Last Saturday at Del Mar in the San Diego Handicap, Arrogate, the world’s greatest racehorse, raised his tail and…well…you know. He did it right there on the track in front of everyone. It wasn’t pretty. And, because the attention of the entire racing world was glued to the event, a little landed on everyone. You see, Arrogate didn’t just ‘get beat,’ he didn’t even try. Failed to show up. Phoned it in. Took a siesta.
That’s so not like him. After all, he won last year’s Travers by a block in track record time, overtook 2016 Horse of the Year California Chrome in the Breeders’ Cup Classic stretch, won the inaugural $12 million Pegasus World Cup and then courageously captured the $10 million Dubai World Cup.
On second thought, perhaps that wasn’t really Arrogate on the track Saturday. A couple of guys in a horse costume impersonating him? It’s possible because into the far turn jockey Mike Smith had to scrub like a washerwoman on a bloodstain to get Arrogate to run. Finally, Smith called it a day and wrapped up. If Arrogate didn’t feel like running nothing was going to change the colt’s mind.
Going in the San Diego Handicap the Tale of the Tape was pretty one-sided. Arrogate had won 7 of 8 lifetime starts, with one third. He had earned $17,084,600—more than any horse, ever. He was 1-20 in the wagering—meaning one would need to risk an Andrew Jackson to win a George Washington (which is a bit ironic because, unlike Arrogate, Washington was first!).
In what was supposed to be a paid mile and one-sixteenth exhibition, where the champ would thrill the crowd with his magnificence and get a race beneath his girth before the $1 million Pacific Classic a month later, Arrogate was assigned 126 pounds. FYI, that’s the same weight 3-year-olds carry in the mile and one-quarter Kentucky Derby. Understandably, the Del Mar racing secretary went easy on the champ in the impost department to guarantee his appearance. Just 12 pounds separated Arrogate from El Huerfano—winner of just 2 of his last 16 and zero for six at the distance. Ultimate winner Accelerate packed 117 pounds, one more than runner-up Donworth and one less than third-place finisher Cat Burglar. Bottom line: Weight was no more a factor in the outcome than the price of fish tacos at The Brigantine.
Early in the proceedings, Arrogate lagged behind the field in last, ostensibly setting the table for a thrilling flying finish. Part of the real reason the champ was so far back early is because El Huerfano, who broke just inside Arrogate, stumbled badly at the start causing apprentice jockey Evan Roman’s feet to disengage from the irons. Into and around the first turn the young Puerto Rican rider struggled mightily to control his beast as other riders wisely allowed them a wide berth. A Thoroughbred beneath an apprentice jockey, feet and stirrups flapping independently in the breeze, is a dangerous situation. It’s possibly worse than having a totally loose horse because in the former case there are two breathing entities involved instead of one. Little good and lots of bad can come of it. Perhaps, after observing this dangerous situation develop Arrogate chose discretion over valor and elected to maintain a safe distance from El Huerfano and Roman.
Don’t laugh. It’s not funny. This is serious business. Arrogate off the board. In confusing times like these we search for the ‘why.’ How could something this happen? Inquiring minds want to know.
Arrogate’s defeat was so shocking that if it had been a fight the crowd would have cried ‘Fix.’ Demanded a refund. Burned the place to the ground. Arrogate felled by a phantom punch. Liston in Lewiston. Only this time the favorite didn’t merely lose, he was off the board—beating only the compromised El Huerfano home! Accelerate paid $17.60 to win, but based purely on shock value it should have been $117.60! A consistent, Grade 2 stakes winner, Accelerate had lost his last five starts. Granted, the race was just a five-horse field and the winner was 2 for 2 at Del Mar and was one of just two horses to previously finish in front of Arrogate, but still… Handicapping 101 says that if you ran the race 100 times Arrogate would win…well, every time he actually showed up.
