The world’s highest rated racehorse, Arrogate, suffered a heavy defeat at Del Mar on Saturday night. Andy Stephens considers six reasons why he might have fluffed his lines
The horse billed as the greatest in the world, Arrogate, ran lamentably at Del Mar on Saturday night. Sent off at 1-20 for what should have been a lap of honour, the colt trailed home more than 15 lengths behind the winner and beat just one of his four rivals home.
Bob Baffert, the trainer of the four-year-old, and Mike Smith, the jockey, were stunned by the reverse and could offer no immediate explanation, other than that the horse ran flat.
So why did Arrogate run so badly? Here are six possible explanations.
1 A physical problem:
There was nothing obviously wrong with Arrogate in the immediate aftermath of his abject display. He was moving fine and in no distress, with no outward sign of having bled. Baffert and Smith were both happy with his condition as he returned to his box. However, this run was too bad to be true and there has to be a chance he hurt himself at some stage - perhaps a pulled muscle or a bleed - or maybe he has an infection brewing. Thorough examinations over the next day or two may reveal an answer. Baffert will probably be relieved if he finds one because not many of the alternatives below offer hope for the months ahead.
2 He sulked:
Arrogate has been a habitually slow starter and again gave his rivals (bar one who lost his irons) a head start. Usually, it has not been a problem - his long, raking stride enabling him to pick up in great style at the business end of some of the world’s biggest races. This time, though, it was completely different. Mike Smith niggled and cajoled but early in the home stretch his partner resembled a drunk and he was treading water from then on. Smith said "he was not trying". Did Arrogate throw in the towel? If connections suspect he did, perhaps they will reach for headgear next time.
3 His spirit has been broken:
The Juddmonte-owned colt has got to the top the hard way - winning a succession of bruising battles. Have these races left a mental scar or broken his spirit? Some horses are blessed with the ability go to the depths of their reserves at the highest level time after time, with Highland Reel being a present-day example. Others, though, can only do it a limit numbers of times before something snaps within them. Maybe Arrogate has been taken out of his comfort zone once too often. It could be the champion’s previous battles have, cumulatively, left him vulnerable.
4 He was unfit:
Baffert was using the Grade Two contest as a prep for the Grade Pacific Classic next month and, having his first run for four months, Arrogate was never going to be fully wound up. Was he much more than a gallop or two short of his best? This explanation seems unlikely, not least because the 134-rated colt could have run below his best and still won. He was beaten too far out for it to be merely a question of fitness.
5 He hated the trip and track:
Arrogate was dropping back to an extended mile, from a mile and a quarter, but he would not have won a race over any trip given the level of his performance. He had won at Del Mar in the past, albeit he was no more than workmanlike in landing odds of 1-10 at the track last summer. All his race have been on left-handed tracks on the dirt, so the theory has little or no credence.
6 He simply had an off day:
All athletes and sportsmen/sportswomen have them - days when, for no obvious reason, the legs and mind are empty. Days when you put the key in the ignition and nothing happens. “They are not machines” we are fond of saying but Baffert used more colourful language, suggesting Arrogate had “laid an egg”. He went on to add that the unpredictable nature of racing was why his hair is white. If nothing obvious comes to light over the coming days as to why Arrogate ran so badly, he may just pull plenty of them out.
Arrogate has had a succession of tough races - including when beating California Chrome in the Breeders' Cup Classic
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