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It’s Chrome vs. Arrogate, for horse racing’s richest prize

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HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. — California Chrome and Arrogate both got trophies last weekend. For Chrome, it was Horse of the Year. For Arrogate, it was the title of World’s Greatest Racehorse.

Both of those awards were bestowed by humans.

Another crown awaits Saturday – and this time, the horses will decide.

The richest race ever contested, the inaugural $12 million Pegasus World Cup, has arrived. Favored California Chrome, in his final race before retirement, drew the outside post. Arrogate, the second morning-line choice who beat California Chrome in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, drew the inside post. Neither spot is ideal, and that only adds to the drama that will play out over 1 1/8 miles at Gulfstream Park.

“What else would we be doing right now? Getting ready for the Super Bowl?” Arrogate trainer Bob Baffert asked. “Come on. This is our Super Bowl.”

California Chrome was installed as the early 6-5 favorite; Arrogate is at 7-5. Officials expect the handle just for the Pegasus race alone could exceed $20 million, simply because of all the buzz that surrounds the rematch of the top two dirt horses in the world.

There are 10 other horses entered – three are Grade 1 winners – but if anyone other than California Chrome or Arrogate wins it would be a major upset.

“I’ve been wanting a rematch for a long time,” California Chrome trainer Art Sherman said.

Without this concept, the rematch wouldn’t have happened. California Chrome is headed to the stud farm next week to begin breeding and retirement, and would likely be there already if not for this enormous carrot. The winner’s connections are assured at least $7 million, and if California Chrome prevails he will retire as the first $20 million on-track earner in the sport’s history.

Both horses look to be in top form, and Sherman appealed unsuccessfully to postpone California Chrome’s retirement. But the mares are waiting, some of their owners already paying $40,000 in advance to have a chance of being near the front of the California Chrome breeding line.

“We’re in the position where we have all these mares booked to him and we bought a lot mares to breed to him,” said Frank Taylor of Taylor Made Farm, Chrome’s new home as of next week. “It was kind of hard to turn back.”

In case $12 million in purse money didn’t provide enough drama, the post positions add plenty of intrigue.

Arrogate starting in the No. 1 hole puts pressure on jockey Mike Smith to break particularly well, or else their race could be lost in the first few steps. Starting out in the No. 12 position means California Chrome and jockey Victor Espinoza will have to be aggressive early, since it’s a short distance from the gate to the first turn.

So Chrome’s final race comes with a major challenge attached. Horses starting from the No. 12 spot or farther – the higher the number, the farther away they are from the rail to begin the race – are 1-for-18 in races at this distance at Gulfstream, track officials said.

“It’s not great. I’ll say that right off the bat,” Hall of Fame jockey Jerry Bailey said. “But I think it’s less of a problem for a horse like Chrome than any other horse. First of all, he’s accomplished about anything a race horse could. Second of all, that’s his running style anyway. I think the 12 hurts him far less than potentially the 1 could hurt Arrogate if things don’t go well.”

Chrome has been at Gulfstream for the better part of a month, acclimating. He’s been getting visitors just about every day, and Sherman said his horse not only knows what the limelight is but basks in all the attention.

“He amazes me every time I watch him,” Sherman said. “He’s a once-in-a-lifetime horse.”

Arrogate might not be far behind, if at all. He exploded onto the scene when he won the Travers at Saratoga last August, and has been on a meteoric rise ever since.

A win on Saturday, especially with Chrome retiring, would cement Arrogate as the biggest star in the game right now.

“I’ll miss Chrome,” Smith said. “I’m a fan of his as well. I love watching him run. I love racing against him. I know what he’s capable of. Horses like him, they don’t come around very often.”

The same, obviously, can be said for races like this one.

Baffert hoping Arrogate gives him third Dubai World Cup win

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DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Having taken over the mantle as the world’s best racehorse from California Chrome, Arrogate will attempt on Saturday to wear another crown that last fitted his illustrious American compatriot, the Dubai World Cup.

All eyes are on the 4-year-old Arrogate, who lost on debut 11 months ago but hasn’t lost since.

He’s won the Breeders’ Cup Classic and the inaugural $12 million Pegasus World Cup this year to stretch his unbeaten streak to six. In both races, Arrogate defeated Chrome, who won the Dubai World Cup last year at Meydan Racecourse by five lengths despite jockey Victor Espinoza hanging on to a loose saddle for most of it.

Under jockey Mike Smith, Arrogate has forged a winning combination in his last three Group 1 races: Travers Stakes, Breeders’ Cup Classic and Pegasus World Cup.

In Dubai, they have drawn stall nine among 14 contenders, a position which fails to douse the confidence of his trainer Bob Baffert.

“Nine is fine,” said Baffert, who also trained 2015 U.S. Triple Crown winner American Pharoah.

“He’s settled in pretty well. As long as he shows up, that’s the key. If he runs his race, we know what he can do.”

Smith was all praise for his mount, ranked the No. 1 racehorse in the world.

“I have been blessed with some really, really good horses, but I am not sure I have ever sit on one like this,” Smith said.

“Everything about him, his disposition, his mechanics, the way he gets over the ground … at times you feel as if you are running downhill instead of a level ground. What amazes me most is when the race is over, it looks as if he did not put much effort into it. His recovery time is so quick.”

Arrogate’s Breeders’ Cup Classic and Pegasus World Cup wins came over 2,000 meters on dirt, the same distance and conditions as the $10 million Dubai World Cup.

Baffert hopes Arrogate can give him a third Dubai World Cup victory after Silver Charm (1998) and Captain Steve (2001).

He suffered a heart attack during his last visit to Dubai in 2012, and watched the World Cup five nights later with stents in two of his blocked arteries. He also watched from even farther afield last year as his other horse, Hoppertunity, finished third behind Chrome and Mike de Kock’s Mubtaahij.

He’s giving Hoppertunity another chance.

“Both my horses are happy and healthy,” Baffert said. “He (Hoppertunity) should be collecting a check again. That is what he does, picks up the pieces in these big races. He reminds me of Pac-Man, he just keeps going. A Dubai World Cup 1-2, that would be something.”

Mubtaahij is also back, although he will start under Christophe Soumillon from the widest of stalls.

“Like everyone, we wanted low,” the Belgian jockey said. “I will have to … hope for some luck.”

The Dubai World Cup features a nine-race card offering $30 million across six Group 1 and three Group 2 races on turf and dirt.

Six three-year-olds nominated late to Triple Crown series

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Thunder Snow, winner of the UAE 2000 Guineas, is among six 3-year-olds made eligible to compete in the Triple Crown series during the late nomination period.

The late nominees, which required a payment of $6,000 each, raise the total nominations to 425 for the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes. The late nomination period closed Monday. The early nomination window closed in January and required a payment of $600.

Ireland-bred Thunder Snow, owned by Godolphin Racing, is set to run Saturday in the $2 million UAE Derby in Dubai. The colt has three wins in seven career starts for trainer Saeed bin Suroor.

The other late nominees are Hollywood Handsome, trained by Dallas Stewart; More Than Words, trained by Charlie LoPresti; Parlor, trained by Eddie Kenneally; Rapid Dial, trained by Ingrid Mason; and Stretch’s Stone, trained by Bruce Levine.

Thoroughbreds that weren’t nominated to the Triple Crown have one final chance by paying a supplemental fee. The fee for the Derby is $200,000; $150,000 for the Preakness; and $75,000 for the Belmont.