All but $214,466 of over two and one-half million wagered on the race was on Arrogate, including bread invested on the virtual certainty that he would at least finish third. Therefore, when Arrogate checked in fourth, place and show payoffs on others were as inflated as a life-size Chris Christie blowup doll. Accelerate returned $32.60 to place and $22 to show. Donworth paid $119.80 to place and $67.40 to show. Cat Burglar rewarded show backers with a $38.20 mutuel!
Most affected by Arrogate’s very public Del Mar bowel movement were ‘bridgejumpers.’ No, they’re not a band appearing nearby in Solana Beach at the Belly Up. They wish. Instead ‘bridgejumpers’ are the guys and gals that went for the easy money in the San Diego and wagered with both hands (and feet) on a sure thing: Arrogate to show. By law, in California and most other jurisdictions, whenever show wagering is offered tracks must pay a minimum $2.10 for each winning $2 wager. Therefore, in cinch situations, like Arrogate appeared to be in the San Diego Handicap, someone could invest a bundle on the favorite to show and make a quick nickel on each buck.
If betting cinches to show sounds like an attractive occupation, remember that ‘bridgejumpers’ must correctly nail 20 out of 21 wagers just to break even. And when, on that 21st time, up jumps the devil…well, let’s note that last Saturday night’s traffic over the Coronado Bridge was inexplicably jammed for hours.
Upsets happen. In sports and in life. Favorites fail. Dogs bark. Jets beat Colts. Buster KO’s Tyson. Trump tops Clinton. An icy Olympic miracle occurs. In horseracing, however, a pastime almost reverent to odds and their significance, major upsets are not so rare. Longshots win all the time. To revise slightly a Michael Corleone line from The Godfather: Part II: ‘If anything in this life is certain, if history has taught us anything, it is that you can beat any horse.’ Even Man o’War (20 wins in 21 lifetime starts) was beaten by…wait for it…a horse named Upset!
After the race Arrogate’s trainer Bob Baffert didn’t seem particularly distraught over the loss and, in fact, compared it to a previous experience with Silver Charm, another horse he trained. Correlation noted. However, while Silver Charm was a very good horse, he never achieved Arrogate-like status. This loss was a much bigger deal and has to trouble Baffert more than he’s letting on. After all, the 2017 Breeders’ Cup Classic will be decided over this Del Mar strip and, so far, that doesn’t appear to be Arrogate’s favorite surface. Baffert also hinted in post-race interviews that he didn’t have the champ adequately prepared for his best in the San Diego, suggesting something else: Overconfidence.
Arrogate’s camp anticipated he would win the San Diego like breaking sticks. No sweat. Toss his bridle on the oval and get his picture taken. However, like a heavyweight champ preparing for a title defense against a tomato-can opponent, Arrogate didn’t train as seriously as he should have. He spent more time in the stall eating oats than on the track doing roadwork. Perhaps all that money he’s earned went to his head. Fame, fortune and adulation. He wouldn’t be the first champ unable to cope.
Then again, Arrogate’s defeat may have a much simpler explanation: He got ‘mushed’ by Xpressbet!
“Eddie Mush was a degenerate gambler. He was the world’s biggest loser. He was “Mush” because everything he touched turned to mush.” –A Bronx Tale (1993)
Saturday Xpressbet offered prospective new account holders a tantalizing treat: 5-1 odds on Arrogate to win the San Diego Handicap! It was the eighth time in over a year Xpressbet has extended such a generous offer—outrageously inflated win odds on a heavy favorite—and the seventh time the public choice has been defeated!
It’s quite an impressive list. Check it out:
2016 Santa Anita Oaks – Songbird – Won
2016 Preakness – Nyquist – 3rd to Exaggerator
2016 BC Distaff – Songbird – 2nd to Beholder
2016 BC Turf – Flintshire – 2nd to Highland Reel
2016 BC Mile – Tepin – 2nd to Tourist
2016 BC Classic – California Chrome – 2nd to Arrogate
2017 Preakness – Always Dreaming – 8th to Cloud Computing
2017 San Diego ‘Cap – Arrogate – 4th to Accelerate
Eddie would be proud!