Frosted, Arrogate, Shaman Ghost. Whitney, Travers, Woodward. Those are the names and the races they won, in that order. The trio won arguably the three most prestigious races at Saratoga and amazingly none of the three is the favorite for Saturday's Breeders' Cup Classic at Santa Anita Park. Such is the power of California Chrome.
Yes, California Chrome is the even-money choice for the $6 million Classic but smart money says the aforementioned trio will make him earn it. Arrogate is pegged as the closest contender, at 5-2 on the morning-line, as he attempts to duplicate his record-breaking victory in the Grade 1 Travers 10 weeks ago.
Frosted, the 5-1 third choice on the line; and Shaman Ghost, a 20-1 longshot, come off just a bit shorter layoff after running in the Woodward closing weekend at Saratoga.
The Saratoga Special gave those three plenty of ink during the 2016 Saratoga meeting and all three appeared on the cover the day after their big wins. Frosted came first, for winning the Whitney Aug. 6, followed by Arrogate in the Aug. 27 Travers and Shaman Ghost in the Sept. 3 Woodward.
As the days tick down to North American racing's biggest day, as hours become minutes and minutes become seconds, we thought it would be worth refreshing you on those victories. Perhaps you've already read these stories, written by Eclipse Award winner Sean Clancy, perhaps not.
Either way, enjoy them and enjoy the Breeders' Cup.
Frosted punches out another Grade 1 win
Kiaran McLaughlin leaned forward and stared at the corner TV, like he was trying to read a set of directions without his glasses. In the left corner chair in the first box from the center steps in the fourth row, writer Dave Grening sat in the box to his left, McLaughlin's son, Ryan, daughter, Erin, and wife, Letty, watched to McLaughlin's right. The family moved like bees around a hive, turning, swiveling, switching from the big screen in the infield to the TV in the box to live racing on the track.
McLaughlin never moved. Neither did jockey Joel Rosario.
McLaughlin was the first to blink as Frosted ripped past the sixteenth pole in the Grade 1 Whitney. McLaughlin stood up, still silent, watching Frosted's long, comfortable stride power to the wire. Inside the sixteenth pole, with nothing left to do but enjoy the moment, McLaughlin stretched his right arm, landing it on Erin's shoulder, part high five, part hug, part punch in the air.
"Yessssssssss," McLaughlin yelled.
Frosted continued his 4-year-old arrival, adding the $1.25 million Whitney jaunt to a $1.25 million Met Mile romp back in June.
Breaking sharply from post 4, Frosted led for the first few strides. Rosario sat still, allowing the hand to be played but ready to make a move if allowed. Julien Leparoux aboard Noble Bird to Frosted's outside opted to stay wide and stalk. Inside Frosted, Irad Ortiz slapped Upstart on the shoulder four times to grab the lead. Into the turn, Ortiz tapped on the brakes and the light turned green for Rosario.
"There was a moment, 'should I take back or go forward?' But he was there, he was a little sharp, I didn't want to drag him back, if the other horse kept on going, I would have tracked him," Rosario said. "When he decided to take back, I said, 'OK, I'll go.' I thought he was the best horse in the race, just let him be happy, wherever he was."
Initiative taken, Frosted was in control.
Through a quarter mile in :23.11 and a half in :46.42, Frosted loped on the lead. Noble Bird eyed him from the outside, Upstart retreated to third, Effinex galloped along on the outside in fourth, Comfort and El Kabeir trailed.
Frosted ticked off three quarters of a mile in 1:09.65, which sounded taxing but looked relaxing for the free-wheeling gray colt. Turning for home, Rosario looked like he was going to the five-eighths pole in the morning, rather than passing the quarter pole in a Grade 1 stakes. Eventually, passing the eighth pole, Rosario moved his hands lightly, threw one tepid cross, looked under his right arm, shook his whip once, looked again, looked yet again and then folded up like a Christmas present under the tree. Frosted won by 2 lengths, finishing 9 furlongs in 1:47.77 as Comfort picked up the pieces for second and Upstart nosed out Effinex for third.
Walking down the steps to the winner's circle, McLaughlin shrugged off the change in tactics.
"It is what is, we got there," McLaughlin said. "I was afraid after the Met Mile he would be a lot closer, but we have a great rider and he knows what to do. He's doing so well, a little bit different style today but we left it up to Joel to do what he needed to do. It's great. He's a special horse."
