12/30/2016 3:00PM

Hovdey: Arrogate seeks his place in Juddmonte pantheon


Hand it to Santa Anita racing chief Rick Hammerle. He threaded the needle with perfection. His track needed to offer a prep race for the Pegasus World Cup on Jan. 28. The San Pasqual Stakes, at a mile and one-sixteenth, was the most likely candidate. And yet, he did not want to waste a traditional race for good older horses at the tail of the previous year. It needed to count for something in 2017.

The result? Happy New Year. Arrogate runs on Sunday.

At least, that’s Bob Baffert’s plan, weather, track condition, and tea leaves permitting. Arrogate could probably train up to the Pegasus – he went 70 days between his Travers and Breeders’ Cup Classic wins – but an 84-day gap between the Classic and the Pegasus might not be the best way to take on a dead fit and race-ready California Chrome at a mile and one-eighth on a Gulfstream surface known to favor the fleet.

Arrogate is the flagship runner of Prince Khalid Abdullah’s Juddmonte Farms North American operation, headquartered in Kentucky with Dr. John Chandler and Garrett O’Rourke. In 2016, Juddmonte topped the traditional table in owner earnings and will be in the thick of the running for an Eclipse Award, along with Arrogate in the 3-year-old male category and Flintshire in the male turf division.

The cheers you hear from the other side of the pond are coming from Banstead Manor, near Newmarket, where Edward John Beckett, 5th Baron Grimthorpe, lords over the Juddmonte’s European racing fortunes. His friends call him Teddy.

“It was a wonderful year in America, led by two very special colts,” Grimthorpe said.

The bar for excellence in the Juddmonte realm is set ridiculously high. In North America alone, Juddmonte has had champions Close Hatches, Banks Hill, Ryafan, Intercontinental, and Wandesta, while its European stars have included Dancing Brave, Workforce, Rousillon, Rainbow Quest, and Warning.

Then came Frankel. For three years, from 2010-2012, the Galileo colt trained by the late Henry Cecil held European racing in thrall, winning all 14 of his races with a complete disregard for the natural inconsistencies of the Thoroughbred. His action was flawless, his attitude relentless, and his stallion career was more highly anticipated than a “Star Wars” sequel.

The first Frankels hit the ground running in 2016, with stakes winners in Europe and Japan, each one setting off a renewed celebration of the stallion, who turns 9 in 2017.

“The really exciting thing about Frankel has always been the anticipation and the potential,” Grimthorpe said. “Obviously, his runners in Europe need to prove themselves at the top level. But there’s enough of them who have poked their noses above the parapet to say that he’s going the right way. I mean, it was sort of the same with him. Age 2 was the potential, 3 was the realization, and 4 was into the stratosphere.”

Frankel has a following in England like no horse since Red Rum. His name is still whispered as the horse who never will be matched. Such repute gives him an unapproachable aura, as if he were a great work of art only occasionally on display, and then under high security.

“I found it very hard not to ring up Henry ever half an hour asking how he was,” Grimthorpe said. “And now he is only about 500 yards away from my office, so I see him on a fairly regular basis. He’s a little darker in his coat right now, in great shape, and enjoying life. And he still has visitors in droves.”

Frankel’s first crop of more than 100 foals has been tracked as if they were stars in the summer sky. Balance, Zenyatta’s sister, has a colt named Brooklyn Bobby. Nothing But Dreams is a filly out of the Arc winner Danedream. Breeders’ Cup winner Midday has a Frankel filly named Mori, which means “horse” in Mongolian. Mirage Dancer is a colt out of Matriarch winner Heat Haze. Sour Stirring, a daughter of Eclipse champion Stacelita, won a Group 1 race in Japan.

“There’s a real variety,” Grimthorpe said. “I think what he has stamped in them are the two most important things Frankel had as a racehorse, which is his action – all the comments about them are ‘beautiful mover’ – and his temperament, which was sort of good and bad. They want to run.”

It could be a while, though, before the Frankels strut their stuff in the States.

“At the moment we don’t have any Frankels in training in the U.S.,” Grimthorpe said. “There’s a possibility of one or two, but all ours were foaled in Europe and the plan is to keep them here. You’re trying to consolidate a sire and give him maximum impact in one place. Then, if he explodes, the world will be his oyster.”

So for now Juddmonte must be content with the domestic exploits of Arrogate, as his 4-year-old season unfolds. By now the ample gray colt with the sterling résumé has very little to prove. It is time to sit back and watch him perform for the ongoing pleasure of his fans and racing family.

“Arrogate gave all of us a huge thrill over here,” Grimthorpe said. “We’re incredibly excited about him. Prince Khalid loves big horses, and they don’t get much bigger than him.”