01/28/2017 9:15PM

Watchmaker: Arrogate's victory in Pegasus no surprise

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Look, I am as surprised and as disappointed as anyone that the California Chrome we all had come to know and respect failed to show up in Saturday’s Pegasus World Cup at Gulfstream, whether due to the balky knee discovered post race or not. His ninth-place finish was a deflating way for a tremendous race horse to conclude a stellar career.

At the same time, Arrogate’s tour de force in the Pegasus was not at all a surprise, because Arrogate showed when he caught California Chrome to win the Breeders’ Cup Classic last November that he was the better horse.

California Chrome enjoyed an uncontested lead in the Classic, over a Santa Anita main track he loved, going a 1 1/4-mile distance he could negotiate in his sleep. The relatively inexperienced Arrogate still came and got him, validating the brilliance he demonstrated when he won last summer’s Travers in his stakes debut.

Just so you know, this isn’t Monday morning quarterbacking. I wrote as much on Breeder’s Cup Saturday night in a drf.com posting, which can be found here:

http://www.drf.com/news/watchmaker-breeders-cup-clarifies-most-eclipse-award-categories

This is related because one immediate reaction following the inaugural Pegasus is the unfortunate notion that California Chrome was the wrong horse to be voted 2016 Horse of the Year.

I’m just here to say this line of nonsense really should stop, and I say it as an Arrogate supporter.

If you want to know, I voted for Arrogate over California Chrome for 2016 Horse of the Year. When I did, I knew I was voting for a cause that would lose, and lose big, which it did. And it lost big because California Chrome had a body of work in 2016 that Arrogate simply couldn’t match.

But in good conscience, I could not submit a Horse of the Year vote for a horse who had been proven to be only, and clearly, second-best in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, which is the most important race on this continent. Especially so when it comes to Horse of the Year, our top year-end award.

I could not overlook, and not vote for, Arrogate, who was demonstrably best given the circumstances, even if I knew he would likely lose.

So, when California Chrome was announced as Horse of the Year (again – he was also 2014 Horse of the Year), I got it, even if I despised the classless acceptance speech from California Chrome’s principal owner.

The point is, that was 2016. That was so last year. And what happened today, on Jan. 28, 2017, has no bearing or impact whatsoever on what transpired in 2016, or on decisions that were made by an Eclipse Award electorate based on what happened BEFORE the Pegasus World Cup. And this comes from one who voted for Arrogate for Horse of the Year.

Now with that out of the way, much of the drama concerning a rematch from the Breeders’ Cup Classic Saturday was lost at the post position draw last Monday. California Chrome drew post 12, which is a death sentence going 1 1/8 miles at Gulfstream Park (As noted in this space before, a race of the stature of the Pegasus should have been run at the American classic distance of 1 1/4 miles, not 1 1/8 miles). Arrogate drew the rail, which, if sweet for him, did force him to send. But as it turned out, post position really had little to do with the outcome.

California Chrome didn’t break right on the button, but he also didn’t get caught nearly as wide on the first turn as he might have. At most, California Chrome was four, and then only three, wide around the first turn, which in itself shouldn’t undermine a star like him. In the meantime, Arrogate responded to sending tactics, and was perfectly positioned around the first turn.

Arrogate’s early position only a quarter-mile in was a strong clue that the Pegasus was over, but if it wasn’t, then the race’s fate was sealed when it became apparent as early as into the far turn that California Chrome was not responding to Victor Espinoza’s urging. So Arrogate, with the perfect trip that he really didn’t have in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, and with a principal opponent who was a no-show, found an unobstructed path to a romp in isolated glory.

Arrogate is a total and absolute monster, and the prospects for his 4-year-old campaign are as exciting as any in recent memory. Already, people are drawing older horse comparisons to Ghostzapper, Spectacular Bid, and Seattle Slew. That kind of talk makes me dizzy. But with what Arrogate has shown in the Travers, Breeders’ Cup Classic, and now the Pegasus, I can’t argue.

Finally, a thought on the Pegasus itself. With the unique way this event is presently constructed, it ensures that it will always have a full starting gate. That is not always good, and I think a tweak to the construction is needed.

There are full, competitive fields, which are great, and there are full fields that are completely phony and loaded with detritus. This first Pegasus had a 12-horse field that was not truly a 12-horse field. Evidence of that can be found in the fact that in this richest thoroughbred race in the world, in this Grade 1 event, we had a 188-1 shot, a 160-1 shot, a 138-1 shot, an 82-1 shot, and a 74-1 shot.

I’m aware of Arcangues, but there should never be horses so outrageously overmatched competing at this lofty level. It’s good that this filler didn’t get in the way and bother real contenders, but that might not always be the case in the future.