08/20/2017 10:49AM

Watchmaker: Arrogate has taken us into a gray area

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Emily Shields
Arrogate's performance in Saturday's Pacific Classic at Del Mar was unexpected.

Perhaps I wasn’t being open-minded enough, but I thought there were only two possible outcomes to Saturday’s Pacific Classic at Del Mar.

The first had Arrogate putting his mysterious non-effort in last month’s San Diego behind him and running his race. And since Arrogate’s real race is better than anything seen in years from an American race horse, he would crush the Pacific Classic field.

The other potential outcome was Arrogate running like he did in the San Diego, which really means not running at all, and getting soundly beaten again.

For the record, while I didn’t completely rule out the latter, I expected the former. I never even considered we would get the outcome we did.

At least if Arrogate went out and produced the kind of performance he delivered in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, Pegasus World Cup, or Dubai World Cup, or if he went out and flopped again, we would know where we stood with him. We would either be celebrating the return to form of a true equine superstar, or readying for a major retirement announcement.

Instead, we got what could be portrayed as the least satisfying of outcomes, a sort of halfway effort from Arrogate that leaves us in a gray netherworld, wondering what to make of a once consistently brilliant and now suddenly enigmatic race horse.

For a horse of any other name, Arrogate’s effort in the Pacific Classic would have been considered terrific. He was sent from the start and was niggled on almost all the way until he was put into an all-out drive nearing the stretch. He raced wide all the way at a loss of meaningful ground, took an erratic course in the stretch, yet still finished gamely to narrowly miss to an opponent (and barnmate) in Collected who had been untouchable in his three starts this year.

However, Arrogate is not just any other horse. For all of the good things you could draw from what he did Saturday, he still fell considerably short of the lofty standards he had previously established.

Arrogate did not run as fast from a speed-figure standpoint as he did in those three game-shaking victories referenced earlier, or in the Travers he dominated last summer. And as good and as sharp as Collected is right now, the real Arrogate – the one who ran past California Chrome when that two-time Horse of the Year had everything his own way in the Breeders’ Cup, and the one who overwhelmed Gun Runner in Dubai despite an awful trip – would have inhaled him.

But he didn’t.

Many folks will take the Pacific Classic result as proof that Arrogate just doesn’t care for Del Mar, which would be a major issue what with Del Mar being the host of this year’s Breeders’ Cup. I suppose there is a chance Arrogate does not like Del Mar. But I would consider such a specific distaste to be odd and out of character for a horse who has won at Santa Anita, at Saratoga, at Gulfstream, halfway around the world at Meydan, and – oh yeah – at Del Mar last summer.

Of course, another logical explanation here is Arrogate, for whatever reason, simply isn’t as good now as he was during his stellar seven-month run between the Travers and the Dubai World Cup. You wouldn’t think a big beast like this – one who was making only his 10th lifetime start Saturday – would already be on the downside of his career arc. As an unabashed Arrogate fan, I know I don’t want this to be true. But in that gray area we are now in with Arrogate, this theory has as much currency as any other.

Saturday notes:

** I feel bad for Collected – well, as bad as one can for a horse who just won a Grade 1 race with a seven-figure purse. It’s unfortunate, if understandable, his big score was overshadowed the way it was.

** Elate has emerged as a major force in the 3-year-old filly division, although she probably has done so a bit too late to impact the divisional Eclipse Award picture.

Elate was days the best winning the Alabama at Saratoga, staying the 10 furlongs far better than anyone else in the field. This was not a surprise, as Elate could have been placed first in the CCA Oaks earlier in the Saratoga meet after being put in tight on the rail in the stretch by Abel Tasman.

Abel Tasman is currently the ranking 3-year-old filly as the CCA Oaks was her third Grade 1 score of the campaign (along with the Kentucky Oaks and Acorn). The Alabama was Elate’s first Grade 1 victory, and having lost her only head-to-head meeting with Abel Tasman (albeit controversially), Elate is at an Eclipse Award disadvantage she probably can’t overcome.

That said, I think Elate, right now, in a true two-turn race, is at least every bit as good as Abel Tasman, if not quite as accomplished.

** Itsinthepost should have won the Del Mar Handicap. Period.