last year was in the Preakness, in which he finished 10th of 11 on a sloppy track, and after which he was off until April 1 of this year.

He won the Santana Mile in his return, then the Grade 2 Californian, then the Grade 3 Precisionist – all at Santa Anita – each race faster than the previous in terms of Beyer Speed Figures. And after arriving at Del Mar, the site of this year’s Breeders’ Cup, he thrived in his training over this track, then made off with the biggest race of the meet.

Collected, a son of City Zip owned by the Speedway Stable of Fluor and K.C. Weiner, has now won eight times in 11 starts, and the $600,000 he picked up Saturday was nearly equal to the $660,500 he had made in his first 10 starts combined.

So while the Breeders’ Cup being at Del Mar may not be ideal for Arrogate, it clearly is for the cool, calm, Collected.