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.