When Juddmonte Farm’s Arrogate heads postward for the final time in Saturday’s $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic (GI) at Del Mar, he will do so as the richest horse to ever grace thoroughbred racing’s world championship event with $17,302,600 in earnings so far. The 4-year-old son of Unbridled’s Song currently ranks as the third-richest of all time, sitting behind two Japanese horses in Ofevre and Gentildonna, and will need a victory and the $3.3 million winner’s check to end his career as number one of all time. And despite a bumpy summer that provided him with two shocking losses and questions about how good he really is, he will be tough to beat in his search of racing immortality.
Ten really good handicap horses will face Arrogate in Saturday’s 10-furlong feature, including three Bob Baffert-trained stablemates owned by three separate entities, and the best from the east in multiple grade 1 winner Gun Runner. So while Arrogate had it tough a year ago in his first start against older horses to defeat the likes of California Chrome, he doesn’t get it any easier this year defending his title in this Classic.
So many questions hang over the big gray colt, from whether he likes the Del Mar surface after losing the San Diego Handicap (GII) and Pacific Classic (GI) this summer to whether he has lost a step, to questions of injury and fitness and anything else under the sun people with doubts will come up with to bet against him. The reality is he was given more time off after his win in the Dubai World Cup (GI) at the end of March then previously planned, went south for the summer and tried to get fit off the extended break over a Del Mar main track he wasn’t particularly fond of and raced with his connections perhaps overconfident of his abilty.
Once he lost the San Diego, Baffert tightened the screws and we saw a much improved horse finish second in the Pacific Classic still over a surface he didn’t love and since moving back to his home base of Santa Anita in early September, we’ve seen the closest thing to the old Arrogate and he’s been training like the freak he is, logging bullets and galloping strongly and tugging hard on exercise rider Dana Barnes.
Overall, his numbers are the best in the field, he has won three of four at the distance, has actually won one at Del Mar despite his distaste for the surface and has the confidence of Mike Smith, who could probably have picked any one of the four Bafferts to ride. His innermost post isn’t ideal, but he’s won from the inside in a big field before twice and his versatility makes it easier for Smith to get into a good position early. Yes there are questions, but this horse at 90 percent is still the one to beat.
Gun Runner spent a good part of his career in the shadows of others, first as a 3-year-old down the Triple Crown trail last year before Arrogate came along later in the year, delaying this son of Candy Ride’s chance to shine. Beginning late last year and into 2017, shine Gun Runner did, earning a first career grade 1 in the Clark Handicap (GI) in November and continuing on with a wins in the Razorback Stakes (GII), Whitney Stakes (GI) and Woodward Stakes (GI) and a second in the Dubai World Cup behind chief nemesis Arrogate. At his best, which can be argued is right now heading into this race, Gun Runner is capable of logging some huge numbers like the 114 he posted for winning the Woodward in his last.
He has some tactical ability and can set the pace, but can also sit off it and while he’s never won in three tries at this distance, he has a second and a pair of thirds against some good company. This year he is just a better, more mature horse than he was when he ran 10 furlongs in last year’s Travers Stakes (GI) and Kentucky Derby (GI) so distance isn’t as much of a concern as it would be otherwise. He enters here fresh off a nice two-month break, but he’s won off a break before, and trainer Steve Asmussen has handled his morning training expertly, shipping him to California a month ago. If the favorite has any chink in his armor, Gun Runner is the one most likely to capitalize on it.
West Coast carries a five-race win skein, four of which are stakes and of those two are grade 1s heading into this race and many think this is Baffert’s top choice to upset the “big horse” and become his trainer’s latest Classic winner, having won the last three to become the race’s most successful conditioner. This son of Flatter has posted some amazing speed and class figures, including the monster 112 BRISnet figure for his Travers Stakes (GI) win and his 7 ¼-length romp in the Pennsylvania Derby was stunning. This race, competition-wise, is the deepest he’s faced, talent-wise, over his eight-race career so he will need to prove more than his stablemates, but his connections secured Hall of Famer Javier Castellano to ride weeks in advance, indicating winning is absolutely their plan. He’s another who can be placed forward early or mid-pack if an early speed duel develops. Bottom line is that a win here probably only would be a shock to the Arrogate and Gun Runner backers.
Collected is back at his favorite track, trying to prove his win in the Pacific Classic in August over stablemate Arrogate was no fluke. The Speedway Stable-owned son of City Zip was picked out and purchased specifically to be put into Baffert’s training plan and it was rewarded with a win in a million-dollar race, as well as victories in four other graded stakes. Collected likes to be on the lead or just behind it and he’ll need to get there early from the outside under regular jockey Martin Garcia, but if he’s ready to run (and he sure looks it judging by his recent works) and puts in a performance that garners 110 and 111 speed figured he’s capable of earning, he is a logical choice for anyone looking for value and a mild upset.
Mubtaahij makes his second start for Baffert and first since winning the Awesome Again Stakes (GI) and qualifying for this event. The Sheikh Mohammed bin Khalifa al Maktoum-owned runner has a nice fan following, but is inconsistent and hasn’t ever shown he can string two solid races together. Maybe he’s improved enough in Southern California (his training pattern is certainly solid) but because he’s unpredictable and has yet to blow out an enormous speed figure, he has more questions than answers here. He is strong for any exotics wagering plans, however.
World record-holding group 1-winning champion trainer Aidan O’Brien will tighten the girths on group 1 winner Churchill, a son of top international sire Galileo, and group 2 winner War Decree, by Kentucky stallion War Front, in what will be both of their first dirt starts. It’s never a good idea to leave out any Ballydoyle runner in any race worldwide and while the veteran Irish conditioner hasn’t won this race yet, he’s come close with previous years with Giant’s Causeway and Declaration of War. The pair looked solid training and spent a good amount of time out on the Del Mar surface since clearing quarantine late Thursday and while both colts carry more questions than answers, it would be hard to argue to anyone that their best wouldn’t be good enough for a larger share.
Win the Space was eased in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic and after a lengthy break this year returned to earn a fifth and a third in stakes company. When he tries, he tries hard and because he clearly has a ton of heart it’s hard to imagine that if he runs his race he can’t pick up a share, especially if he puts in a performance like the ones that earned him triple-digit speed figures.
Gunnevera has done more with less than almost any horse this year, winning or placing in a slew of graded stakes along the Triple Crown trail and then after a post-Triple Crown race freshening. All heart, it’s hard to not root for this son of Dialed In and his endearing Venezuelan connections, but this race is by far his toughest to date and he’ll need his running shoes to have a say.
War Story is a nice grade 2 winner who didn’t do so well in last year’s Classic, finishing eighth, and hasn’t done much since when facing the upper tier runners in this division. He’s crying out for softer company to get his picture taken, unfortunately it seems like the only ones not listening to him are his connections.
Lightly raced Pavel looked good winning the Smarty Jones Stakes (GI), but he’s never come close to facing the field he’s facing here and is probably overmatched.
The Breeders’ Cup Classic has been carded as the 12th and final on Saturday’s card with a post time of 5:35 p.m. PT.