The betting public at Saratoga, a crowd of 48,630, had had little doubt in the ability of Juddmonte Farm’s Flintshire, making him the 1-5 favorite in the Grade 1 Sword Dancer the race before the marquee event of the upstate New York track’s biggest day of the year. For the Travers itself, Juddmonte’s entry Arrogate was sent off at odds of 11-1. Trainer Bob Baffert was very high on the gray son of Unbridled’s Song approaching the race, and the veteran trainer’s enthusiasm proved justified; Arrogate bounded home 13 1/2 lengths in front of his stablemate American Freedom, setting a new track record in what was the fastest running of the Grade 1 Travers ever recorded in 147 runnings, crushing General Assembly’s 1979 track record. Kept to task by jockey Mike Smith down the lane, the colt stopped the clock in 1:59.36 to take home the winner’s share of the $ 1.25-million purse.
“I rode his father [Unbridled’s Song]. He looks so much like his father!” Smith told Donna Barton-Brothers of NBC after the race. “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.”
“I was hoping he could do something like this,” Baffert said in his post-race interview. “I want to thank the Prince [Khalid Abdullah] and Garrett O’Rourke [of Juddmonte Farms] for having faith in me buying horses for them. We’ve hit a lot of empty spots here, but this one, he looks like he’s the real deal. My horses, they both ran great races and I couldn’t be happier. I couldn’t have done it without them. Thank you Prince, thank you Garrett O’Rourke, great guy. To win for Juddmonte, a race like the Travers, that’s big for me.”
Though Arrogate broke sharply, he was out-sprinted by confirmed frontrunners American Freedom and Laoban as the leading threesome crossed under the wire for the first time. Though Smith hustled the big grey colt significantly out of the gates, he allowed Arrogate to find his stride after the first sixteenth of a mile. The veteran’s confidence lent Arrogate the lead entering the first turn as American Freedom stayed a bit wide, holding Laoban at bay. Thus the Baffert trainees were leading the field through opening fractions of :23.23 and :46.84.
“He broke like a shot today,” Baffert continued. “My wife Jill said, ‘I think they’re gong too fast.’ I said, ‘No, they look like they’re going easy.’ But when I heard 46 and change… I think he can handle it. He’s a big, long-striding horse. They didn’t look like they were going that fast.”
Anaximandros was fourth early on, followed by Gun Runner, Destin, Connect, Gift Box, My Man Sam, Forever d’Oro, Creator, and Governor Malibu. Meanwhile, at the very rear of the field was Exaggerator, who’d broken well under Kent Desormeaux as the favorite, but the jockey took hold of his colt, and moved him over to the rail, saving all the ground in last through the first turn.
Arrogate enjoyed a one-length lead over his stablemate American Freedom entering the backstretch, while Laoban was glued to that one’s side in third. The leader and Smith were able to ease up just enough in the third quarter mile to draw out the six-furlong time to 1:10.85 (a 24.01 second split). That move reduced Arrogate’s lead to just a half-length over his stablemate as Laoban began to drop back. Gun Runner was moving well to approach from fourth, and Exaggerator appeared to be gearing up from the rear of the field as Arrogate reached the final turn.
At the one-mile mark, Arrogate held a two-length lead as his fellow frontrunners began to drop back. The fourth quarter-mile split of the race was run in 24.67 seconds, allowing the horse even more of a breather before the drive to the wire. When Smith gave him the cue, he flew away from his competition in dramatic fashion. American Freedom and Gun Runner gave chase, but neither could stick with Arrogate, who cruised under the wire all alone, 13 1/2 lengths in front of his nearest competitor. It was a breathtaking performance that the Saratoga crowd cheered mightily as Smith won his third Travers Stakes.
“To win the Alabama [with Songbird last weekend], come back and win the Travers, is a rider’s dream,” Smith said, his voice choking with emotion. “We headed for home and he picked it up when I asked him. Every other third stride he would look and kind of halfway pull up, so I got after him just a little bit to keep his mind on the business. I was amazed how he lengthened his stride the last sixteenth of a mile and opened up.”
Gary and Mary West’s American Freedom gamely fought off Gun Runner to hold second by 1 1/2 lengths, giving Baffert the exacta. Gun Runner finished 3 3/4 lengths in front of Gift Box, and Governor Malibu finished fifth. Post-time favorite Exaggerator was eased up late, beating just two horses under the wire.
“He [jockey Kent Desormeaux] said he [Exaggerator] got bumped a little, but other than that we had the trip we wanted,” Keith Desormeaux. “Other than that, no excuses.”
Bred in Kentucky by Clearsky Farm, Arrogate was a $ 560,000 Keeneland September Yearling purchase by Juddmonte. Third in his first start at Los Alamitos in April, the colt came back nearly two months later to win by 4 1/2 lengths at Santa Anita. Progressing through his allowance conditions in two more starts, Arrogate continued to win for Baffert, improving his pre-Travers record to three wins from four starts. The Travers victory improves the colt’s overall earnings to over $ 880,000.
Watch the race replay here:
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