SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. – Making his stakes debut and staking a claim to leadership of the 3-year-old division in one fell swoop, Arrogate wrested command from stablemate American Freedom into the first turn and ran right into the history books Saturday, winning the Grade 1 Travers Stakes in a record time of 1:59.36 seconds before a packed house of 48,630 at Saratoga Race Course.
Smashing General Assembly’s 1 1/4-mile stakes and track mark of 2:00 flat set in 1979, Arrogate was hustled away from the inside by Hall of Famer Mike Smith, and slipped through inside Haskell Invitational runner-up American Freedom and Jim Dandy winner Laoban to wrest command before going a quarter-mile, as Belmont Stakes runner-up Destin and three-time graded stakes winner Gun Runner also took up the chase from close range.
Arrogate ran the half-mile in 46.84 seconds, six furlongs in 1:10.85, and shook them all off nearing the stretch to draw out by 13 ½ emphatic lengths – the third-largest margin of victory in the Travers behind Damascus (1967, 22 lengths) and General Assembly (15 lengths). American Freedom finished gamely to save second over Gun Runner.
Arrogate, a gray colt by the late Unbridled’s Song, was the fourth front-running Grade 1 winner of the meet for the Hall of Fame rider, who swept the Coaching Club American Oaks and Alabama with Songbird, and the King’s Bishop on the Bob Baffert-trained Drefong, who like Arrogate was making his stakes debut as well. This was Smith’s third Travers winner along with 1994 Horse of the Year Holy Bull and Coronado’s Quest in 1998.
“I rode his father – he looks so much like his father,” said Smith. “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. We headed for home and he picked it up when I asked him. I was amazed how he lengthened his stride the last sixteenth of a mile and opened up.”
In winning the $1.25 million Travers and earning $670,000, Arrogate completed a back-to-back sweep of the day’s richest races for Juddmonte Farms, less than an hour after Flintshire won the $1 million Longines Sword Dancer for the second straight year.
Arrogate, now 4-0-1 from five starts, had beaten a total of 10 horses winning three in a row in Southern California. No matter, he made a dozen opponents in the Mid-Summer Derby look ordinary, including the first two finishers in the Belmont Stakes, Creator and Destin, who respectively wound up seventh and ninth, and Preakness/Haskell winner Exaggerator, who was eleventh as the 5-2 favorite without any apparent mishap.
After going off at odds-on in all four of his prior outings, Arrogate paid $25.40 to win as the eighth choice in the wagering. American Freedom, second choice at 5-1 completed a $134.50 exacta on the two horses saddled by Baffert, who saw his Triple Crown winner American Pharoah finish second in last year’s Travers to Keen Ice.
“They looked like they were going easy, and when I heard ’46 and change’ I thought, ‘I think they can handle that’,” said the Hall of Fame conditioner, whose only previous Travers winner was 2001 Horse of the Year Point Given. “‘Big Money Mike’ knows his way around this racetrack. I was hoping [Arrogate] could do something like this. I want to thank the Prince [Khalid Abdullah] and Garrett O’Rourke [of Juddmonte] for having faith in me buying horses for them, We’ve hit a lot of empty spots here, but this one, he looks like the real deal. My horses, they both ran great races and I couldn’t be happier. To win for Juddmonte, a race like the Travers, that’s big for me.”
Steve Asmussen, who sent out Gun Runner (third) and Creator (seventh), offered this assessment: “We ran into a freak today,” he said. “I honestly thought [2:02] would win the race. I think that’s about where we were with Gun Runner.”
That thought was echoed by Chad Brown, who ran fourth, sixth and eighth with Gift Box, Connect and My Man Sam, and said, “I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a performance like that in any Travers.”
Travers (G1) Quotes
Rafael Bejarano, rider of runner-up American Freedom (No. 2): “I had to go for it. I was really comfortable the whole race. It was a good second for my horse. The winner, he was just the best. The winner, he went for it and he was still holding. I knew this horse [Arrogate] could run all day; it was the best I could get from my horse.
“I would say my horse didn’t really want to go more than a mile-and-an-eighth. A mile-and-a-quarter might have been too much for him, but he tried really hard today.”
Steve Asmussen, trainer of third-place finisher Gun Runner (No. 14) and seventh-place finisher Creator: “We ran into a freak today, who ran the fastest Travers in [1:59.36]. I honestly thought [2:02] would win the race. I think that’s about right where we were [with Gun Runner]. I thought Florent gave him a great trip from the No. 14 draw. He wheeled out a little early at the three-eighths pole because he thought he had a lot of horse, but that horse on the lead [Arrogate], he didn’t back up at all. That probably cost him second, chasing something late that you’re not catching early. On a dry track, we saw how very high quality Gun Runner is, and it is very comforting to be able to throw out the Haskell [fifth on a sloppy track] now. With that being said, he was third today in a very fast running of the race. On Creator, watching him around the turn, and Irad [Ortiz, Jr.] was riding him around the turn. He just doesn’t run the turns here very well. When they went down the backside, I thought Irad had him in a great spot, the fractions were obviously solid because he [Arrogate] never slowed down, but he didn’t handle the turn. Gun Runner ran solid today, without winning.”
Jockey Junior Alvarado, jockey aboard fourth-place finisher Gift Box (No. 9): “I thought he ran great. It was like I pictured before the race and it was exactly what happened. I couldn’t be any happier with the spot I in was all the way around. At the three-eighths pole, I did get a little bit excited. When I asked him he started picking it up very nicely. They just kept running fast in front. They never backed up a little bit but he still ran a great race.”
Chad Brown, trainer of fourth-place finisher Gift Box (No. 9), sixth-place finisher Connect (No. 10) and eighth-place finisher My Man Sam (No. 3): “I thought Gift Box and Connect got great trips. I loved that they had no one around them in the middle of the pack there, no traffic, with a really strong pace up front. I was feeling good midway down the backside but, boy, that was some performance. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a performance like that in any Travers. For Bob Baffert to run 1-2, he brought two well-prepared horses. Hats off to him and his team.”
Keith Desormeaux, trainer of beaten favorite and 11th-place finisher, No. 7 Exaggerator: “He said he got bumped a little, but other than that we had the trip we wanted. Other than that, no excuses.
Kent Desormeaux, jockey aboard beaten favorite Exaggerator (No. 7): “I wouldn’t have any idea.”
Eric Guillot, trainer of 12th-place finisher, No. 13 Laoban: “I think Baffert has 150 of the best-bred horses in the world, that’s what I think. There will be five of them you can’t outrun every year. He [Laoban] was too fresh. He fought.”