Arrogate’s Journey: From The Record Books To A New Life As A Stallion
As the 2018 Northern Hemisphere thoroughbred breeding season comes to a close, we take a look back on the first year for superstar Arrogate, who retired in 2017 as North America’s richest racehorse of all time with more than $17.4 million in earnings.
By Mary Perdue
Late on April 10, 2013, at Clearsky Farms in Lexington, KY, a 7-year-old broodmare by Distorted Humor pawed the ground in her stall as she prepared to give birth to her very first foal. As a racehorse Bubbler had been a grade 3-placed, hard-knocking runner who broke her maiden at first asking and, after a solid career that produced six wins from nine starts overall, her broodmare career was about to begin. Though hopes are always high when foals are brought into the world, nobody at the time had any idea what Bubbler was about to produce.
Bubbler is the last foal out of Grechelle, who herself was a daughter of champion Meadow Star. Bubbler had been briefly misplaced as an unraced juvenile due to a complicated partnership issue and therefore only began her career as a later 3-year-old, and after a dozen starts and a handful of stakes placings, including in a grade 3, she was retired in 2010 and the decision was made to sell her as broodmare prospect. Leif Aaron of Taylor Made Sales, who at that time specialized in scouting stakes fillies, consigned the diminutive mare to the 2010 Fasig-Tipton Kentucky Fall Mixed Sale, where the late Eamon Cleary’s Clearsky Farms secured her for $170,000. And in 2012, Cleary’s sons Eamonn and Bernard, sent her to the fashionable and successful sire Unbridled’s Song.
That foal — a strapping gray colt – arrived in the world on April 11 and just four months later, his then 20-year-old sire would succumb to an inoperable mass around his optic nerve, making Bubbler’s colt among his last. Had Bubbler been sent to another stallion for her first mating, there would be no Arrogate.
Now five years later, about 25 miles down the road from where he was foaled, Arrogate is standing his first season at stud at his owner’s Juddmonte Farms.
On a very cold and blustery mid-April Kentucky day, probably much like the first day of his life when he was finding his legs in a pasture at Bubbler’s side, Arrogate is led from his stall, where he holds his head high and shows excitement as he knows it’s 2 p.m., the time of day when he expects to be led down this path to the breeding shed. His grey coat is as smooth and sleek as sealskin and his black hooves are shiny and polished like patent leather. He looks a lot like his father, magnificent in every way.
Just yards across the way in his office, Juddmonte Farms’ manager, Garrett O’Rourke, explains how Arrogate came to be purchased as a yearling.
“Our purpose was to have runners in California, but also to develop prospects that could become American dirt stallions,“ O’Rourke said, adding that Juddmonte owner Prince Khalid Abdullah, “enjoys the fun of racing really good horses. We wanted to have horses with Bob (Baffert). I was really keen to do it.”
So O’Rourke, Baffert and bloodstock agent Donato Lanni went shopping and short-listed Arrogate at the 2014 Keeneland September Yearling Sale.
“He was a magnificent looking horse even then,” ORourke remembered. “We all three totally agreed on him. I loved seeing Meadow Star in his pedigree, but I wasn’t sure about Bubbler since I didn’t know anything about her.”
Before bidding on Arrogate, the team watched Bubbler’s race replays and all were particularly impressed by her victory in the 1 1/16-mile Marie G. Krantz Memorial Handicap at Fair Grounds in 2010 over the multiple grade 1-winning winning Smart Strike mare Never Retreat, who was also crowned Canada’s 2011 Horse of the Year.
“They hooked up three furlongs out and went nose to nose to the wire,” O Rourke recalled. “Bubbler beat her by a head. That really sold me.”
After purchasing Arrogate, O’Rourke was responsible for managing his racing career along with trainer Bob Baffert. Arrogate proved to be a later-developing juvenile due at least in part to sore shins and was given some extra time to grow up.
“We didn’t send him out to a third party,” O’Rourke explained. “We brought him back here to Juddmonte. We get a better feel for a horse that way, and we made sure he was ready in time to have a 3-year-old campaign.”
Of course the rest is history.
On his way to becoming the richest North American racehorse of all time, Arrogate shattered General Assembly’s 27-year-old Travers Stakes record, won both the 2016 Breeder’s Cup Classic and the inaugural Pegasus World Cup (also setting a track record), and followed that up with a thrilling Dubai World Cup victory in which he overcame a horrendous start to run down eventual Horse of the year Gun Runner in the stretch.
“He gave us a once-in-a-lifetime experience four times,” O’Rourke said with a smile.
Now as Arrogate faces the challenge of passing on his best qualities to his offspring, it’s hard to imagine how he could have gotten off to a better start based on his first book of mares, which consists of 28 grade 1 winners or producers, headlined by champion filly Songbird, who has been confirmed in foal.
