USA: Chrome and Arrogate set for heavyweight rematch
Arrogate overhauls California Chrome (right) in the Breeders' Cup Classic
PICTURE: Edward Whitaker (racingpost.com/photos) Chrome and Arrogate set for heavyweight rematch
By Nicholas Godfrey in Miami 9:00PM 27 JAN 2017
Preview: USA, Saturday 10.40pm GMT (live on ATR)
Gulfstream Park: Pegasus World Cup Invitational Stakes (Grade 1) 1m1f, dirt, 4yo+
CALIFORNIA CHROME'S connections were gunning for a rematch with his Breeders' Cup conqueror Arrogate virtually from the very second America's favourite horse crossed the wire half a length adrift in an epic battle for the Classic at Santa Anita.
Now they've got their wish as the world's two best racehorses clash again in the inaugural running of the Pegasus World Cup at Gulfstream Park – and at least one member of the California Chrome team is desperate to turn the tables in what is the world's richest race with a $12 million prize fund.
Jockey Victor Espinoza copped an enormous amount of flak for looking over his shoulders in exaggerated fashion as his mount loped along in front, seemingly as easily as could be imagined.
Instead of allowing his mount to stride on, he waited – and nemesis arrived inside the final furlong as Mike Smith pounced on the upstart three-year-old Arrogate.
"After the Breeders' Cup, I criticised myself for the way I rode him," said Espinoza. "I should've just let him run – I waited too long to open up.
"I think I can do a better job than I did," added the jockey, speaking to the Daily Racing Form. "Maybe Arrogate still would have beaten me but when we crossed the wire, I was bummed. It's a good thing I'm getting a second chance."
After a 2016 season in which he won seven of his eight starts, California Chrome landed the most prestigious title in American racing last weekend as he was voted Horse of the Year at the recent Eclipse Awards. But if the nation's favourite horse won the popular ballot, he was still beaten in the Classic, and it was Arrogate who duly became the world's top-rated racehorse at this week's World Thoroughbred Racehorse Rankings.
Veteran trainer Art Sherman is optimistic about turning the tables with on his six-year-old's final start before retirement at the end of a long and glorious career in which he also won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes during his Triple Crown campaign in 2014.
But the post-position draw certainly added a few question marks as Arrogate was handed the inside gate in a 12-runner field, with California Chrome wide on the outside in a race with only a short run to the first turn.
"The only good thing I thought about this is we won't have to be in the starting gate long," said Sherman. "Chrome is Chrome. He's got tactical speed. I was hoping we might get closer inside. We can overcome all this, believe me. He looks super right now – I couldn't be more satisfied."
The first Pegasus World Cup found its mojo as soon as Arrogate and California Chrome were inked in for a race featuring six Grade or Group 1 winners altogether, among them Classic third Keen Ice, who is no stranger to shock victories after beating Triple Crown hero American Pharoah in the Travers Stakes of 2015.
Arrogate must contend with several new factors in Saturday's race, however. The lanky roan colt needed nearly every yard of 1m2f to take the Classic; now he cuts back a furlong at a Florida track that traditionally rides even faster than Santa Anita.
Bob Baffert: "It's going to be a heavyweight title rematch"
PICTURE: Edward Whitaker (racingpost.com/photos)
Moreover, trainer Bob Baffert has had to deal with an interrupted preparation as Arrogate missed his intended prep race owing to a muddy track; rain has also meant changing his work patterns. Not that Baffert is admitting to any concerns for his son of Unbridled's Song.
"I'm looking forward to the Pegasus because I'm coming in there with a horse that is doing really well," said the west-coast legend. "It looks like a match-up, but it's a different vibe to the Breeders' Cup as it's the first time they've run the race. But any time two champions like that hook up it's very special. It's going to be a heavyweight title rematch, so hopefully we're ready for it and we're excited."
Another potential fly in the ointment came with Arrogate's draw in gate one on the rail, which means jockey Smith runs the risk of being cut off; then again, Arrogate isn't short of speed himself, having made all in his breakout performance in last summer's Travers Stakes for a record-smashing 13-length triumph. He has not tasted defeat since his debut in April.
"He's sharp right now – he's been training very aggressive in the morning, and he needs to be aggressive leaving the one hole," Smith said. "With the short run into this first turn, you're going to have to hope your horse breaks really well and puts you into a good spot."