Arrogate seizes Travers in track-record time, leads 1-2 finish for Baffert
by Dave Litfin
Making his stakes debut and staking a claim to leadership of the 3-year-old division in one fell swoop, Arrogate wrested command from stablemate American Freedom into the first turn and ran right into the history books Saturday, winning the Grade 1 Travers Stakes in a record time of 1:59.36 seconds before a packed house of 48,630 at Saratoga Race Course.
Smashing General Assembly's 1 1/4-mile stakes and track mark of 2:00 flat set in 1979, Arrogate was hustled away from the inside by Hall of Famer Mike Smith, and slipped through inside Haskell Invitational runner-up American Freedom and Jim Dandy winner Laoban to wrest command before going a quarter-mile, as Belmont Stakes runner-up Destin and three-time graded stakes winner Gun Runner also took up the chase from close range.
Arrogate ran the half-mile in 46.84 seconds, six furlongs in 1:10.85, and shook them all off nearing the stretch to draw out by 13 ½ emphatic lengths - the third-largest margin of victory in the Travers behind Damascus (1967, 22 lengths) and General Assembly (15 lengths). American Freedom finished gamely to save second over Gun Runner.
Arrogate, a gray colt by the late Unbridled's Song, was the fourth front-running Grade 1 winner of the meet for the Hall of Fame rider, who swept the Coaching Club American Oaks and Alabama with Songbird, and the King's Bishop on the Bob Baffert-trained Drefong, who like Arrogate was making his stakes debut as well. This was Smith's third Travers winner along with 1994 Horse of the Year Holy Bull and Coronado's Quest in 1998.
"I rode his father - he looks so much like his father," said Smith. "He was an unbelievably talented horse and his son might be even more talented. It's crazy. He just did a mile and a quarter and as you can see galloping out, I had trouble getting him to stop. We headed for home and he picked it up when I asked him. I was amazed how he lengthened his stride the last sixteenth of a mile and opened up."
In winning the $1.25 million Travers and earning $670,000, Arrogate completed a back-to-back sweep of the day's richest races for Juddmonte Farms, less than an hour after Flintshire won the $1 million Longines Sword Dancer for the second straight year.
Arrogate, now 4-0-1 from five starts, had beaten a total of 10 horses winning three in a row in Southern California. No matter, he made a dozen opponents in the Mid-Summer Derby look ordinary, including the first two finishers in the Belmont Stakes, Creator and Destin, who respectively wound up seventh and ninth, and Preakness/Haskell winner Exaggerator, who was eleventh as the 5-2 favorite without any apparent mishap.
After going off at odds-on in all four of his prior outings, Arrogate paid $25.40 to win as the eighth choice in the wagering. American Freedom, second choice at 5-1 completed a $134.50 exacta on the two horses saddled by Baffert, who saw his Triple Crown winner American Pharoah finish second in last year's Travers to Keen Ice.
"They looked like they were going easy, and when I heard '46 and change' I thought, 'I think they can handle that'," said the Hall of Fame conditioner, whose only previous Travers winner was 2001 Horse of the Year Point Given. "'Big Money Mike' knows his way around this racetrack. I was hoping [Arrogate] could do something like this. I want to thank the Prince [Khalid Abdullah] and Garrett O'Rourke [of Juddmonte] for having faith in me buying horses for them, We've hit a lot of empty spots here, but this one, he looks like the real deal. My horses, they both ran great races and I couldn't be happier. To win for Juddmonte, a race like the Travers, that's big for me."
Steve Asmussen, who sent out Gun Runner (third) and Creator (seventh), offered this assessment: "We ran into a freak today," he said. "I honestly thought [2:02] would win the race. I think that's about where we were with Gun Runner."
That thought was echoed by Chad Brown, who ran fourth, sixth and eighth with Gift Box, Connect and My Man Sam, and said, "I don't know that I've ever seen a performance like that in any Travers."