On 17 April last year, a raw three-year-old colt called Arrogate set foot on a racecourse for the first time, at lowly Los Alamitos in southern California. He missed the break, found trouble in running and finished third, earning $5,400 for his owner in the process. He was just another thoroughbred among many tens of thousands in America, and among the many millions foaled around the world over the last three centuries.
Less than 12 months later, Arrogate is one race away from becoming the highest earner the sport has seen. The $6m first prize in the Dubai World Cup here on Saturday, for which he will set off as the long odds-on favourite, would take Arrogate’s career earnings past $17m, around three-quarters of which would have been banked in the space of the past two months.
Career earnings can be an imprecise measure of a thoroughbred’s talent, for several reasons. Fluctuating exchange rates, inflation and the wide variation in the overall prize money regimes in different jurisdictions make meaningful comparisons difficult at best. No horse that does most or all of its racing in Britain is ever likely to trouble the all-time top 10 for earnings, whereas Japan’s prize money is so good that its horses rarely race elsewhere and one recent attempt to compile an all-time earnings list by converting totals to sterling had Japanese-trained horses in the first 11 places.
But first place for Arrogate on Saturday will brook no argument. He will surge straight past horses such as T M Opera O ($16.4m) and Gentildonna ($15.5m), and also the current US money list leader, California Chrome ($14.8m), into a clear first place however you choose to add it up. And he will have made the trek to the very top of the all-time mountain in less than a year, and just eight starts, with a season or more of racing to come.
It is not just about the money, of course. Arrogate’s targets later in the season include the Breeders’ Cup Classic, which he won last season, and though he may not need to improve to go unbeaten this year, further progress is very likely given his relative inexperience. This is the year when he could establish himself as one of the true greats of American racing, to be discussed in the same breath as horses such as Secretariat, Man O’War, Citation and Seattle Slew.
“I’m very blessed to have ridden a lot of really talented horses,” Mike Smith, who will ride Arrogate on Saturday, said here on Friday. “I’m kind of more known for some of the fillies I’ve ridden [such as the 2010 Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Zenyatta] but if you go back and look at some of the colts, I’ve ridden some pretty nice ones, if not for their whole career then at least once or twice. At this point, you hate to really say this, but I’m not too sure I’ve ever sat on one like this.
“Everything about him, his disposition, his mechanics, and the way he gets over the ground, at times you feel as though you’re running downhill instead of on level ground, he just feels like he’s getting over the ground that well. He’s done things that a horse at his stage of his career is not supposed to do, and especially not to do with the ease that he seems to do it with.
“What amazes me more than anything is that when the race is over, it’s as if he hasn’t put much effort into it. His recovery time is so quick, he seems to just have lungs that go forever.” Arrogate is still learning too. He won the Travers Stakes from the front, but chased down California Chrome in the stretch to win the Breeders’ Cup Classic before his recent, very easy win in the Pegasus Cup, the new $12m race in Florida which has overtaken the Dubai World Cup as the richest on the planet.
“He’s getting smarter,” Smith said. “He always leaves you with the feeling that there’s more to him, that there’s more upside than down.
“I can be very aggressive with him early, if I need to let him idle for a little bit he’ll idle for me, and then when I call on him he jumps back into the bridle again.
“That’s an extra weapon to have with a horse. With a lot of horses, you’ve got to make your mind up, either you’re going to take back or you’re going to go and there’s no stop and start with them. On the grass you can do that, but on dirt you can’t do that very much, but this horse happens to be able to do that on the dirt.
“Every race has got better, to be honest. The first time I rode him in the Travers, I knew he had a lot of talent, but even during the race, it was wow, he’s drawing away, and then I looked at the [big screen] at the 16th [half-furlong] and I couldn’t believe that he had opened up as much as he had.
“What was more amazing was that it was his first time in a stakes race, first time going a mile-and-a-quarter and he pulled up as if he hadn’t run a mile-and-a-quarter. Then you come back and see you went a minute and 59 seconds, which is mind-blowing. It had never been done before in the Travers.”
The increasing versatility of Arrogate (4.45) reduces the chance that he will get caught behind runners and struggle for a run, as he did when suffering his first and so far only defeat at Los Alamitos last year.
The most potent weapon he brings to bear is an immense stride, which will gain him several lengths on any opponent in the stretch once he hits top speed, and carry him further clear all the way to the line when he is in front. No one will get rich backing Arrogate at around 1-3, but this could be a rout and if any bookmakers are offering odds on his winning margin, go high.
The World Cup has been pretty much off-limits for British stables since dirt replaced synthetic Tapeta on the main track three years ago, but the main supporting events – the Turf and Sheema Classic – are two of the most valuable races on grass anywhere and this year’s renewal of the latter race would not look out of place at Royal Ascot. Postponed, who took the same race easily last year, has looked magnificent in his track work but faces much sterner opposition this time around from the likes of Highland Reel, the Breeders’ Cup Turf winner, and Jack Hobbs, the 2015 Irish Derby winner.
Roger Varian’s runner is still the obvious favourite, but he has disappointed on his last two starts, first when favourite for the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe and then when only second in his prep for Saturday’s contest.
Highland Reel (4.05) has arguably never quite received the credit he deserves for a series of top-class performances, and he may be underestimated again at around 3-1. Zarak (3.30) could have a slight edge in fitness over Richard Fahey’s Ribchester in the Dubai Turf, while Limato (2.00) is another familiar name in the Al Quoz Sprint and could be a value bet at around 11-4 to overcome the local favourite Ertijaal.