07/17/2017 1:10PM

Vacation over, Arrogate gets ready to punch in again

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Barbara D. Livingston
The San Diego Handicap on Saturday will be Arrogate's first start since the Dubai World Cup in March.

DEL MAR, Calif. – Summer vacation is well under way, but for Arrogate, vacation time is about to end. The world’s best racehorse has had nearly four months off since his victory in the Dubai World Cup, the world’s second-richest horse race, and now has his sights set on a repeat victory in the world’s third-richest horse race to cap a 2017 campaign that began with him winning the world’s richest horse race.

All that success has enriched Arrogate’s bankroll to the tune of more than $17 million. He’s established himself as perhaps the best North American-based runner of this century, certainly one of the best in decades, and with that standing comes the responsibility for those closest to him to make sure he continues to race at peak performance.

“He has to be doing really well for me to lead him up there,” trainer Bob Baffert said during an interview at Santa Anita. “A horse like him, there’s added pressure. You can’t say, ‘I hope he runs well.’ If I lead him up there, I’m not going to be caught with my pants down.”

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Arrogate is scheduled to return to action Saturday in the Grade 2 San Diego Handicap, the first of three potential starts he will make here at Del Mar over the coming months. His main objective this summer is the $1 million Pacific Classic on Aug. 19, but the most important goal is a title defense in the $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic, which he won last year at Santa Anita and which will be run for the first time at Del Mar on Nov. 4.

“The Breeders’ Cup Classic is the race,” Baffert said. “That’s the main plan.”

The decision on whatever happens in between – whether it’s two races or three – has been entrusted to Baffert by owner Juddmonte Farms.

“They put a lot of faith and trust in a trainer,” Baffert said. “I know I can say I don’t like something and adjust.”

Arrogate was assigned the top weight of 126 pounds for the 1 1/16-mile San Diego. He has not raced at that distance since an allowance victory here last summer that served as a prep for the Travers Stakes, where he announced his arrival with a 13 1/2-length victory in track-record time. He followed that up with successive victories in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, $12 million Pegasus World Cup, and $10 million Dubai World Cup, bringing his win streak to seven following a losing debut.

Arrogate showed in the Breeders’ Cup Classic that he’s fully capable of running his best race going 1 1/4 miles and coming off a lengthy layoff, and Baffert acknowledged that he “could train him up to the 1 1/4-mile Pacific Classic” if there’s the slightest of hiccups in the coming days.

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But the plan is to use the San Diego “as a stiff work,” Baffert said.

Arrogate has had seven workouts since going back into serious training following his trip to Dubai, with the last four at six furlongs or farther, including a stiff drill last Saturday at Santa Anita officially recorded as six furlongs in 1:11, the best time of 15 at the distance.

Baffert said the trip to Dubai took a bit out of Arrogate, and he gave him extra time to recover after returning to Santa Anita at the end of March.

“When he got back, he was pretty light,” Baffert said. “It’s a long walk, 45 minutes, to and from the track in Dubai. You walk in the dark up there; it’s wide open. You just hope something doesn’t spook him and he drops the rider and ends up in downtown Dubai. That’s what goes through your mind.

“When he first got there, he was a little light. I had to back off him a little. I didn’t take him to the track for a couple of days. He got two days to recharge. The day before, when he galloped, I thought, ‘Okay, the big engine is back.’

“I had him in light training after he got back,” Baffert said, “but I could see he wasn’t putting the weight back on. So, I walked him a couple of weeks, put some weights on him when he was tack-walking, and the weight came back. He had lost weight in his back and withers, but he filled in really quick.”

That’s how Arrogate spent his vacation. And now it’s time for him to go back to work.