Mike Smith told us. The Hall of Fame jockey explained exactly what he would do on Arrogate in the Pegasus World Cup Invitational at Gulfstream Park Saturday afternoon. In systematic, logical, predictable steps – Smith laid out 9 furlongs like Emeril lays out a menu.
“Out of the 1 hole, I’m going to be very aggressive and see where that put us,” Smith said Thursday. “If it puts us in front, great, fine, if it doesn’t, I’ll just let the race unfold and go from there.”
Two days later, Smith laid low, urging Arrogate with five underhanded, right-handed flips as the gate opened in the $12 million stakes, the 3-year-old champion responded, earning a forward spot on the rail in third, as Noble Bird set up on the lead, Neolithic navigated a sweet spot in second and Horse of the Year California Chrome angled from his outside post to be fourth.
“Hopefully he’ll jump very well and I can hustle him on out of there a little and see where it puts me, if that puts him in front, wonderful, if someone’s in front of him, they’ll certainly be going quick enough and I’ll be happy trying to find a spot after that,” Smith said. “If I’m not in front, then, hopefully we’ll have separated away from the others so everybody has a good, clear run at it.”
A clear run looked doubtful as Noble Bird doled out the first quarter-mile in :23.46 and a half in :46.14. Leaving the backside, John Velazquez slid Neolithic to Noble Bird’s girth and Arrogate and California Chrome matched strides in third and fourth. Smith sat still, keeping his foot in the door, privy to Victor Espinoza’s advantage on his outside. For furlongs, the chess match continued, moves and a countermoves in subtle brilliance.
“Hopefully I’ll find him a place to run when it comes, that’s all you can really ask for,” Smith said.
In strides, it opened like a fallen coconut on a driveway. California Chrome, in his final race, started sliding backward as Arrogate slid into a stalking spot in third. Smith wanted separation and received it as the field went into the far turn.
“I’ve got to just not panic, keep my cool, go with the flow, man, just let the race set up, we’ll find a way either through, out, or in between or around, whatever presents itself,” Smith said. “There will be a flow of the race, you’ve just got to hope you get to a place where you’re nice and happy and comfortable and I can let him run when I want to.”
In complete control, Smith could have let Arrogate run whenever, wherever he wanted, hell, he could have looped Joe’s Stone Crab on the beach and won the Pegasus. Noble Bird retreated, Neolithic tried, California Chrome sputtered and a $12 million invitational became a one-horse party. With Smith gearing down Arrogate, the 4-year-old colt sauntered clear by 4 ¾ lengths over a late-running Shaman Ghost and a hanging-on Neolithic after 1 1/8 miles in 1:47.61. Keen Ice rallied to be fourth. California Chrome eased under the wire, a tired and retired ninth. Afterward, trainer Art Sherman reported that the champion had a potential (though not serious for a retired racehorse) knee injury that would be X-rayed in Kentucky.
Owned by Juddmonte Farm and trained by Bob Baffert, Arrogate improved his record to 6-for-7 and stamped himself as the heir apparent to Triple Crown winner American Pharoah and two-time Horse of the Year California Chrome.
“I know I’ve got a horse, for such a young horse, who has a great demeanor, he has that natural ability, he’s got air that never seems to stop for some odd reason,” Smith said. “This horse seems to have an extra it factor, what that is I can’t honestly tell you.”
He told us Thursday and showed us Saturday.