08/27/2016 7:49PM

Watchmaker: Arrogate now a contender for 3-year-old male crown

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Barbara D. Livingston
Mike Smith aboard Arrogate after the Travers.

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. – So, in the wake of Arrogate’s devastating, track-record, runaway score in Saturday’s Travers Stakes, who is the best 3-year-old male in the land?

It might well be Arrogate. What he did in the Travers was amazing stuff, setting a fast pace under pressure and running away through the stretch like he went the first half in 50.84 seconds instead of the 46.84 he did post. And as if racking up a 13 1/2-length victory wasn’t enough, Arrogate ran the fastest 1 1/4 miles in the history of Saratoga at 1:59.36, smashing General Assembly’s 37-year-old track record.

Powerful, powerful stuff. Maybe one of the three or four best performances we’ve seen all year.

But where did this effort come from?

It’s not like Arrogate hadn’t demonstrated considerable potential at the launch of his career in Southern California. He finished third sprinting in his debut last April and then won three straight going two turns, victories that earned him a trip to the Travers.

However, none of Arrogate’s prior three scores were in the same universe as what he did on Saturday. I mean, he freaked in the most extreme sense of the term. In fact, his Travers performance, brilliant as it was, was in such contrast to his prior efforts that it seems only reasonable to require some validation.

Arrogate might well be the best 3-year-old in the land, and it might not even be close. But I need to see him perform even fairly close to the way he did Saturday before I consider his Travers effort to be something I buy into completely.

No question, the biggest disappointment in the Travers was Exaggerator, who was a distant trailer early, made a brief run late on the far turn, and then backed off to be eased under the wire, finishing 11th of 13.

This dismal effort by Exaggerator on a fast track, into a fast pace, makes a very strong case that he is indeed not only pace dependent, but also dependent on a wet track to perform at his best. After all, Exaggerator’s wins in the Haskell, Preakness, and Santa Anita Derby, and his second in the Kentucky Derby (on a track that was plenty wet despite it’s “fast” designation) were all set up by pace and surface.

But his last two dry-track starts resulted in 11th-place place finishes in both the Travers and Belmont. And all of this begs the question of whether it’s wise to award a horse who to this point has been a creation of fantastic pace setups and wet tracks.

Nyquist, on the strength of honest wins in the Kentucky Derby and Florida Derby and a third in the Preakness that I think was the best performance in that race, might still be the ranking 3-year-old male. But his grasp on the division is very shaky.

Which means that perhaps in no small respect, the door is open for Arrogate. But let’s see him do what he did in the Travers again. Like in the Breeders’ Cup Classic.

Quick Saturday Saratoga notes:

• Lady Eli might have been caught late by Strike Charmer in the Ballston Spa for the first defeat in her seven-race career, but she was a winner Saturday in every other sense of the word.

Lady Eli ran big considering she was beaten less than a length off a 14-month layoff. She ran huge considering that layoff was due to laminitis. And what she did Saturday was tremendous when you take into account that she’s lucky to be alive, let alone racing again, and racing effectively.

Lady Eli made a very strong wide run around the far turn in the Ballston Spa, and even if her move was nicely set up by a fast early pace, that move says Lady Eli is still the Lady Eli we remember and will be a force to be reckoned with going forward.

• Flintshire is so much the best in the male turf division it’s silly, and I say that with all due respect to Ironicus, who was a very good second to Flintshire in the Manhattan last June.

However, as tremendously entertaining as Flintshire’s victories at this Saratoga meet were, let’s not forget that he wasn’t exactly beating horses who will invoke the memory of Manila. The group who tried to box him in in last month’s Bowling Green wasn’t remotely good enough to pull off the gambit.

There were no such machinations Saturday in the Sword Dancer – although Flintshire got two rail passes when barnmates Money Multiplier opened the rail for him around the far turn the final time and rabbit Inordinate did the same turning for home – but the competition really wasn’t all that much stronger.

I do not note this to denigrate Flintshire. He is very, very good, and I am a fan. However, European horsemen will soon get serious about sending real horses over here for the big fall grass stakes, and the competition Flintshire will face will become stronger by many multiples. And he might very well be good enough to meet the challenge. And that, for me, anyway, will be more entertaining than seeing Flintshire again victimize seriously overmatched competition.

• If there was any doubt about Cavorting’s status as the top older dirt female east of Beholder and Stellar Wind, it was eliminated with her better-than-it-looked victory in the Personal Ensign.

With a pace that bordered between deliberate and slow, the Personal Ensign quickly became a race that put a premium on tactics. And Cavorting, in her first career start around two turns or at a distance as far as 1 1/8 miles after winning the Ogden Phipps and Ruffian at Belmont in her last two starts, was up against it tactically, trailing early in the solid field of five.

Yet despite an unfavorable setup, Cavorting was still able to produce a stretch rally from the outside to get up in time, which is very much to her credit. She was decidedly better than her half-length win margin would suggest.

• Likewise, there was little question going into the Forego that A. P. Indian, the winner of his last three starts, including the Alfred G. Vanderbilt earlier in the meet, was the best male sprinter in the East. There was even less doubt after the Forego as A. P. Indian was decidedly best. That said, this edition of the Forego lured a less-than-inspiring field, and the East Coast sprinters are not an especially tough group, at least right now.

• No matter what, Drefong was the speediest and best horse in the King’s Bishop. But it would have been nice to see him have to use his speed to prove his superiority. Instead, the King’s Bishop was giftwrapped for him only a quarter of a mile in.

Drefong was in front and clear in a flash after the start of the King’s Bishop because he is, well, California speed. But when 23.11 was posted for a first-quarter fraction, it was clear there was no California speed, or any other speed, at work. That was walking for Drefong, and because he is a good horse, he thoroughly capitalized on his good fortune with a clear-cut score.

Still, I suggest not penalizing the closers who were soundly beaten by Drefong this time too severely. They had no shot with the way the King’s Bishop was run.

• Much credit to Haveyougoneaway, who made the Ballerina her second graded stakes victory of the Saratoga meet (she won last month’s Honorable Miss). But I do think several Ballerina contestants, for whatever reason, just did not deliver representative performances.

Sheer Drama never moved a muscle, and Wavell Avenue barely did better. Carina Mia finished third as the even-money favorite despite being a 3-year-old against older opponents, but she really shouldn’t have weakened after contesting a first quarter of 23.39, which was slow for a seven-furlong stakes race on a fast track, and her stretch drift was troubling.

• The final times of the three big seven-furlong stakes ranked in predictable order. A. P. Indian went in 1:20.99, Drefong went in 1:21.25, and Haveyougoneaway went in 1:21.63. But frankly, I was a little surprised there wasn’t more of a spread between these times.