10/31/2017 7:00PM

This time, Baffert has Arrogate right where he wants him

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Shigeki Kikkawa
Bob Baffert, with Arrogate in April, blames himself for Arrogate's disappointing races at Del Mar last summer.

DEL MAR, Calif. – A few days after Arrogate’s second-place finish in the Pacific Classic here at Del Mar in August, trainer Bob Baffert was kicking himself over the way he had managed the horse during the summer meet, believing his decision to run Arrogate in the San Diego Handicap rather than simply awaiting the Pacific Classic “threw everything off.”

It was a particularly frustrating summer for Baffert with Arrogate, because he wholeheartedly believed the colt still was capable of the brilliance he had displayed from August 2016 through late March. When Arrogate got back to Del Mar after his Travers victory in the summer of 2016, Baffert took him out of his stall and said, “Take a look at the fastest horse in the world.”

It was proven not to be an idle boast. Arrogate followed up the Travers by running down California Chrome in the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Santa Anita. He then won the inaugural Pegasus World Cup at Gulfstream. He had run three straight races with monster Beyer Speed Figures of 122, 120, and 119. And then on March 25, he turned in a breathtaking performance in the Dubai World Cup, overcoming a dreadful start to reel in the high-class Gun Runner.

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He was ranked as the best horse in the world – not just by Baffert but by an international panel of racing secretaries.

Now it was five months on from Dubai, and Arrogate had lost two straight races. Horse of the Year, which seemed a certainty in the spring, was now in jeopardy. There would be one more chance for Arrogate before he went to stud at Juddmonte Farms.

That race is Saturday, in the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Del Mar.

It is a pivotal race for Arrogate’s career. A victory would make him only the second horse to win the Classic twice, and make him both Horse of the Year and champion older male on dirt for 2017, adding to the champion 3-year-old male title he won in 2016. A loss means Arrogate will retire with a three-race losing streak.

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“I like a challenge,” Baffert said in late August, when he set about planning for the Classic, working backward from Nov. 4 with a general outline.

“I know what needs to be done,” Baffert said then. “Like with American Pharoah after his Saratoga race.”

American Pharoah had lost the 2015 Travers, and then came into the Classic fresh, without a prep, and crushed his rivals. Mistakes had been made at Saratoga, particularly an overaggressive gallop the day before that Travers. After that race, American Pharoah had a few easy weeks, and then had a strong series of works leading up to his career finale.

Baffert believed there were similarities regarding Arrogate in that mistakes had been made, with Baffert placing the biggest blame on himself for running in the San Diego. He thought there were adjustments that could be made, too, in daily gallops and race tactics.

As with American Pharoah, Arrogate had a light late August and early September, then started training in earnest for the Classic. He also would have all his workouts at Santa Anita and ship in just days before the Classic.

“Freshen him up, like for other big races, and take one shot at it,” Baffert said.

On Sept. 26, Arrogate sped five furlongs in 59.40 seconds, the best time of 44 at the distance.

“I’m just trying to keep the weight on him, keep him happy,” Baffert said that morning.

Baffert backed off a bit for the next work, when Arrogate went a half-mile in 50 seconds under jockey Rafael Bejarano on Oct. 3.

“I stressed to Bejarano I didn’t want to do a lot, just cruise around there,” Baffert said. “I’m happy with him. Just got to keep him healthy. I want him to be really enjoying what he’s doing.

“I like where I am right now. It’s like going in at halftime, changing things. Del Mar was halftime. We made halftime adjustments.”

On Oct. 10, Arrogate was sent through another fast piece of work, five furlongs in 1:00.20, again the best of the day at the distance.

“Just cruising around there,” Baffert said. “He went really nice. He was happy coming off the track. He’s just doing everything really nice, wanting to do it.”

Six days later, Arrogate worked six furlongs in 1:13.20, and seven days after that, seven furlongs in 1:25.40.

“Today was his major work,” Baffert said on Oct. 23. “He does well when I point for big races. When I didn’t point, I messed it all up.”

On Monday, Arrogate had his final drill, five furlongs in 1:00, again the best of the morning at the distance.

“Went nice,” Baffert said that morning. “I’m happy with his progression into the race.”

Early Tuesday morning, Arrogate was sent by van from Santa Anita to Del Mar. He’ll get three days of training on the main track before the race. Baffert insists it was his management, not the surface, that got Arrogate beat this summer.

Different race tactics will be used Saturday. Arrogate will be asked to stay closer earlier by jockey Mike Smith.

“You have to be in it turning for home,” Baffert said. “You’re not going to make up a lot of ground. That’s the key going a mile and a quarter. You’ve got to stay within striking distance.

“He ran a respectable race in the Pacific Classic. But I know he can do better.”