In the 2015 Travers Stakes (GI), trainer Bob Baffert came to Saratoga with the seemingly unbeatable American Pharoah. Before the race was run, many were under the impression that the Pioneerof the Nile colt would skate through the Travers and the “Graveyard of Champions” unscathed.
I don’t need to remind you about the details of the race — suffice it to say that what many expected to happen, didn’t. American Pharoah crossed the line in second that day, with Keen Ice pulling the stunning upset.
Fast forward to Aug. 27, 2016 and here comes Baffert once again, this time with two horses attempting to bring home the Travers trophy. The first, and most well-known, was American Freedom, who was coming off a strong runner-up performance in the Haskell Invitation (GI). The second horse, Arrogate, was simply the “other Baffert.”
Arrogate didn’t have the flashy performances against graded stakes company that his stablemate did. All Arrogate had to his credit going into the Travers was a maiden win and a couple of nice allowance scores. The Travers would mark his fifth career start, a huge step-up in class and it would come against a field much larger than anything he had ever faced in California.
Apparently, none of that mattered. Bursting away from his inside post like a rocket was on his tail, Arrogate sprinted clear setting an ambitious pace. The first quarter went up in :23.23, the half in 46.84, before he laid down six furlongs in a dizzying 1:10.85.
At this point, it seemed inevitable that the son of Unbridled’s Song would soon have his lack of foundation catch up to him… but it never did. After a mile in 1:35.52, Arrogate re-broke, lengthening his advantage on the field. By the stretch call, he had built up seven length lead and by the time he hit the wire, he was over 13 lengths the best.
Baffert was equally surprised by the type of performance Arrogate delivered. He knew the colt was ready for a big performance, but not 13 ½ lengths in track record time big.
“The way he won, won by [13 ½ lengths] — I mean, that was ridiculous,” Baffert said. “When I saw 1:59, I was like, wow. It’s like [jockey Mike Smith] didn’t know how far he won by. He thought somebody was coming.”
What makes Arrogate’s performance even more incredible than all of the above was the way he was able to come home off of such stiff early fractions. After running historically fast splits, Arrogate clocked his final quarter mile in a mind-blowing 23.84 seconds.
To help put this in perspective, the average six furlong split in the Travers from 2006-2015 was 1:12.05, the average half mile was :47.87 and the average first quarter was :23.71. By comparison, Arrogate ran his opening splits in :23.23, :46.84 and 1:10.85. Not only did Arrogate run his first six furlongs significantly faster than the average, but he is the only horse since 2000 to run a sub-1:11 six furlongs and continue on to win. He is also one of only two horses to successfully lead at every point of call in the Travers during that 10-year span. The other was Bernardini (in 2006), who set a much slower pace.
Despite the torrid pace, despite his inside post and despite his lack of foundation, Arrogate still came home in a well-above-average final quarter. His Travers performance ranks right up there with some of the best performances of the season, if not the best, period.