Blame it on Big Money Mike.
With a perfectly timed ride by Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith, Arrogate derailed the California Chrome express Saturday in a breathtaking Breeders’ Cup Classic.
At Santa Anita, Arrogate caught pace-setting California Chrome in the final strides to give trainer Bob Baffert a Classic three-peat in America’s richest race.
“Going in, I knew I had a great horse, but down deep, I wasn’t sure we could beat California Chrome,” Baffert said. “I still have total respect for Chrome. He’s a great horse.”
The 2016 Travers Stakes winner, Arrogate became the 12th 3-year-old to win the Classic and third in a row, following Bayern in 2014 and American Pharoah in 2015 – all saddled by Baffert.
“Every year, I’m so lucky, I wonder how am I going to top it?” said the Hall of Fame trainer. “But hats off to California Chrome. I’ve been chasing that horse for two years. We finally caught him.”
It was the fourth Classic victory for Smith, who has 25 Cup wins.
Smith, 51, gave Arrogate full credit.
“This horse is relentless,” he said. “He never stops. You just don’t see a horse with only five (prior) races run like that and he beat California Chrome. That’s incredible.”
Owned by Juddmonte Farms and second choice in wagering, Arrogate ($5.40) covered the 1 1/4 miles in 2 minutes, 0.11 seconds, a half-length ahead of Chrome. Keen Ice finished a distant third, 10 3/4 lengths back.
Now 5 for 6 in his brief career, Arrogate earned $3.3 million of the $6 million purse and pushed his earnings just past $4 million. A $560,000 son of Unbridled’s Song, the gray colt ran his first race in April and made his stakes debut in the Travers.
“He’s just a big kid, learning how to run,” Baffert said. “I’ve got a great horse, but I’ve got an amazing jockey – Big Money Mike.”
As a consolation, Chrome took home a check for more than $1 million, increasing his record bankroll to more than $14.4 million. With six stakes victories in 2016, the 5-year-old chestnut probably still has done enough to lock up another Horse of the Year title. Co-owned by Perry and Denise Martin of Yuba City, Chrome likely will run at least one more race – maybe more – before retiring to stallion duty in Kentucky. A decision will be announced Tuesday.
After the close defeat, Chrome’s team was proud of its horse’s performance.
“No excuses; he ran his eyeballs out,” said trainer Art Sherman. “He’s still the best horse I ever trained.”
“I’m so proud of him,” added jockey Victor Espinoza. “He ran a huge race.”
For almost two minutes, it looked like a winning race. Espinoza and Chrome broke sharply and immediately went to the lead. After initial pressure from Melatonin, Chrome opened a two-length lead. After a slow break, Arrogate tracked the pacesetters, moving three wide to settle into third.
By the head of the stretch, Chrome had opened up a seven-length advantage as the crowd cheered wildly. But then, Smith asked Arrogate to kick into high gear, and he responded.
“I thought we were going to run second, no bad thing,” Baffert said. “But the last 50 yards, I could not believe it. … I could just hear the whole grandstand screaming.”
A Santa Anita Breeders’ Cup record crowd of 72,811 fans turned out on an intensely sunny 83-degree day to see racing’s Super Bowl, bringing the two-day announced attendance to 118,574.
The Classic victory was the second Cup win Saturday for both Smith and Baffert. Smith prevailed on Finest City ($19.40) in the $1 million Filly & Mare Sprint. After having to scratch favored Lord Nelson due to a small cut, Baffert saw his other horse, Drefong ($9.80), win the $1.5 million Sprint.
But it will be Arrogate and Chrome that fans remember most.
Said Baffert, “Days like this, that’s what the Breeders’ Cup is all about.”