Trainer Bob Baffert had every reason to be thrilled Saturday. The two horses he’d entered in the Pacific Classic at Del Mar took first and second place. Except…the second place finisher was champion Arrogate who was bested by stablemate Collected. And that’s the source of Baffert’s puzzlement- what is the key to getting Arrogate, North America’s record earnings winner, back in the winner’s circle?
Arrogate’s base is Santa Anita in Arcadia, CA. He had an unbeaten streak between June 2016 and March 2017 (seven straight victories) until he arrived at Del Mar for the summer meet. Since that time, Arrogate has not performed at 100%. He was the favorite in the San Diego Handicap but shocked fans with a fourth place finish. On Saturday, Arrogate once again was the betting favorite, but finished second, a half a length behind Collected.
So, while Baffert was pleased with Collected’s win, crediting him as “a really good horse,” it was obvious Arrogate’s performance still weighed on Baffert’s mind. Before the race, Baffert told NBCSN that Arrogate’s fourth place finish in the San Diego was “uncharacteristic.” The trainer’s hope was that the Pacific Classic would reveal some answers as to why the San Diego had not gone as planned.
Unfortunately, after Arrogate’s second place finish in the Pacific Classic, Baffert’s puzzle still hadn’t been solved. The trainer partially blamed himself, telling TVG’s Scott Hazelton, “When I ran him in the San Diego, I really messed up his psyche.” This seemed to indicate Baffert felt his training of Arrogate and/or the long layoff between the win in the Dubai World Cup and the thoroughbred’s return to racing in the San Diego, four months later, might be to blame.
There is also the question of the track surface. Every track has its own proprietary mix of dirt, clay and sand. After training and racing accidents at Del Mar in 2016, the dirt track surface was totally re-vamped. It has been characterized as “deep.”
Does Arrogate like that surface or is it one piece of the puzzle? And, even if it is a factor, as Arrogate’s jockey Mike Smith noted to TVG’s Mike Joyce, “He’s gonna have to run on it.” Arrogate, along with Collected, is expected to compete in the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Del Mar on November 4. Given that Arrogate has succeeded on courses in California, New York, Florida and Dubai, it seems he should be able to adapt to the surface.
So, while Baffert was pleased for Collected’s owners at Speedway Stable, there is still the nagging need to find a solution that will bring world class athlete Arrogate back to top form. It’s a puzzle Baffert would probably prefer to not have to tackle. But, given his record of Triple Crown, Grand Slam and stakes victories, it’s one that the Hall of Fame trainer is particularly qualified to solve.