A $3.1 million earner before the Whitney, Frosted won two races in a row for the first time in his career. As a 3-year-old, the homebred son of Tapit picked up his bat and walked to the plate every time there was a game. He chased Upstart in the Holy Bull, finishing second. He went to the lead in the Fountain of Youth, but faded to fourth. Shipped north, he won the Grade 1 Wood Memorial. He rallied from 14th to fourth in the Kentucky Derby. OK, he skipped the Preakness. He chased American Pharoah in the Belmont, succumbing to greatness, but beating all the rest. He fell a half-length short in the Jim Dandy. The Travers, well that was a kamikaze mission into the ocean, but he still wound up third. Twenty days later, he won the Pennsylvania Derby. By the end of the year, he was spent, winding up seventh in the Breeders' Cup Classic.
The defeats never registered with Frosted. Or McLaughlin.
"No, I never worried about it. If you watched him train every day, you'd see why. Tomorrow morning, he'll be nickering for the fillies, he eats everything, he's very sound, no issues, he's a happy horse. I would be worried about a normal horse, but he's just not normal," McLaughlin said. "Even like last year, I said I wanted to run in the Pennsylvania Derby after the Travers, it was 20 days, he just told us he could do it. He's a neat horse. Great pedigree. Great conformation. Great mind."
This year, Frosted, assistant Neal McLaughlin and exercise rider Rob Massey went to Dubai for the winter. With William Buick aboard, Frosted won Al Maktoum Challenge by an easy 5 lengths but failed to threaten California Chrome in the Dubai World Cup, winding up fifth, beaten 5 ½ lengths. Frosted didn't get the big prize, but the trip certainly didn't hurt, as he returned, freshened and broke down the door in the Met Mile.
"I'm glad we went to Dubai, we had a wonderful track to train on over there, I wish we could have won the World Cup for the boss and maybe we can this year, but it's all come together for the horse, he's come back a better horse," Neal McLaughlin said, after the Whitney. "Right now, he's the best he's ever been, from head to toe. The way he's moving, the way he's training, he's never been better, we said that going into the Met Mile and we didn't think he could take another step forward and he did. What a horse. What a horse."
A few days before the Whitney, Neal and his wife, Trish, stood next to Frosted and ogled at his size, weight, demeanor. The boy had become a man.
"I said to Trish, 'You know, he's never looked better,' " Neal said, still emotional after the win. "I cried after the Met Mile. I've only cried three times, Alpha, Wedding Toast and now him. These horses are our lives and when you see one do what he's done, that's probably what Lebron James' parents must feel like."
For Frosted, the Met Mile was James' 2016 NBA Finals, the day he arrived, breaking out from the shadow of American Pharoah. Sure, he was a Grade 1 winner, but up to then, he was an almost horse. After that, he was the now horse.
At the end of the day, Kiaran McLaughlin sat in a chair next to Godolphin's Jimmy Bell as the Whitney replay lit up the Saratoga Room and thought back to last year, when seven losses overshadowed two wins.
"It was tough, but on the other hand, he won two big races, the Wood Memorial, Grade 1, was huge, and the Pennsylvania Derby was huge, after a third in the Travers," Kiaran McLaughlin said. "It was tough, him losing, but yet, he won great races and he's a top earner. I hope one day, I can say he's the best horse I ever trained. It's close."
And getting closer.
California shipper Arrogate sets Spa track record for Juddmonte, Baffert
Dr. John Chandler stood alone. Facing away from the racetrack, across from the finish line, Juddmonte Farm's president gazed from the step of the front-row box, mouth agape, smiling but silent, like he had heard a good joke but wasn't sure he could tell it.
Bob Baffert careened between the two front rows of the clubhouse boxes, pivoted to go down the steps and then saw Chandler, still standing, smiling, silent.
"Hey, Dr. Chandler…" Baffert yelled, pointing at Chandler and then pointing at himself.
Chandler turned and cackled – a long, rhythmical chain of notes, seven in all, each one leading to the crescendo that lasted seconds. If you know the affable South African, you can hear it in your head.
"This one's going to pay for all the other ones we bought," Baffert said.
"Don't tell me," said Chandler, still laughing. "Hey, I know that."
Baffert and Chandler walked down the stairs as Mike Smith slowed Juddmonte Farm's Arrogate after a front-running, 13 1/2-length, track-record breaking decimation of the 147th Travers Stakes.
