Powell analyzes Arrogate's 'jaw-dropping' Travers

TwinSpires Staff

September 1st, 2016


Thank goodness I am not a track announcer. Besides having been stuck with a voice that would be hard for racing fans to understand, I am liable to say anything. So when ARROGATE (Unbridled’s Song) drew off in the stretch to win the Travers Stakes (G1) by 13 1/2 lengths in track-record time against a deep and talented field, I think it’s safe to say that a WTF!!!! might have come out. It was that jaw-dropping.

Bob Baffert winning a Grade 1 on the dirt going 10 furlongs in fast time is not out of the question. But this win defied logic, at least before the race, and was so sensational, it took on historic proportions.

Arrogate was not on my radar. It looked like there was going to be a ton of speed in the race and from post one in a 14-runner field, it looked like he would have to be used hard to avoid the field coming over on him going into the clubhouse turn.

Where I screwed up was my original analysis of him that did not rate him as a strong contender. He broke his maiden second time out in his two-turn debut at Santa Anita in good time then came back only 19 days later to win again in faster time. When does Baffert rush back 19 days later to take on winners? In fact, he even squeezed a half-mile workout in between.

With a BRIS speed rating of 100 for his second win, he was emerging as a star but his last start before the Travers was a three-runner allowance race that he won from off the pace at odds of 1 to 20. His BRIS speed rating went back to 97 but what I didn’t pay enough attention to was the pace was dawdling with BRIS pace figures of -16, -16.

Arrogate finished up that win with a turf-like final pace rating of 114. Throw in a six-furlong workout of 1:11 and change at Del Mar since then and he was a much bigger contender than I gave him credit for.

He drew post 1 for the Travers and right next to him was stablemate AMERICAN FREEDOM (Pulpit), who was coming off a good second in the Haskell Stakes (G1) on a wet track at Monmouth Park. When the race was drawn, it didn’t look good for Baffert since how could his two entrants work out a trip from the inside with all the alleged speed in the race? But it was actually perfect for him.

Now, understand that Saratoga runs about five or six turf races a day and the two-turn races are marked by riders that snatch their horses coming out of the gate. Many of us have been complaining about passive rides and here comes Hall of Famer, Mike Smith, aboard a fast horse from Southern California where the riders are rarely accused of being passive. Just go back to what Victor Espinoza did aboard CALIFORNIA CHROME (Lucky Pulpit) in the Pacific Classic (G1) where he ran his rivals off their feet right from the start.

The Saratoga main track was playing very fast under perfect conditions so speed might carry a bit farther than normal. So the gate opens at 5:45 p.m. ET on Saturday and both Baffert runners, as they are trained to do, break well.

Rafael Bejarano steered American Freedom to the outside leaving the gate and heading to the finish line the first time leaving a ton of room for Mike Smith and Arrogate down on the inside. Instead of being in tight quarters from the outside speed, he had a perfect pocket to run in with nobody around him.

Jim Dandy (G2) winner LAOBAN (Uncle Mo) went up after the lead but was far off the rail going into the clubhouse turn. Maybe a length behind after an eighth of a mile was run, Mike Smith deftly moved Arrogate up after the lead on the rail and the big, long-striding colt never had a straw in his path.

American Freedom held his spot in second with Laoban floated wide. Right behind Laoban on the outside was GUN RUNNER (Candy Ride) who was brutalized from post 14. Destin was never able to race up near the leaders and was in behind Arrogate around the clubhouse turn. Curlin Stakes winner CONNECT (Curlin) was nowhere near the leaders after breaking in at the start and bumping with GIFT BOX (Twirling Candy) who, in turn, hit Destin who then squeezed EXAGGERATOR (Curlin).

Still, coming out of the turn and straightening away down the backstretch, it was anyone’s race since the first half was run in 46.84 seconds. Nothing changed down the backside with Arrogate’s enormous stride just floating over the ground and American Freedom and Laoban trying to keep him honest.

With the next quarter mile run in 24.01 seconds, nobody was making up any ground. Javier Castellano was beginning to scrub on Destin and Florent Geroux made it over to the rail for the final turn aboard Gun Runner.

Favorite EXAGGERATOR (Curlin) was far back and was not making his usual move into contention. Belmont Stakes (G1) winner CREATOR (Tapit) was also not moving with any menace nor was Jim Dandy runner-up GOVERNOR MALIBU (Malibu Moon).

So as the field approached the top of the stretch, there was Arrogate on the lead on the rail with American Freedom going up after him on the outside. Gun Runner looked like he was in a perfect pocket position and none of the closers were making up any ground.

With the mile covered in 1:35.82 seconds, Arrogate turned for home and in the blink of an unbelieving eye, he opened up five lengths on the field. The race was over before they hit the three-sixteenths pole and Smith poured it on. A final quarter of 23.84 seconds resulted in a final time of 1:59.36 seconds; smashing GENERAL ASSEMBLY (Secretariat)’s track record of two minutes flat. The final margin was an astonishing 13 1/2 lengths with American Freedom hanging on to second and Gun Runner finishing third. Forget the rest.

Arrogate’s 1:59.36 final time earned him the highest BRIS speed rating of all time – 124! Considering the margin back to the rest, it is a very legitimate figure and a reflection of just how amazing Arrogate’s win was. Yes, he saved ground and had a perfect trip. But I will never forget the incredulous feeling of him widening in the stretch and making a mockery of what seemed to be a good field.

I can only imagine what I would have said had I been the track announcer.