For much of the year, the Horse of the Year debate was no debate at all. It was Arrogate and everybody else. After a scintillating performance in the Dubai World Cup, Bob Baffert’s stable star was the horse that every other horse wanted to be when it grew up. He was American Pharoah; he was Cigar; he was Secretariat.
Meanwhile, Gun Runner, a colt Arrogate easily dispatched in the desert, did his best impression of Al Davis, the late owner of the Oakland Raiders: he just won, baby. After a second-place showing in Dubai, the son of Candy Ride reeled off three straight Grade I victories — each by five lengths or more, culminating in a performance in the Woodward that was arguably the best of his career.
Yet, when the gates sprung open for the Breeders’ Cup Classic, it was obviously Dubai that lingered in bettors’ minds, as Arrogate was made the 2.1-1 favorite. But right from the start it was obvious that today was not going to be Arrogate’s day and that he would end his career not with a bang, but with a whimper.
Although it appeared that jockey Mike Smith wanted the big gray forwardly placed, Arrogate immediately began dropping back, as Gun Runner surged forward along the rail, flanked by Collected, the winner of the Pacific Classic. That duo went the opening two furlongs in :22.50 on the way to a half-mile in :46.31.
After six panels in 1:10.50, the top two remained the same. Yet, instead of moving up, Arrogate was further adrift, having dropped from seventh to 10th.
The mile came and went in 1:35.03 and the story remained the same — Gun Runner leading, Collected just a head behind in second and West Coast another 2 ½ lengths back in third. Arrogate had moved to sixth, but was 9 ½ lengths behind the leaders with a quarter-mile to go.
With a sixteenth left to travel, Gun Runner began to pull away from his longtime nemesis, with West Coast spinning his wheels in third and War Story showing moderate interest in fourth. By the time he crossed the wire — in a very respectable 2:01.29 — Gun Runner was 2 ¼ lengths in front and Cinderella turned out to be just another participant at the big dance. In fact, just like that well-known fictional character, Arrogate was reputed to have lost a shoe during the running of the Classic (shortly after the start).
“He just doesn’t like this track,” said Mike Smith, rider of Arrogate. “For whatever reason, I hate to say it, he has shown it time and time again and showed it today. [The bad start] is what he’s been doing every time he runs here.
“When he’s on his A race, he’s one of the fastest horses we have ever seen. He just won’t run over here. I have tried to talk myself into thinking he would. He has just showed me time and time again that he wouldn’t.”
Not surprisingly, Florent Geroux, the rider of the winner, was considerably more upbeat.
“This [win] means a lot,” he said. “It’s the biggest win of my career. It’s the big race with Horse of the Year on the line. I’m glad he was the best horse.”
When asked if he was concerned about the pressure being applied by Collected in the early going, Geroux said: “It wasn’t like my horse was going crazy and would lose his chance. I really like [Collected] and I respect him a lot. He was the horse for the course for sure. He showed it today. He was just second best; my horse was the best horse today.”
Steve Asmussen, the winning trainer, was equally effusive.
“It’s a good team and he’s an incredible horse. Incredible horse. Everyone is part of the team and they did a phenomenal job. Scott [Blasi, assistant trainer], Angel [Garcia, exercise rider], Florent, the owners… we did the right thing at the right time and all that made it special. What an awesome feeling this is.”
For his part, Bob Baffert, who trains Collected and West Coast, along with Arrogate, made no excuses.
“My horses ran well. Arrogate… I don’t know. He just can’t find the plate. He’s like a pitcher who can’t find the plate. Gun Runner is a really good horse and he ran a great race. My other horses ran great.”
Sent off as the second choice, Gun Runner paid $6.80 to win, $4.40 to place and $3.20 to show. Collected returned $5.60 and $4, while West Coast was good for $3.60. The $1 exacta returned $34; the 50-cent trifecta produced a $32.25 payoff and the 10-cent superfecta came back at $143.35.