Arrogate joined the all-time greats of American racing last night and was likened to Secretariat by his trainer when, covered in sand and glory, he ran out a two and a quarter length winner of the US $10m Dubai World Cup at Meydan.
Forget the fact that he became the highest earning horse in racing history – the US$12m Pegasus Cup was never available to any others – just 11 months after his first start, on this occasion he achieved greatness by overcoming the sort of adversity which costs even the best horses victory.
He completely missed the break, he wandered out of the stalls like he was going for a country walk and was already 12 lengths off the pace by the time he woke up and hit his stride. He then had to start coming round the 14 strong field. It was not looking much better down the back stretch although he was finally into a rhythm with that relentless, raking stride of his which, down the outside, was uninterrupted.
But those who backed him at 1-3 would not have been truly comfortable until, after a mile, he had positioned himself on the shoulders of the leaders at the top of the home straight. Only then did it become the formality that was expected and he won gearing down, comfortably, from Gun Runner with Neolithic five length back in third for an American 1-2-3.
“I can’t believe he won,” said his trainer Bob Baffert who was saddling his third World Cup winner and also won the Triple Crown two years ago with American Pharoah, a horse which has already slipped into the second among the best he has trained.
“That’s doing it the super hard way. It was terrible, terrible. He walked out of the gate. I tell you what, Mike Smith did a great job. He didn’t panic, he just thought, well I just get him round there.
“What a job he did. Unbelievable, This is the greatest horse we’ve seen since Secretariat. Unbelievable. When I was watching it I thought ‘I hope Mike takes care of him.’ Maybe I shouldn’t have come here. I was actually listening to the crowd and everyone was thinking ‘oh, he has no chance.’ That was an incredible performance. That is the best I’ve ever seen in my life.”
Smith said: “I got away that bad but I had so much confidence in him. I said to him you’re gonna have to do it like Zenyatta. He’s used to having a man standing in the gate with him and it helped that the leaders were going very hard. This horse can go 22 seconds on the lead or he can come from last and he hasn’t taken a breath. Bob had a heart attack the last time he came here – I had three when he walked out of the gates.”
Khaled Abdullah’s US racing manager Garrett O’Rourke summed it up. “I thought we were done,” he said. “Dead. I didn’t know if he wasn’t feeling right but in the back straight he started to race. You do this because good horses have to prove their worth.”
Lord Grimthorpe, his British counterpart in the Juddmonte team, was equally effusive about the performance. “When I saw the start I thought he’s going to need to be a good horse to win from there. It was so exciting. You don’t see that very often in dirt racing when they circle the field. He’s a good horse.”
The performance put everything else which had preceded it on Duabi’s US$30m in the shade including an impressive victory for John Gosden’s Jack Hobbs in the Dubai DSheema Classic.
Having missed the vast majority of last season when he sustained a stress fracture of his pelvis leaving the stall at Newmarket, John Gosden was keen to get the 2015 Irish Derby winner out early this year.
The trainer, who won the Sheema Classic with Dar Re Mi seven years ago, had him spot on yesterday and Godolphin owned five-year-old came home two and a quarter lengths clear of Seventh Heaven with Postponed a length and three quarters back in third.
“He liked the good to soft and after most of last year off he ran a super race in the Champion Stakes behind Almanzor and Found,” said Gosden. “He had been training very well so we were hopeful of a huge performance.
“We knew Ryan Moore would set the pace and in the straight it was on open horse race. William waited and went. He had a very similar pelvis problem to Douvan and this proved that they can come back from it very well.”
After winning the US $6m race for the second time, it might be some time before Buick is able to stop smiling. “The plan was to follow Highland Reel. John said he didn’t think he’d ever had the horse in better shape and it showed.”