Updated on 09/05/2016 12:40PM

Hovdey: It ain't Arrogating if you can do it

Haase Photos
John Longden returns to the winner’s circle with Arrogate, the 1950s model, after taking the 1956 Del Mar Handicap. The victory made Longden the winningest jockey of all time.

He didn’t look like the second coming of Native Dancer when he left California last week, and he looked pretty much like the same iron-gray colt when he walked off the Hubbard van Monday afternoon at Del Mar.

But what a difference a record-setting, 13 1/2-length win in the Travers can make, for it’s all eyes now on Arrogate, the son of Unbridled’s Song who dismantled America’s oldest stakes race last Saturday with the ease of a child crumbling a tower made of Legos.

There at Bob Baffert’s barn FF, with the American Pharoah Triple Crown plaque mounted high on the concrete wall, Arrogate got a quick foot rinse, a tour of the tow ring, and a long drink of water before being soaped down, sponged off, and put away in his stall next to his even grayer stablemate, Cupid. (And no, Arrogate does not live in American Pharoah’s Del Mar stall. American Freedom must deal with those ghosts.)

Baffert has been swinging hard all year trying to replace the irreplaceable American Pharoah from a deep bench that would put the 1927 Yankees to shame. He started with Mor Spirit, doubled down with Cupid, and unleashed American Freedom to win a cluster of second-tier 3-year-old events without really stirring the blood. On paper, Arrogate appeared to be no more or less than the next batter up, with no stakes experience and a pedigree that offered cold comfort at the 1 1/4 miles required by the Travers.

So much for paper.

“Mike couldn’t stop talking,” Baffert said of his Travers rider, Mike Smith. “He was like, ‘Did you see that? Can you believe that? I don’t believe that.’ He was cracking me up.”

While Baffert was holding it in.

“After the race, I was all ready to give it the Usain Bolt,” he said, striking the Olympic sprinter’s trademark lightning-bolt victory pose. “But then I thought I’m here at Saratoga, training for Juddmonte, and maybe I better keep it low key.”

The idea that trainers working for Prince Khalid Abdullah must maintain a strict sense of public propriety is due mainly to their high regard for the man himself. There are no particular rules of behavior required, but if the Juddmonte aura discourages Baffert from putting a trophy on his head, so be it.

In the end, it’s the horse that counts, and those insiders and wise guys touting Arrogate’s superior skills before the Travers could be considered guilty of arrogating, that is, “to claim something without justification.” They also were right.

History is full of one-trick ponies, which means Arrogate’s next step in the Breeders’ Cup Classic will be his defining challenge. If he can do it again against California Chrome, Frosted, and whatever Aidan O’Brien brings to Santa Anita in November, then we can talk about the gray colt as one of the great late bloomers.

In the meantime, it is worth noting that Arrogate is not the first horse named Arrogate to make racing history. And the old Arrogate did some of his best work at Del Mar, not far from where the new Arrogate lives today.

Old Arrogate was a foal of 1951 born into privilege at Calumet Farm but later sold to Southern California refuse entrepreneur Dick Gregorian. Reggie Cornell trained Arrogate to his most significant West Coast victories, which included the 1955 and 1956 runnings of the Del Mar Handicap, then run at nine furlongs on the main track.

“What a business Gregorian had,” said Hall of Famer Ron McAnally, who worked for his Uncle Reggie at the time. “After his trucks picked up all the trash, he’d have it all separated into bottles, cans, paper, and garbage. The bottles, cans, and paper he’d sell, and the garbage they’d take to a pig yard to feed the pigs. And they were his pigs! Every part of the operation was profit.”

Arrogate was the younger half-brother of Calumet’s Sun Again, the winner of the Arlington Futurity, and Fervent, a colt who on his best days could beat horses like Stymie, Phalanx, and his stablemate Armed.

“He was a chestnut horse,” McAnally said of Arrogate. “Ideal to work with. No problems at all.”

In his first Del Mar Handicap win, Arrogate defeated Bobby Broccato, the winner of the Santa Anita Handicap and San Juan Capistrano. In his second Del Mar score, Arrogate turned back Honey’s Alibi, the winner of the Malibu Stakes and the San Diego Handicap – but something more.

It was on Sept. 3, 1956, 60 years ago Saturday, that Arrogate carried John Longden to his 4,871st victory in that Del Mar Handicap, passing the record established by England’s Sir Gordon Richards. Longden’s age at the time was reported as 46, and he rode for another 10 years, retiring at what he announced was 59. Go ahead, do the math.

The old Arrogate ended up winning seven stakes, a quarter-million dollars, and posted a record of 20 wins and 22 placings from 83 starts. But since he was neither a Horse of the Year, nor an Eclipse Award winner, nor the winner of a race in the Triple Crown, his name was available to be recycled after 25 years.

No one touched it until Prince Khalid snapped it up for his gray son of Unbridled’s Song. Now the new Arrogate is flying the name high and proud after setting a Saratoga track record for 1 1/4 miles in the Travers, just as the old Arrogate set a Del Mar track record for 1 1/8 miles in the 1956 Handicap. Sometimes history can be so cool.