Story & photos by Teresa Genaro
In the 147th Travers on Saturday at Saratoga Race Course, some of the horses did what their form would suggest they would, and some didn’t. Laoban went to the lead, like he was supposed to, and Arrogate was there with him, like he was supposed to be, but at odds of nearly 12-1, he wasn’t, said the bettors, supposed to stick around until the end, at all, much less all by himself, 13 1/2 lengths ahead of everyone else.
Exaggerator was the 2.55-1 favorite, so apparently he was supposed to win, but he hasn’t won on a dry track since the Saratoga Special here over a year ago, so it seems, really, that he was supposed to lose, and that’s what he did, finishing 11th in the field of 13.
American Freedom, the second betting choice, finished second, giving bettors a $134.50 Baffert –Baffert exacta. Anaximanadros, 133-1, finished last.
It would be tempting to call the race chaotic if its result weren’t so absolutely straightforward. In his first race in stakes company, Arrogate under Mike Smith—the Mike Smith that’s flown in twice already this summer to win Grade I races—went to the lead, blistered through early fractions, and just…kept…going.
“He has a stride that’s tremendous, as you saw,” said Smith. “Although we were going quick, he was doing it well within himself. When I asked him down the lane, he responded.”
Said Baffert, “My wife Jill said, ‘I think they’re going too fast.’ I said, ‘No, they look like they’re going easy.’ He’s a big, long-striding horse. They didn’t look like they were going that fast.”
“That fast” was :23.23, :46.84, 1:10.85, 1:35.52, and 1:59.36 for the 10 furlongs, a new track record, breaking the one General Assembly set in this race 37 years ago, when he ran the Travers in two minutes flat. The margin of victory was the third-largest in Travers history, behind General Assembly’s 15 lengths and Damascus’22 in 1967.
It hasn’t been quite that long since Bob Baffert won the Travers, though sometimes it might have felt that way: Baffert’s drought in Saratoga’s biggest race goes back only to 2001 and Point Given. There’s that sting of losing with American Pharoah last year, but the trainer seems to harbor no hard feelings.
“Just to win the Travers is incredible,” he said. “Saratoga—when I walked in today, you could feel the electricity in the air.
“The first thing that went through my mind was, ‘I hope we’re not going to stink it up today.’”
Arrogate is owned by Juddmonte Farms, which like Baffert also won a race on the Travers undercard. Juddmonte’s Flintshire won the Sword Dancer for the second consecutive year, while Baffert won the King’s Bishop with Drefong.
“It’s rather a semi-European thing to take a horse from an allowance race straight into a Grade I, but he did it pretty well,” said Dr. John Chandler, president of Juddmonte USA, speaking of Baffert and Arrogate.
“To a lot of people’s surprise, the horse kept going with a staggering fast time, and we’re very happy with him. We’re very pleased with the job that Bob has done. He’s just done great things with horse and has been very patient with him, and we thank him very much.”
Perhaps allowance winners aren’t supposed to ship cross-country and win a Grade I race. Perhaps a Hall of Fame of trainer isn’t supposed to win the Travers with a lightly raced colt when he couldn’t do it with a Triple Crown winner. Perhaps horses aren’t supposed to set blazing fractions in a 10-furlong race and still win by double-digit lengths.
But that’s what Arrogate did, and while the horses that were supposed to elevate their status did exactly the opposite, Arrogate stole not only their thunder, but perhaps their shot at year-end honors.
“[What] my horse did today is pretty incredible,” said Baffert. “He looks like a superstar in the making. So I think the fans will remember watching a horse like this, because performances like this are very rare.”
And that, indeed, is what Saratoga is supposed to be.