The Breeders’ Cup Classic
By Bob Ehalt
The Breeders’ Cup Classic was a race that helped turned Arrogate into one of the sport’s great superstars.
Now it will provide the final chapter in a spectacular career, scripting a finish that either return him to the very top of the racing world or conclude a string of disappointing losses for a horse who seemed virtually invincible some four months ago.
A field of 11 was drawn Monday for Saturday’s $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic, the centerpiece of the two-day, 13-race, $28 million World Championships at Del Mar.
Arrogate, who prevailed over California Chrome in last year’s BC Classic at Santa Anita, may be the defending champ and North America’s all-time leading earner with $17,302,600 in the bank, but favoritism in the mile-and-a-quarter epic that will settle Horse of the Year honors was bestowed on a rival he has beaten in each of their two meetings.
Gun Runner, the 9-5 morning-line favorite, lost by 15 lengths to Arrogate in last year’s Travers (G1), when Arrogate romped by 13 ½ lengths, and was second, “only” 2 1/4 lengths behind the victorious Juddmonte Farms star in the $10 million Dubai World Cup (G1) on March 25.
Since then, Arrogate, a winner of 7 of 10 career starts, was a stunning fourth in the Grade 2 San Diego Handicap and second by a half-length to stablemate Collected in the Pacific Classic (G1), both at Del Mar. Meanwhile, Gun Runner became the sport’s Superman with consecutive Grade 1 wins in the Stephen Foster, Whitney and Woodward by a combined 22 ¼ lengths.
Now, in Arrogate’s final start before heading to a life at stud, he will get one last chance to revert to his incomparable form when he reeled off wins in the Travers, BC Classic, Pegasus World Cup (G1) and Dubai World Cup for Triple Crown-winning trainer Bob Baffert.
“You want your horses to go out on a high note,” said Baffert, who is seeking to extend his own record with a fourth straight BC Classic win. “Last year, he did what he did and he was not Horse of the Year. In July, he was a lock for the award. Now it’s coming down to the Breeders’ Cup with Gun Runner, Arrogate, Collected and West Coast, and they are all in top form.”
The 2-1 second choice in the BC Classic, Arrogate landed the rail at the Rood and Riddle post position draw, but jockey Mike Smith does not see that an obstacle to victory for his colt.
“I learned a long time ago that a good horse can make a bad post look good,” said Smith, the all-time leader in Breeders’ Cup wins with 25. “He had the rail in the Travers and Pegasus and they were probably his best races. I’ll be aggressive with him out of the gate. I’ll ride him hard and see where that puts me. If he can fire his ‘A’ race, I wouldn’t trade places with anyone.”
Arrogate, in line to join Tiznow as the only two-time winners of the BC Classic, put in his final work for the eagerly awaited showdown by covering five furlongs on Monday in 1:00 at Santa Anita and drawing a rave review from Baffert.
“He looked great for him,” Baffert said. “I’ve been happy with all of his works. I don’t see why he wouldn’t run a big race.”
While Baffert likes how Arrogate has been training for the BC Classic, he admits he also expected a better performance out of the son of Unbridled’s Song in the Pacific Classic and San Diego over a deep surface at Del Mar.
“I thought he was doing pretty well going into the Pacific Classic and came up short there,” Baffert said, adding, “I’m not going to use (the racetrack) as an excuse for Arrogate. I think he’ll handle it fine.”
There are no such question marks hovering over Winchell Thoroughbreds and Three Chimneys Farm’s Gun Runner, who drew post five and enters the BC Classic in rare form.
“Preparations went extremely smoothly for him,” said trainer Steve Asmussen, whose 4-year-old has been training in California since Sept. 25 and put in a 1:11.80 six-furlong drill at Santa Anita on Oct. 23. “The weather has cooperated and we were very pleased with his (Oct. 23 work). He came out of it in good order. We’re very excited for the days to come.”
In light of the role reversal since their last meeting, when Arrogate was a huge, odds-on favorite in U.S wagering on the Dubai World Cup, Asmussen is confident his horse is poised for a strong effort.
“I feel very good about where we’re at right now. What has happened since the World Cup is, you know, surprising to a lot of people,” said Asmussen, who sent out Gun Runner to a second-place finish in last year’s Las Vegas Breeders Cup Dirt Mile (G1). “(I’m confident because of) the way that he’s run all year and the way that he has trained. I feel that he’s at a very high level in the way that he’s running, and as fast as he’s running. As far as Del Mar and never running over the racetrack, he has accepted quite a few racetracks. He has traveled well.”
Aside from Arrogate, Gun Runner will have to contend with an unprecedented four-pronged challenge from Baffert, who is the first trainer to enter more than three horses in the BC Classic. His talented entrants also include the speedy Pacific Classic (G1) winner Collected (post 11, 6-1), Travers and Pennsylvania Derby (G1) victor West Coast (post 8, 6-1) and Awesome Again (G1) winner Mubtaahij (post 6, 12-1), giving the Hall of Fame trainer a foursome of Grade 1 winners.
“All four are doing great. I just feel fortunate that I have had many nice horses. It just happens that the chips fall that way sometimes,” Baffert said. “I think our barn has always been set up to play at this level so we’re just fortunate that they’re all healthy and they’re doing well. I give all the credit to the clientele base that I have. Without them, we can’t make it happen.”
The rest of the field for the BC Classic, which has been won by the betting favorite only once in the last seven years, includes War Decree (post 2, 30-1), Win the Space (post 3, 30-1), War Story (post 4, 30-1), European shipper Churchill (post 7, 15-1), Travers runner-up Gunnevera (post 9, 30-1) and Pavel (20-1).
The 34th edition of the Breeders’ Cup Classic can be seen on NBC with a post time of 8:35 EDT.