Arrogate’s first book was limited to approximately 140 mares, including grade 1 winners Artemis Agrotera and By the Moon; as well as Moyne Abbey, the dam of grade 1-winning millionaire Wicked Strong; and Lucas Street, who is the dam of grade 1 winner Wavell Avenue. Other noteworthy mares confirmed in foal to Arrogate are Kentucky Oaks winner Plum Pretty and Breeders Cup Juvenile Fillies winner She Be Wild.
Twenty mares in Arrogate’s initial book are Juddmonte-owned, including seven-time grade 1 winner Sightseek; Rising Tornado, the dam of champion Close Hatches; and Bandana, a daughter of grade 1 winner Honest Lady and granddaughter of 2002 Broodmare of the Year Toussaud, Juddmonte’s legendary broodmare. Multiple grade 1 winner and Eclipse Award finalist Paulassilverlining, stakes winner Golden Mischief (Into Mischief) and grade 2-placed Jamyson ‘n Ginger were purchased specifically to be bred to Arrogate.
Because Juddmonte is primarily a breed-to-race operation, O’Rourke confirmed that Arrogate’s foals from their own mares will be kept to race. They will be broken and trained at the farm and developed until they are two year olds.
“Then we’ll decide where they’ll go,” O’Rourke said. “We might try a few with stronger grass pedigrees in Europe.”
Juddmonte’s goal, O’Rourke is clear on, is to race only at the most elite level and to develop stallions capable of producing elite runners. Juddmonte homebred Hofburg, third behind Triple Crown winner Justify in the Belmont Stakes, “is an example of the kind of horse we want to produce and campaign.”
O’Rourke explained that he and Aaron have targeted specific attributes for mares they hope will complement Arrogate.
“We want precocious types since he was late developing,” O’Rourke said. “We’re also interested in sprinters, and families with a lot of speed. We’re looking at some grass mares for diversity. We want to give him every opportunity to see what he crosses best with.”
Is there room in Arrogate’s book for less elite mares like Bubbler, or Triple Crown winner American Pharoah’s dam, Littleprincessemma, who on paper might not have been expected to produce the first Triple Crown winner in 37 years?
“Definitely,” O’Rourke said. “Bob (Baffert) is breeding Lutess, the dam of stakes winner Heck Yeah (to Arrogate), and she has kind of an unorthodox pedigree. We also bought (6-year-old Pennsylvania-bred) Disco Chick. She doesn’t have the most high-class pedigree, but she won over $700,000. We’re looking at her to maybe give us a good outcross and some hybrid vigor.
“When looking at potential mares without the most star-studded pedigrees, it also helps to talk to people who were around them when they were developing,” O’Rourke pointed out. “For example, Peter O’Callaghan (of Woods Edge Farms) could tell you that Littleprincessemma was definitely a looker and very classy to be around. This kind of information all factors in.”
Now that Arrogate’s racing days are over and he’s a full-time resident at the farm, O’Rourke has had time to reflect on how the now 5-year-old compares with other stallions throughout his illustrious career.
“In my early days, I saw Unbridled gallop at Keeneland and at that time he was the most beautiful mover I’d seen,” O’Rourke remembered. “We trained Empire Maker, who was also a beautiful mover, and he reminds me of Arrogate in that way.”
But O’Rourke was quick to point out significant differences between Empire Maker (a Juddmonte homebred) and Arrogate.
“Empire Maker was a real ‘people’ horse,” O’Rourke said. “I think American Pharoah’s temperament comes from him. He couldn’t get enough of people. He would stick his tongue out a lot because he loved people to pull on it.”
“(Arrogate) has always been a bit more aloof when it comes to people. He wants to get on with the task at hand. Once he understands what his job is, he gets focused.”
O’Rourke acknowledges that for him it’s been “very fulfilling” to have managed Arrogate from yearling purchase to stallion career, but adds that it’s a cornerstone of the Juddmonte way of doing business.
“A lot of the guys in the barn, even the night watchman, have been here over 20 years,” he said. “We’re all very proud of Arrogate.”
So on an April day at Juddmonte — one day shy of the big gray stallion’s fifth birthday – it’s easy to see that many things seem to have come full circle for all things Arrogate. Bubbler is still at Clearsky, where Arrogate was foaled, having produced only daughters since. Aaron, who found Bubbler for Taylor Made, is now recruiting mares to breed to her son. O’Rourke, whose admiration for Bubbler’s grit would lead him to purchase her son as a yearling and then manage his phenomenal racing career, now shoulders the responsibility of directing the stallion career for perhaps the last great son of Unbridled’s Song, carefully crafting what may turn out to be his own dynasty and a solid chance to leave his mark on the breed. Nothing is certain, and O’Rourke respects the alchemy of breeding.
“We strive to make it a science, but art comes to the top,” O’Rourke said. “Things happen that make us scratch our heads, but that’s part of the fun of the game.”
Next April , when Arrogate is midway through his second season at stud and again stands outside his stall at Juddmonte with his head lifted, perhaps he’ll be able to see future stakes winners among his own sons and daughters grazing in paddocks with their dams.
The future looks bright for America’s richest racehorse of all time.