HALLANDALE BEACH, FL – As trainer Bob Baffert remembers it, the last Tuesday in January 2017 started off with some bad news from South Florida: Arrogate had drawn the rail for the inaugural running of the $12 million Pegasus World Cup Invitational (G1) at Gulfstream Park.
“Well, that week was the week of the Longines World’s Best Racehorse and I was in England,” Baffert said. “We flew in there, to London, for the beautiful ceremony. it’s really classy. And we were all excited about, the Longines. It was just a really nice setting and just first class. And we got to walk around as tourists and went to see a lot of those sites there.
“They drew the race and I woke up to a text that we drew the one. We didn’t like that. And California Chrome was on the outside. We just knew that the horse was doing well.
Nearly three months after Arrogate and California Chrome turned in gripping performances in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1), they were set for a rematch in the Pegasus, which carried the world’s biggest purse. Arrogate’s half-length victory in the Classic locked up the 3-year-old male Eclipse Award title and the World’s Best Racehorse title for the Juddmonte colt. Despite his narrow loss in the Classic, California Chrome was voted the older male dirt Eclipse Award and Horse of the Year.
In late August at Saratoga, Arrogate emerged in a very big way, winning the Travers (G1) by 13 ½ lengths while breaking the 37-year-old track record for 1 ¼ miles. His win in the Classic showed that the Travers score was no fluke.
The inaugural Pegasus beckoned. For California Chrome it would be a career finale before heading off to stud. Arrogate, a son of Unbridled’s Song, was on a five-racing winning streak. All the pre-race hype centered on the showdown between the beloved Cal-bred and the exciting Baffert runner. It was an ideal match.
“It’s amazing that they put [the Pegasus] together the way they did,” Baffert said, “because when I first heard about it, I was like, ‘This can’t happen.’ But they did. They pulled it off.
“I think it was very important for racing, that they did that because it justifies that when you go and pay a million dollars for a yearling, there’s a way out. You can’t count on being a stallion. To run for more money like that, I think it really brought more people into the sport.
Baffert noted that it was unfortunate that the emergence of the $20 million Saudi Cup in a late February slot changed the landscape for older horses at the start of the calendar year. The Pegasus with its current $3 million purse is the richest race run in North America outside of the Breeders’ Cup.
“It’s still a good race, because it gives you one more race before you go out to be a stallion,” Baffert said.
Gun Runner was unable to compete in 2017 because of travel restrictions in place following an outbreak at Fair Grounds in New Orleans. He completed his racing career in the 2018 Pegasus and has quickly become one of America’s top sire. In 2021, Knicks Go started his Horse of the Year campaign with a win in the Pegasus. Arrogate’s score at Gulfstream helped him finish with over $17 million in career earnings.
“Good horses have won that race,” Baffert said, who was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2009. “We were lucky one year and won it with Mucho Gusto. I really didn’t think he could win it. Remember, Omaha Beach was in the race, he scratched and the race sort of fell apart.”
Mucho Gusto prevailed by 4 ½ lengths in 2020, making Baffert the only two-time winner of the race. He returns for the first time since Mucho Gusto’s win with Defunded, a 5-year-old gelding co-owned by Mike Pegram, Karl Watson and Paul Weitman, who has won his last two starts. Baffert said he is happy to be back in Pegasus.
“It’s exciting. It’s a very important race,” he said. “It’s got a lot of energy. I think Gulfstream does a great job. It’s a party. It’s become something really huge for South Florida and they do a great job promoting it. it’s important that if you have a horse, we have to make sure that we’ve got to help promote them and have good horses in them. It’s good for the business. It’s good for the sport.”
Baffert emphasized that the Pegasus stands alone as an entertainment event that is preceded by a major race.
“It’s a tough ticket,” he said. “I remember we went down there with Arrogate and we went back down there with Gun Runner when he beat us. We met and hung out with Post Malone. My kids hung out with him. It was a really cool. And they invite really cool people. These great athletes show up there. It shows that racing can be cool, that it is cool.
“That’s what you want. Racing is cool and we don’t get it out there enough. That race represents it, and it’s a good vibe. It’s exciting and it’s a great race leading up to it.
Baffert had prepared Arrogate – who died in 2020 while at stud – in rainy California before heading off to London for the Longines event. He had planned to start Arrogate in the San Pasqual at Santa Anita at the beginning of the month but scratched because of the wet conditions. The colt continued to work well and Baffert and Juddmonte opted to enter off a nearly three-month layoff. Then Arrogate ended up on the rail.
“I didn’t like that when we drew the one hole,” Baffert said. “When you draw the one hole, you’re sort of at the mercy of the break and it has to go well. But you can’t worry about it. It’s out of your hands once they draw the race.”
California Chrome was in a far worse spot in post 12 and ended up five paths wide on the first turn. Meanwhile Arrogate had gotten away well and was getting a ground-saving trip a couple lengths behind Noble Bird.
“Mike Smith just rode him like a quarter horse out of the gate,” Baffert said, laughing.
With three quarters of a mile to run, Smith guided Arrogate off the inside to commence what turned into his winning move. California Chrome was nearby, just to his outside, but could not answer. Arrogate was in front by the five-sixteenths pole and clear with a quarter mile to run.
“What a show he put on when he tipped out,” Baffert said. “Unfortunately, California Chrome didn’t bring his A game that day, but still the horses that were in there were great horses.
“Arrogate was such a great horse. What a race he put on. I’ve never had a horse put on so many great races just back-to-back to back-to-back, from his Travers to the Breeders’ Cup to that race to Dubai. I think it caught up with him. It was fun and the fans, they love it when good horses are in the race and they show up. You love to see that.”
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