Baffert watched the Travers with his wife, Jill, who worried about the rapid fractions, especially 1:10.85 for the first 6 furlongs.
"How about that?" said Baffert, as he walked down the steps to the winner's circle. "Jill said, 'They're going too fast,' I said, 'This is a running son of a…' "
That's one way to describe the long-striding son of Unbridled's Song who increased his win streak to four in his stakes debut. Arrogate's win streak began at Santa Anita June 5, ripped through a first-level allowance at Santa Anita June 24 and a second-level allowance at Del Mar 23 days before the Travers. If you're counting, that's maiden to Grade 1 stakes winner in 83 days.
Drawing the inside post in the field of 13, Arrogate had one option, use his speed to establish position. Riding Arrogate for the first time, Smith made sure of it.
"I said, 'Get him up in the doors, get him square, way up in the doors,' " Smith said, repeating his instructions to gateman Mike Mulligan. "You try to let them push off the back, but he's weak behind, by the time he does it, he's already given them a half-length head start. So at least this time, he came out with them, then I just set behind him for about three jumps, then I stood up and kept my weight back, then…"
It was over.
Arrogate broke a step slower than his stablemate, American Freedom, to his right, but Smith made sure that was his only misstep, slapping him right-handed and staying low to hammer his peg from the inside.
"Once he gets underneath himself, God, he jumps from here to that building," Smith said, pointing in the distance.
Under the wire the first time, Haskell runner-up American Freedom and Jim Dandy winner Laoban led Arrogate as Kent Desormeaux anchored Haskell and Preakness winner Exaggerator on the rail in last.
Without effort, Arrogate led by a length after a quarter-mile in :23.23 as American Freedom and Laoban stayed close. Destin positioned himself in fourth on the rail, Gun Runner set up outside in fifth. Longshot Anaximandros was in a drive after a half-mile in :46.84. Curlin winner Connect found a spot alone in seventh. Curlin runner-up Gift Box sat a few lengths back in eighth. Longshot My Man Sam followed a length back, Belmont Stakes winner Creator chilled in 10th. Curlin-third Forever d'Oro lagged in 11th as Exaggerator passed Jim Dandy runner-up Governor Malibu. Fourteen lengths and a universe separated Arrogate and Governor Malibu as the field bent into the far turn.
Smith kept his hands low and wide as Arrogate posted a 1:10.85 split for 6 furlongs. Passing the quarter pole, American Freedom reached Arrogate's quarter, but that's all and not for long, as he plugged away in second. Gun Runner tried to close but couldn't land a blow. The rest were either plummeting or paddling, Arrogate's early speed walking them down the plank and the 10-furlong distance pushing them off.
"He took off when I asked him," Smith said. "I thought, 'all right, all right,' then I asked him one more time, 'Oh, that's good enough,' but you've got Exaggerator and all those closers, man, you just never know when one's going to come down the middle of the track, but I said, 'if they catch him, they've got to be unbelievable.' "
Smith stayed low, his wide-slung cross of the reins moving in unison with Arrogate's long, efficient stride. Straightening in the stretch, Arrogate swapped smoothly to his right lead, Smith slapped him once right handed, waved his whip underhanded, then switched it to his left hand, turning it over in the same motion and hitting Arrogate once, as he neared the sixteenth pole.
"When I finally could see the TV, then I stopped," Smith said, similar to his thoughts after Songbird romped in the Alabama. "I can't see the damn TV, the sun is shining, it's so bright, you can't see crap. I don't want to waste my time looking around, I don't believe in moving my weight going that far, just stay with his rhythm."
Smith and Arrogate kept their rhythm like Simon and Garfunkel, widening their lead with every stride and stopping the clock in 1:59.36, topping General Assembly's 37-year-old track record of 2:00.
"That was freaky," Smith said, speaking for any and all of the 48,630 in attendance. "I'm so blessed, I'm numb."
As always in racing, there is one winner and many losers. Nobody lost like Rafael Bejarano. The California-based jockey had ridden Arrogate in his three wins. He had also ridden American Freedom to win the Iowa Derby and finish second in the Haskell. Bejarano wound up on American Freedom. On paper, it looked like it was his choice. Far from it.
As Smith kissed the sky and Arrogate paraded to the eighth pole after the Travers, Bejarano met Baffert in the winner's circle.
"I'm sorry man, that was your horse," Baffert said, putting his arm around Bejarano.
