08/21/2017 11:46AM

Hovdey: Attention disconnect for Collected connections

Emily Shields
At 3-1, Collected (2) was hardly a shocking winner of the Pacific Classic.

In an alternate universe, an even-handed report on the Pacific Classic at Del Mar would go something like this:

“The swift chestnut Collected ran his 2017 record to a perfect 4 and 0 on Saturday with a half-length victory over his heavily favored stablemate Arrogate to stamp himself as a contender for the Breeders’ Cup Classic over the identical ground and distance later this year.

“Carrying the same 124 pounds as Arrogate, Collected gave trainer Bob Baffert his fifth victory in the Pacific Classic and jockey Martin Garcia his second, after leading the field on a merry chase for the entire mile and one-quarter, timed in a smart 2:00.70.

“Accelerate, who lost to Collected by some 15 lengths in the Californian at Santa Anita and then defeated Arrogate by a similar margin in the San Diego Handicap at Del Mar, finished a respectable though tiring third.”

Instead, we got variations on this:

“Arrogate, proclaimed the best Thoroughbred in the world by a variety of international rankings, ran an improved race on Saturday in the Pacific Classic at Del Mar but still lost for the second straight time when his grinding late run could not catch his front-running stablemate Collected, who held on to win by half a length.

“Arrogate’s effort both pleased and perplexed trainer Bob Baffert, who admitted he had no idea how the long-striding gray colt would perform in the Classic after finishing a distant fourth in the San Diego Handicap at Del Mar last month. Baffert also praised the victorious Collected as a horse who was right on the day for jockey Martin Garcia, his regular companion.

“In post race comments, jockey Mike Smith said Arrogate was having trouble getting a firm hold of the track, while Baffert insisted the track had nothing to do with Arrogate’s loss at odds of 70 cents on the dollar.”

Then there’s the version we’d like to tell:

“A deeply conflicted horse racing community was plunged into further confusion Saturday after the horse many said was the second coming of either Secretariat, Citation, or Man o’ War continued to be winless in North America since last January.

“Arrogate’s begrudging, mildly threatening runner-up finish to stablemate Collected added fuel to one of several flames as evidence of either, a) miscalculation on the part of trainer Bob Baffert, b) a pathological dislike for the Del Mar dirt surface, or c) the inescapable conclusion that the strapping 4-year-old colt has become but a shadow of his glorious former self.

“What was roundly ignored in the hand-wringing over Arrogate’s desultory effort was the frisky, wire-to-wire display of grace under pressure from Collected, a 4-year-old son of City Zip making his first start at a mile and one-quarter after mastering three lesser challenges earlier this year.”

Take your pick.

Upon entering the Del Mar press box lunchroom in the wake of the Pacific Classic, I feared that someone had died. (Blame the chili.) This was supposed to be the winner’s press conference, giving Baffert, Garcia, and co-owner Peter Fluor a chance to bask in Collected’s victorious glow.

Instead, the room was hushed. Up front, Baffert was doing Hamlet, or a take on Jack Kerouac’s confessional, “I had nothing to offer anybody except my own confusion.”

Collected, at 3-1, was hardly a surprise. We’ve seen this movie before, at the highest levels of the sport, with Baffert throwing the reins to Garcia and telling him, “Don’t look back.” They did it with Game On Dude to spectacular results in the 2013 Pacific Classic, and they did it again, after a messy start, with Bayern in the 2014 Breeders’ Cup Classic at Santa Anita.

Garcia has won the Preakness for Baffert with Lookin At Lucky, the Santa Anita Handicap with Misremembered, the Santa Anita Derby with Dortmund, the Kentucky Oaks with Plum Pretty, and the Breeders’ Cup Sprint with both Drefong and Secret Circle. The rider also has fallen in and out of favor with his benefactor more than once along the way, which has made for great soap opera but cannot hide the fact that Baffert has trusted Garcia with some of the best horses the stable has ever handled, both morning and afternoon.

Meanwhile, sitting quietly while waiting for his turn to be called, Peter Fluor allowed his mind to wander back to the time he spent at the side of his influential father and their racing adventures together.

J. Robert Fluor, who died in 1984, is known to the wider world as the head of Fluor Corp., a construction and engineering conglomerate that made an everlasting mark in the petrochemical industry. Robert Fluor was also a vigorous Thoroughbred owner and breeder, and served as the chairman of the California Horse Racing Board.

“My dad would get a real kick out of this,” said Fluor, who races as the Speedway Stable with partner K.C. Weiner. “We’re humbled and very proud to beat Arrogate, who is a legend and rightfully so.”

Certainly, after the Dubai World Cup Arrogate was spinning a tale that deserved to be chiseled in stone. He could have left the stage at that point and been racing’s James Dean, a shooting star that ignited the sky for a brief window of time.

But things change, and there is no point harping on what Arrogate has been while Baffert tries to figure out who he is now. Forget the rankings. What’s past is past. Let’s let them finish the story.