SARATOGA SPRINGS – He had never run in a stakes or beyond 1 1/16 miles. He drew the rail, a dreaded post position in 1¼-mile dirt races. Arrogate seemed up against it in Saturday’s Travers Stakes and went off at odds of 11-1. If anyone but Bob Baffert trained him, he might have been 25-1.
No chance, all right, for the 12 horses who almost lost sight of the front-running gray colt in Saratoga’s stretch. His time of 1:59.36 was the fastest of the 147 Travers. His margin of 13½ lengths was third all-time and the biggest since General Assembly’s 15 lengths in 1979.
So a year after Baffert’s Triple Crown hero American Pharoah was upset in the Travers, he ran 1-2, with American Freedom completing a $134.50 exacta. The first law of thoroughbred racing, and human existence: You never can tell.
“This is better,” Baffert said, smiling. “We were supposed to do this last year with Pharoah but it didn’t happen. But everything happens for a reason.”
Maybe, but handicapping logic seemed to have nothing to do with a breakthrough that came out of nowhere. Unlike most in the crowd of 48,630, Baffert expected his inexperienced colt to run well. “I was nervous, but it was a good nervous,” he said. “I knew both horses were doing great.”
There was shock but no drama because Arrogate never looked like he would give up the lead. Mike Smith blasted out of the gate with him and set quick fractions of 46.84 seconds for a half-mile and 1:10.85 for 6 furlongs. “He’s a big, long-striding horse,” Baffert said, “so when I saw 46 and change, I thought he could handle it.”
The edge was two lengths after a mile in 1:35.52 before Arrogate really took off, opening up 7½ lengths at the eighth pole while surging through the final quarter-mile in 23.84 seconds. “I was amazed how he lengthened his stride there,” Smith said. “He just ran a mile and a quarter and I had trouble pulling him up.”
The big disappointment was Exaggerator, the 5-2 favorite who finished 11th of 13, exactly as he did in the Belmont, and more than 33 lengths behind. Asked what happened, jockey Kent Desormeaux said: “I have no idea.”
Gun Runner ran well from post 13 to be third, and behind him came Gift Box, Governor Malibu, Connect, Belmont Stakes winner Creator, My Man Sam, Destin, Forever d’Oro, Exaggerator, Laoban and Anaximandros.
Arrogate, a son of Unbridled’s Song, paid $25.40 for his fourth win in five starts. He earned $670,000 of the $1.25-million purse for international superpower Juddmonte Farms, which an hour before took the Sword Dancer with the Chad-Brown-trained Flintshire, the country’s best grass horse.
Juddmonte paid $560,000 for Arrogate, whom Baffert picked out at Keeneland’s September 2014 yearling sale.
To Eric Guillot, Laoban’s trainer, it seems almost unfair. “I think Baffert has 150 of the best-bred horses in the world,” Guillot said. “Every year, there will be five of them you can’t outrun.”
Notes & quotes: Cavorting ($6.90, Personal Ensign); Haveyougoneaway ($22, Ballerina); Baffert’s Drefong ($8.80, King’s Bishop); A.P. Indian ($4.20, Forego) and Flintshire ($2.40) began the all-Grade I pick 6 that led into the Travers and returned $7,797. A.P. Indian’s 7 furlongs in 1:20.99 set a stakes record . . . Strike Charmer ($57.50) upset previously undefeated Lady Eli, coming off a 14½-month layoff, in the Grade II Ballston Spa on turf.