The jockey tried to brush it off, explaining his trip to Baffert and then made the long, lonely walk back to the jocks' room. Second in the Travers can be a hard pill to swallow, second to a horse you were riding, whew, that's bitter.
"Tough go, tough go," Bejarano said. "It was very sad for me, I've been working him, riding him, I prepare the horse to win the race. A week before the race, the owner wanted me to stick with American Freedom, there was nothing I can do. Oh, I would have picked Arrogate for sure, I knew he was going to win the race. Oh, I knew. I knew."
Baffert wasn't so sure when he entered Arrogate and American Freedom in the $1.25 million race.
"I was nervous today," Baffert said. "But it was a good nervous because they were both doing great."
Purchased for $560,000 at the Keeneland September Yearling Sale in 2014, Arrogate took a while to come around. Long and tall, he missed his entire 2-year-old season for minor issues and didn't get started until April, when most of his Travers foes were readying for the Triple Crown races. Out of the 13 runners, only Baffert's pair, Chad Brown's Connect and Gift Box and 131-1 Anaximandros didn't make at least one start in a Triple Crown race.
Hired by Prince Khalid Abdullah's Juddmonte Farm in 2012 to reignite its presence in California, dry since Bobby Frankel died in 2009, Baffert and his main bloodstock agent, Donato Lanni, went out and bought yearlings with one goal in mind.
"When I got the call, the whole deal was to try to get to the Kentucky Derby," Baffert said. "We're a little bit late."
Juddmonte bought four yearlings at Keeneland September in 2012. Pimpernel, West Riding, Curlin To Mischief and Beach Hut didn't make the Derby, actually they didn't make much.
In 2013, Juddmonte purchased three yearlings at Keeneland, Bassanio, Planet and Lamu failed to make an impact.
In 2014, eight yearlings were added to the Juddmonte roster. And one of those just won the Travers.
"I was frustrated by it. But, you know, the prince is patient. Garrett O'Rourke said, 'Just keep doing what you're doing.' You're hoping that one of them will pay for the rest of them," Baffert said. "I'm sure the prince is watching, they live for horses. He's used to having horses like Frankel, Empire Maker . . . at least we have a good one. Finally."
Shaman Ghost upsets Frosted in Grade 1
Kent Sweezey accepted congratulations yet again from the woman holding the rope, funneling people into the winner's circle. She's been there all meet, always applauding, always congratulating – everybody. Upbeat, she congratulates owners, trainers, writers…if you're well dressed and walking to the winner's circle, you're a winner to her.
"Finally, finally, finally," said Sweezey, assistant trainer to Jimmy Jerkens. "I've been saying, 'Nope, sorry. Nope, sorry. Nope, sorry,' all meet."
Not this time.
Shaman Ghost upset the Grade 1 Woodward, earning a close decision in a four-horse scrum at the end of 9 furlongs. Shaman Ghost and Javier Castellano won by a head over Mubtaahij, who had a head on 2-5 favorite Frosted, who had a head on Canadian shipper Breaking Lucky. Shaman Ghost finished 9 furlongs in 1:48.92.
Jerkens stopped in the winner's circle as TV cameramen waited for their cue to go live and looked around, not necessarily stunned by the performance, but awed by the moment.
"Wow," Jerkens said. "Wow."
Owned by Stronach Stable, the 4-year-old son of Ghostzapper captured his first Grade 1 stakes of his 12-race career. A four-time winner, including the Canadian classic Queen's Plate, for Brian Lynch last year, the bay colt was transferred to Jerkens in December. He made his debut for Jerkens in May, finishing third in a three-other-than optional claimer before winning the Grade 2 Brooklyn going a mile and a half at Belmont Park in June. A month later, he ran evenly to finish fifth in the Grade 2 Suburban. Jerkens aimed at the Woodward, using the Oklahoma Training Track as the platform and Shaman Ghost delivered.
"He loves to train, you can't train him too hard," Jerkens said. "He loves it, he loves it."
A 4-furlong breeze in :49.94 July 30 began the process, a 7-furlong drill in 1:28.44 came next and a sharp 4-furlong bullet in :48.83 convinced Jerkens to keep the Woodward as the target.
