It matters not, how many you’ve seen before him. They all possess an element of beauty and fragility, but in your eyes, there is none more beautiful or fragile than he— he’s the one which carries you to heights both inhuman and celestial— heights we mere mortals, were never meant to touch with any one of our fingertips. With every step he takes, you shed a tear while whispering a prayer— “God, bring him home safely,” because that’s all that truly matters. “Just bring him home safely.”
These are the words I breathed to myself, as I witnessed the fall of a king. I have loved many horses in my thirty years — but I have loved none more than Arrogate. I have rejoiced in his victories. I have wailed about loudly, entirely alone in a crowd of racegoers who didn’t share in my jubilance, as a silver bullet whooshed past a horse made of Chrome.
I’ve stood in front of my television — half a world away — and still felt the tremble of his feet on the desert ground, and I’ve cheered him home, with every fiber of my being to no avail, as he toiled down the stretch— a deafening hush falling over the stands, in utter disbelief.
He was the greatest in the world… and then he wasn’t.
His previous record-breaking performances could not save the horse people have come to know as “Big A”, from falling in the world rankings, as he all but swam home in Saturday’s G1 Pacific Classic. Arrogate’s poor performance in the G2 San Diego Handicap on July 23rd was a puzzling one in itself, but to lose two graded stakes consecutively… let’s be honest, in the world of Horse Racing is inexcusable for a horse of his caliber.
As a devoted fan, it was difficult to witness. Sure, he ran a decent race for any other horse — but for Arrogate, his 2nd place finish to talented stablemate Collected, was far from the quality he has displayed throughout his remarkable career.
Still, this is not a recap of the Pacific Classic. You saw the race— you may have even wagered on it. You won’t find internal fractions, or win/place/show breakdowns, here. Instead, I’m going to tell you why he’s better than you think. I’m going to tell you why I’m still a believer.
There’s more to this story — this puzzling, even frustrating story. See, those sitting behind keyboards on social media, typing “Can we all stop calling him great?”, should really take a closer look at the past 12 months. We have seen Arrogate ship to Saratoga and break a record which has stood for longer than many of us have been alive.
We have seen him run down the best older horse on the planet in California Chrome (Stop blaming Victor’s ride— Arrogate was better and you know it). We saw him take the Pegasus World Cup with devastating ease, and we all watched on bated breath, as he powered home like an unyielding freight train under the Meydan lights, just months ago.
Only GREAT horses can accomplish all of those feats, consecutively.
So, what has gone wrong with Arrogate? Some say he’s tired, from a rigorous campaign. I disagree. Arrogate is an extremely lightly-raced 4yo colt. He typically takes more than 8 weeks in between starts, and wins with little encouragement from rider Mike Smith after training up without a prep. If this horse is tired, it is not from too many starts in too little time.
There is, however, the possibility that Arrogate’s well has run dry. While I think it to be unlikely, his last to first run in Dubai may have taken the steam out of the horse who seemed to possess the ability to outrun anything. “Sure, horses go from last to first all the time”, says the naked eye. But they don’t often go last to first in a race in which the frontrunners set fractions so pedestrian, I, myself, could have laced up my running shoes and rated nicely. What Arrogate did in Dubai was impossible — and still, he barreled home to win.
It happens sometimes. An athlete runs so hard that he loses a piece of himself he may never again regain — and all the conditioning in the world cannot bring said athlete to his former glory. However, I still struggle to believe that the Arrogate we knew is not in there, looming just beneath the surface of his deceiving loss in yesterday’s race.
I have monitored him daily, for the past 12 months. He’s that one horse who is the same every day. This is what we look for in a Thoroughbred — a runner whose ability to train never wavers — one whose form is consistently unchanging. Arrogate’s form had never changed, until the day he arrived on Del Mar’s surface.
Since stepping foot on the track, he has appeared to be a lesser animal. If you have not previously watched him work at Santa Anita, then you should. Over other surfaces, Arrogate’s powerful hind end has catapulted him forward — his strides inhaling the ground beneath his hooves as he quite literally floats over the dirt.
Any trained eye can spot the difference in his mechanics over Del Mar’s main track. He’s struggling. He’s all out, yet not appearing to make up ground as he maneuvers his way around the turns. He’s swishing his tail and refusing to switch leads. These are signs of a horse in distress, over a surface he cannot compete on. These are signs of a crack in Arrogate’s armor. They all have one, and we have found his. Unfortunately for him, his year-end, and possibly career-end goal is to win the Breeders’ Cup Classic a second time — and the Breeders’ Cup is to be run at Del Mar.
So, Arrogate must press on. He must continue to train, until he’s coming out of his skin and has no choice but to burst out of the gate breathing fire, and hope to grab hold of the surface he loathes, as best he can. Even as a loyal follower, I cannot, myself, say that he will win the Breeders’ Cup Classic in November. However, I can say this…
I’m still a believer.
I am a firm believer in everything he has done, and everything he has yet to do. I believe in the facts, and the facts are — he has beaten nearly every horse which he will meet in November. He has done so with ease. He can do so, again.
Arrogate is not finished, here. When he returns home to Arcadia, we will see him make a gallant return to the champion he was, not long ago. He will again regain the form he possessed, prior to his consecutive losses under the palm trees, amidst the salty air. He will train harder than he ever has before, and he will return seeking the redemption that only a former world champion has tasted.
May God be with those who possess the bravery to line up next to him in the gate when that day comes.
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