The conventional wisdom is that California Chrome, despite losing the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) to Arrogate, will be both the reigning Horse of the Year and the betting favorite when the two meet again a week from Saturday in the $12 million Pegasus World Cup (G1) at Gulfstream Park.
No two races are necessarily run alike and the way the Pegasus World Cup unfolds could in part be determined by the post draw for both protagonists as well as the other 10 horses in the field. However, much of California Chrome’s appeal from the betting public’s perspective will obviously be based on what they witnessed through the first nine furlongs of the Breeders’ Cup Classic.
The first 1 1/8 miles of the Classic saw California Chrome at the height of his powers, running freely and comparably to his displays in the Pacific Classic (G1) and Awesome Again (G1), both of which turned out to be emphatic victories. With a furlong to go in the 10-furlong test, California Chrome was still ahead of Arrogate by 1 1/2 lengths and appeared unlikely to be run down.
Besides the fact the Pegasus World Cup will be run at nine furlongs, observers that thought California Chrome was given an overconfident ride (remember the peeks back at the quarter pole) by Victor Espinoza will also take to heart the jockey’s recent comments to thoroughbredracing.com:
“If things didn’t work out the way I rode him before, I’m not going to ride him again like that next time. I’m never going to ride the same when I get beat,” Espinoza said.
California Chrome might indeed turn the tables on his younger foe and head off to stud on a winning note and blaze of glory. However, there’s still enough reasons to believe Arrogate is the better horse and will prove so again on the opposite side of the country, even at the shorter distance.
Now might be an appropriate time to reveal (again) a few things that might be construed, by die-hard Chromies at least, as a personal bias against the California-bred. I did not vote for him as champion three-year-old or Horse of the Year in 2014, nor did I support his 2016 Horse of the Year candidacy. I did feel he was the most likely winner of the Classic, and if my top three selections had been required for publication somewhere I’m sure his name would have been listed first, though I felt he was certainly vulnerable to Arrogate if the latter ran back to his Travers (G1), which is what ultimately happened.
My three-year-old and Horse of the Year selection in 2014 was Shared Belief, who we all remember didn’t get the best of trips in that year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic. California Chrome got a fine trip but was still out-finished by two rivals in an otherwise solid effort. Believing he was still the best horse, I was part of a very small minority in the electorate that stuck with Shared Belief at Eclipse time. Most of the anti-California Chrome vote wound up going to Classic winner Bayern instead.
Fast forward a few months to the San Antonio (G2), which marked a rematch between Shared Belief and California Chrome. Despite California Chrome’s victory at the polls, Shared Belief was a slight favorite in that nine-furlong test at even-money, while Chrome was sent off at 7-5. Now, Shared Belief had the benefit of a seven-furlong prep in the Malibu (G1) while California Chrome was just starting to leg up for a tilt in the Dubai World Cup (G1), which didn’t require him to go all out to win the San Antonio. However, there was some sense of pride among us Shared Belief backers that our judgment from a few months earlier was to some extent vindicated when the ill-fated and much-missed gelding prevailed by 1 1/2 lengths.
My point in re-hashing this history is that my post-2014 Classic impression, that Shared Belief was still better than California Chrome despite the Breeders’ Cup result, is perhaps a good enough reason for me to stand firm with my post-2016 Classic impression that Arrogate is a slightly better horse now than California Chrome.
It’s definitely too early to start handicapping the Pegasus World Cup, especially when we don’t know which horse will start from where, but any one of several theoretical pace scenarios might not necessarily work in California Chrome’s favor. Arrogate is certainly no stranger to taking the bull by the horns early and running away, and it would be fascinating to see how California Chrome responded if he wound up the hunter against a speed horse of that quality.
The presence of Noble Bird, who admittedly isn’t the most reliable at getting out of the gate in a timely manner, is another interesting piece of the puzzle. If he’s on his toes, is he capable of softening a potentially eager California Chrome enough to aid a closing Arrogate? Depending on the draw, I could see it both ways. But by thinking such a scenario possible, it would make little sense for an Arrogate backer to jump off the bandwagon.
Unlike the dynamics of early 2015, California Chrome has had a prep for the Pegasus World Cup and this is his ultimate goal and swan song. Arrogate, who hasn’t raced since the Classic, has seen his preparations interrupted a bit by the wet weather in Southern California. But with $12 million on the line this is not going to be treated as some sort of tune-up for something bigger in the short term. There is nothing bigger.
While it might be proper to reassess our opinions on the Pegasus early next week after post positions are drawn, there’s not much right now to convince those of us that believe Arrogate is generally the better horse that he should be opposed next week.