"We were going to run all along in this but two weeks ago, I called Mike Rogers up and said, I think we might skip it and go for a race at Belmont, I was trying to figure out how the best way to get him to the Jockey Club Gold Cup, I just thought I was going to run out of time," Jerkens said of the call to Frank Stronach's close advisor and president of The Stronach Group's Racing and Gaming Division. "Mike said, 'The boss wasn't too crazy about that idea.' A couple of days went by and I said, 'All right, 'let's go to the Woodward.' I didn't know who we were going to get to ride him, we were lucky to get Javier. It's incredible."
Breaking from the rail in the field of nine, Shaman Ghost slid like a knife into a sheath, finding a perfect spot in fourth as Joe Bravo hustled Bradester, riding a three-race win streak, to the lead and Joel Rosario eased Frosted behind a phalanx of four. After a quarter-mile in :24.38, Bradester led by a length over Samraat and Breaking Lucky. Castellano rocked above Shaman Ghost, inside longshot Catholic Cowboy. Frosted, who won the Whitney gate-to-wire, picked a spot in sixth, but it was anything but smooth to get there. Mubtaahij, who broke from the outside, slid into seventh, 83-1 Tapin Mojo came next and Tale Of Verve fell back to last.
Bradester clicked off a half in :48.43 as Breaking Lucky began to separate from Samraat. Shaman Ghost loped along in fourth, two empty lanes from the rail and an empty lane between his outside rivals. Frosted stayed wide but tracking the peloton.
"Dream trip," Castellano said. "A dream trip."
On the turn, Joe Bravo niggled Bradester, Luis Contreras aboard Breaking Lucky snuck a look under his right arm, Jose Ortiz slapped Samraat without much response, Castellano pushed to hold his peg in place and Rosario waited like he was about to break off in a morning work.
Passing the quarter pole, Bradester drifted five lanes off the rail, carrying Breaking Lucky with him. Shaman Ghost tipped out, on Breaking Lucky's quarter.
Samraat tried to rally but was spent. Frosted loomed large, but had made a long, circling rally around the turn. Watching a five-way stack of cards outside, Irad Ortiz punched Mubtaahij through on the rail.
Straightening into the stretch, Breaking Lucky took over from Bradester as Castellano tried to a rally Shaman Ghost, still thinking outside. Rosario guided Frosted wide, separating the gray colt from four rivals inside him, then angled back to the left to cue a lead change, which negated Castellano's original plan to split horses outside. He audibled and shifted Shaman Ghost behind Breaking Lucky, sliding inside to match strides with Mubtaahij.
"When I saw Frosted go around at the three eighths pole, I wanted to go around too and keep him out there, I was trying to go out there, but I was forcing it," Castellano said. "I decided, 'I'm working here, this isn't going to work.' I see the big gap, I split horses, that made the difference to win the race. He got encouraged when he got down there."
While whips flailed off Breaking Lucky, Shaman Ghost and Mubtaahij, Rosario opted to keep his whip in his right hand, un-cocked all the way to the wire, as he maneuvered from the far outside to the edge of Breaking Lucky.
At the sixteenth pole, Frosted, Breaking Lucky, Shaman Ghost and Mubtaahij were even. At any moment, Frosted was meant to slam the door shut, but it kept swinging open like a screen door on an old porch. Ten strides before the wire, Shaman Ghost finally asserted, grinding it out, a head in front of Mubtaahij on his inside and a head in front of Frosted to his outside.
Jerkens watched in delight, then horror.
"I was glad when he drew No. 1, I loved that, just sit there, they'll go. I loved where he was in the race," Jerkens said. "Then I thought, 'Oh, no, he's going to hang in third.' The great riders give them another effort, don't they? They just seem to have that extra push."
Castellano's just happy to ride for Jerkens.
"Two Travers and now a Woodward," Castellano said. "He said he just hires me for the Grade 1s. That works for me."
Shaman Ghost and five other Adena Springs horses arrived in December to help bolster Jerkens' select but strong stable. Shaman Ghost's Woodward score added $360,000 to Jerkens' yearly earnings of $3.2 million. With a few big wins this fall, Jerkens could go over $4 million for the third consecutive year, a far cry from 2011-'13 when his stable didn't crack $1 million.
"We had a good year when Afleet Express won the Travers in 2010, then we starved the next three years and then we just got rolling again. Usually when that happens, you don't ever get going again," Jerkens said. "Good horses, one after another. It came after two or three terrible years, that's the weird thing about it. The horses just came, I don't know why. I've only got about 35, but they're all good."
That's what the woman near the winner's circle had been saying all meet.