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Arrogate Dominant in Breeders’ Cup Classic Victory

By Laura Pugh

The 2016 Breeders’ Cup Classic featured a stacked field headed by 2014 Horse of the Year California Chrome and the brilliant record-breaking Travers Stakes (GI) winner Arrogate. Fans were desperate for both to run their best races in hopes that they’d get their chance to see an epic showdown on racing’s biggest stage. And in Saturday’s $6 million, 1 ¼-mile race run just as the sun started to set over the San Gabriel mountains next to Santa Anita Park, an epic showdown is precisely what happened.

Juddmonte Farms' Arrogate just gets past California Chrome to win the 33rd Breeders' Cup Classic (GI) at Santa Anita on November 5, 2016. Photo: Jim Safford

Juddmonte Farms’ Arrogate just gets past California Chrome to win the 33rd Breeders’ Cup Classic (GI) at Santa Anita on November 5, 2016. Photo: Jim Safford

As expected California Chrome bounded out of the starting gate under regular jockey Victor Espinoza and comfortably took command of the pace early, while two-time classic winner Melatonin rushed up behind to stalk, with Arrogate and millionaire Frosted sitting up close and in third and fourth position behind the pace, respectively. California Chrome raced comfortably through an uncontested quarter in splits of :23 1/5 and :47 1/5 for the first half-mile.

After speeding through six furlongs in 1:10 4/5, California Chrome began to increase his advantage over the field, mirroring his performance in Del Mar’s Pacific Classic (GI) this summer, as he began to round the far bend. Arrogate, under Hall of Famer Mike Smith, was not about to let that happen and at the same time gave the big son of Unbridled’s Song his cue to go.

With a quarter-mile left to run, California Chrome roared into the Santa Anita stretch with Arrogate only 1 ½ lengths behind, and as the flashy chestnut kicked it into high gear down the stretch the record crowed roared as, for a moment, it seemed as though the flashy chestnut star would hold his younger charging rival at bay. But in deep stretch the long-striding Arrogate found a whole new gear and made a furious late charge to sweep by California Chrome and just get up in the nick of time to seize the victory.

The pair of horses flashed across the finish in a blur of copper and silver, with Arrogate proving a half-length the best. The final time for the 33rd running of the Classic was 2:00.

Keen Ice crossed the wire 10 ¾ behind California Chrome in third, then came Hoppertunity, Melatonin, Frosted, Effinex and War Story. Win the Space was listed as “did not finish” but walked off under his own power. Shaman Ghost was scratched early Saturday morning after developing a fever.

After the race winning trainer Bob Baffert was in disbelief.

“When Chrome was out there cruising, I thought no way he’s going to catch him, he’s going to run second, but at least he showed up,” Baffert said of the Juddmonte Farms homebred. “Then all of a sudden, Mike’s riding and he’s catching up little by little with that big stride kicking in. I felt like when Trevor (Denman) says ‘this is un-believe-able.’ I never thought he would be able to catch Chrome.”

Winning jockey Mike Smith, who won his 25th Breeders’ Cup race with the Classic victory, was also left in awe by the colt’s performance.

“That was incredible, I’m at a loss for words,” Smith said. “He’s such a young horse. He’s so talented. He’s got amazing stamina. He doesn’t quit. He could have gone around again. He’s incredible.”

The connections of California Chrome were anything but disappointed in the horse’s performance, even though jockey Victor Espinoza did believe he could have ridden the race a little more aggressively.

“It was great. He’s an awesome horse,” Espinoza said. “I was all by myself in the front and thought I could save something for the very end. Thinking back, I should have just let him run early but he ran great.”

California Chrome’s trainer, Art Sherman, proud as he was of his own horse, graciously gave Arrogate his just due.

“He ran his race, but just got beat in those last couple of jumps,” Sherman said. “That winner (Arrogate) is the real McCoy. I knew he was the one we had to beat, but I didn’t know how good he was. We had no excuses.”

In the end, the Breeders’ Cup Classic lived up to its pre-race billing, capping a day of amazing finishes where even the runner-ups ran races too good to lose. To many, the Breeders’ Cup Classic didn’t have a loser, but two amazing, valiant champions who ran their hearts in a display of unparalleled greatness.