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.

Flightline, Pletcher, Godolphin lead way at Eclipse Awards

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Pat McDonogh/USA TODAY NETWORK
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PALM BEACH, Fla. — Flightline ran away in all six of his races, and ran away with top honors at the Eclipse Awards on Thursday night.

And trainer Todd Pletcher, for the first time in nearly a decade, received the sport’s top prize as well.

Flightline – the now-retired winner of last year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic to cap an unbeaten six-race career – won Horse of the Year as well as the Eclipse as top Older Dirt Male. It was no surprise that Flightline took home both awards, and he’s now standing stud.

“We’ll hope that his future is as bright as his past,” co-owner Kosta Hronis said.

Godolphin was also a double winner, sweeping the Eclipses as top owner and top breeder for the second consecutive year. It was also the third consecutive top-owner Eclipse for Godolphin.

“This is truly a golden era for Godolphin racing,” said Michael Banahan, the stable’s director of bloodstock. “And these awards and accolades recognize how special it is.”

It was Pletcher’s eighth Eclipse, extending his record for the most by any trainer, and his first since 2014. It was one of the few close races in the voting; Pletcher got 108 first-place votes, while four-time Eclipse winner Chad Brown got 95 and finished second.

“This really is not an individual award. This is a team award,” Pletcher said. “This is an award about the owners, and most importantly, the horses.”

Irad Ortiz Jr. won the Eclipse as top jockey for the fourth time in the last five years; he tied Pat Day and Javier Castellano for third-most in history, behind only seven-time winner Jerry Bailey and five-time winner Laffit Pincay Jr.

Ortiz led all jockeys with more than $37 million in purses in 2022.

“Wow,” Ortiz said. “It’s been an amazing year for me.”

Forte won the Eclipse as 2-year-old male, and will enter this year’s Triple Crown season as one of the early favorites.

“We’re all in this game for a horse like Forte,” said Mike Repole, the horse’s co-owner along with Florida Panthers owner Vincent Viola and Teresa Viola. “We’re all in this game to one day maybe own a 2-year-old that has a chance. It’s great to have the Kentucky Derby favorite. … Forte’s an incredible horse.”

Epicenter won the 3-year-old male Eclipse, after running second at both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes, then winning the Jim Dandy and Travers at Saratoga over the summer.

Wonder Wheel was the winner as 2-year-old filly, while Nest won the Eclipse in the 3-year-old filly division. Malathaat was the Eclipse winner for older dirt female, Goodnight Olive for female sprinter and Regal Glory for female turf horse.

Elite Power was picked as the top male sprinter, Modern Games won the Eclipse for male turf horse, and Hewick was the Eclipse winner in the steeplechase division.

Jose Antonio Gomez won as top apprentice jockey.

The Eclipse Awards are voted on by members of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, the Daily Racing Form and National Turf Writers And Broadcasters.

Trainer Bob Baffert’s ban from racing in New York is over

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Courier Journal/USA TODAY Sports
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Bob Baffert can once again enter horses at New York’s major tracks.

The Hall of Fame trainer’s one-year ban by the New York Racing Association ended Wednesday, allowing him to enter horses as soon as Thursday.

“I was disappointed they even did it, but it’s water under the bridge,” Baffert told The Associated Press by phone.

He was suspended last June for repeated medication violations, although none of them occurred in New York. He was barred from Aqueduct, Belmont and Saratoga. A panel credited Baffert for time served for an initial suspension, which allowed him to return this week.

Aqueduct is currently holding its 44-day winter meet that runs through March 26. Baffert doesn’t typically run horses this time of year in New York; he targets the biggest stakes races at Belmont in the spring and Saratoga in the summer.

Baffert remains under a two-year ban by Churchill Downs Inc., which sidelined him after Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit tested positive for a substance that is not allowed on race day. The penalty expires shortly after the Kentucky Derby in May. However, Baffert is fighting the suspension in federal court.

The Southern California-based trainer has a big weekend coming up around the country, although not in New York.

He has horses running at three tracks on Saturday.

Defunded is entered in the $3 million Pegasus World Cup at Gulfstream in Florida, where Baffert assistant Jimmy Barnes will be on hand.

Arabian Knight goes into the $750,000 Southwest Stakes as the early favorite at Oaklawn in Arkansas. Baffert has won the Kentucky Derby prep race a record-tying five times and will travel to Hot Springs to watch the 3-year-old colt.

“It’s going to be a good test for him. The only way to find out is to run him long,” he said. “It’s going to take a superior horse to do that and I’m hoping that he is.”

The Southwest offers Kentucky Derby qualifying points to the top five finishers. Arabian Knight won’t receive any points regardless of his placing because of Baffert’s Derby ban.

Hopper will run in the $200,000 San Pasqual Stakes on Saturday at Santa Anita.

On Sunday at the same track, Baffert has entered four of the five horses set to run in the $200,000 San Vicente Stakes for 3-year-olds.