On Friday evening, when the first day of Breeders’ Cup races came to an end, it seemed unlikely, if not, impossible, that any race on Saturday could top the thrilling Distaff in which Beholder edged out Songbird.
Then came the Breeders’ Cup Classic, which, like the Distaff, became a two-horse race.
Undefeated this year, the 2014 Kentucky Derby winner California Chrome was the favorite, but close behind him on the tote board was Arrogate, the three-year-old that came out of nowhere to win the Travers Stakes at Saratoga in August, setting a track record in his 13-length victory.
Facing older horses for the first time, Arrogate proved that his Travers was no fluke, stalking the pace-setting California Chrome before challenging him in the stretch, then drawing away to win by a half-length in a race that was every bit as exciting as the Distaff, and that played as a big a role as determining championship honors as that race did.
Arrogate was purchased for $540,000 as a yearling and has earned $4 million this year, $3.3 million of that in the Breeders’ Cup. He paid $5.40 to win.
He is likely to get the nod as the champion three-year-old this year, despite his having run in—and won—only two stakes races this year. They were both Grade I races, and he beat older horses in the Classic. None of the three winners of the Triple Crown races this year—Nyquist, Exaggerator, and Creator—ran in the Classic (all have been retired to stallion careers), and their uneven overall 2016 records and wins in races only in races restricted to three-year-olds will likely put them behind Arrogate in the voting for Eclipse Awards.
Arrogate may well challenge California Chrome for Horse of the Year honors, too, though Chrome will no doubt have his backers as well.
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Neither horse is likely to race again this year. The $12 million Pegasus Cup at Gulfstream Park in January is under consideration for California Chrome; one of his owners, Perry Martin, has said that he wants Chrome to retire as the richest Thoroughbred ever, and with lifetime earnings now of just shy of $14.5 million, he’s short of Japan’s Gentildonna, who earned roughly $15.3 million.
Arrogate, too, is expected to race again next year, and while owner Juddmonte Farms haven’t named a possible next race, the Pegasus Cup may well loom a possibility.
What is certain is that Thoroughbred racing has, in the second half of the year, found another supremely talented superstar, welcome in a year that saw few of the prominent three-year-olds from early in the year stick around, and one that racing fans can look forward to seeing run in 2017.