By Dick Powell
At the age of 65, I’ve been blessed in my sporting life. I saw, in person, Ali-Frazier I and II, numerous Knick playoff games including an epic seven-game series against the Baltimore Bullets in 1970, numerous Mets’ games in 1969, Broadway Joe and the Jets, and four Triple Crown wins in the Belmont Stakes (G1). Throw in seeing RUFFIAN (Reviewer) and FOREGO (Forli) about 20 times, five editions of the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (G1), four Dubai World Cups (G1) and even three Melbourne Cups (G1). I Live in Saratoga and have seen a lot of great races including the 1978 Travers Stakes (G1) from the infield. Almost every one of them on my dime.
After the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1), when it looked like ARROGATE (Unbridled’s Song) was going to run in the inaugural Pegasus World Cup (G1), I began to make plans. I was able to get a non-stop, round trip flight from Albany to Fort Lauderdale, media credentials and parking. I bought a carrel in the Silks Simulcast Theater at Gulfstream Park for $180 but I didn’t mind since the revenue from it, like admissions, parking, food, beverage and simulcast revenue, was split among the 12 stakeholders in the race. It gave me a perfect place to sit and bet during a busy day that got more crowded each hour.
So it was an expensive venture to South Florida but all worth it since I wanted to lay eyes on Arrogate. I have extolled his virtues many time but haven’t been able to see him up close since I didn’t go to the Breeders’ Cup this year and when I should have seen him in Saratoga, I was in the hospital. But nothing was going to stop me this year.
I got off the plane in Fort Lauderdale Thursday morning, got my luggage and rental car, and drove to Gulfstream Park around noon. When I walked in, I saw some friends in the paddock so I walked in and lo and behold, Arrogate was about to enter to be schooled. I wanted to see him up close and there he was.
On Saturday, I got there early even though I had fantastic parking and could have come whenever I wanted. Old School says you get there before the first race (11:30 a.m. [ET]) so there I was at 10:30. The weather was perfect since it cooled off about 15 degrees with cloudless blue skies and no humidity. Racing was great all day and while tracking pool sizes of the earlier races, you could tell they were on their way to a record day of wagering.
(Pic) Figuring the paddock would be mobbed and horses don’t spend much time in it anyway, I found a spot on the path heading out to the track about 30 minutes before the Pegasus. The saddling enclosure at Gulfstream is pretty claustrophobic and wisely, Arrogate and CALIFORNIA CHROME (Lucky Pulpit) were walking one-behind-the-other away from the crowd.
I inched down closer to them and for about 10 minutes, it was a circular parade of these two fantastic, future Hall of Famers, walking by me. Thankfully, they were both well-behaved because I could have reached out and touched them.
Even walking, Arrogate looks sensational and you could see where he gets his enormous stride from. He walks in his own footprints – there were none on the pavers – and other than playing a bit with his groom Eduardo Luna, nothing seemed to bother him. He didn’t even seem bothered by the guy wearing the Mets baseball cap.
They saddled up out there, walked into the paddock to the crowd’s cheers, and with their riders aboard, made the walk back out to the track where I got to see the entire field walk by.
I watched the race at the gap where the horses enter the track and luckily I am 6’ 1” so I could see pretty well.
(Pic) California Chrome was agitated but Arrogate was cool as ice. At the break, Mike Smith quarter-horsed Arrogate from the gate while Victor Espinoza was hung out wide on California Chrome.
Down the backside, it looked like the race we wanted might be on since Arrogate was down on the rail with five furlongs to go and California Chrome was glued to him on the outside. But this was not the usual California Chrome and he had trouble keeping up so Smith took advantage of his absence on the outside and set sail after the two leaders.
With three furlongs to go, the race was over and the only real drama was how far the margin of victory would be. Arrogate was using his immense stride to turn for home on the lead and unlike the Travers, where Smith kept riding him to the finish line despite the wide margin of victory, he geared Arrogate down to a measured 4 ¾-length victory over a determined SHAMAN’S GHOST (Ghostzapper) in 1:47.61, registering a BRIS Speed rating of 112.
There is now some questioning of the final time and many feel that it was actually 1:46 and change. The track was pretty dry on Saturday with bright sun and no humidity evaporating whatever the water trucks could put down on it. No matter, it was a massive race by Arrogate and another brilliant training job by Bob Baffert and his team. Arrogate’s stride is so mechanically efficient it only seems logical that he can run over anything.
Sometimes when you rely on your eyes, you wonder how much your heart is affecting what you are seeing. The video of his gallop on Wednesday, the day after shipping from California, was awesome and even with talk before the race about foot problems, I couldn’t see anything stopping him.
California Chrome going out with a loss was too bad and made for a melancholy feeling after the race. Art and Alan Sherman should be applauded for their hard work, training acumen and keeping their dignity about them no matter what was going on around them. Anyone remember California Chrome leaving Dubai to stay in England to train for Royal Ascot?
The Shermans never said a word, insanity left town and they got their great horse back. I wish he had performed better but it was not to be. Racing is a cruel game, sometimes, but at its best it is worth travelling a thousand miles to see in person. My advice is if you ever have a chance to see a big event in person, no matter what the sport, go. The good times are worth it and the disappointing ones you’ll get over real fast.