Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Slow Into Stride

Five months ago, Arrogate -- a son of prolific stallion Unbridled’s Song -- had the world at his feet. He’d taken the summer’s marquee race for three-year-olds in record time, twice beaten champion California Chrome in Grade 1 company and had just completed a dramatic last to first drubbing abroad in Dubai. Now, following two consecutive losses, the calls for his retirement are stunningly loud.

“He’s not the same horse,” some say.

“It’s the dreaded Dubai curse,” yell others.

While it’s been shown on many an occasion the “Dubai curse” -- or the perception that horses who travel to the Dubai World Cup meeting underperform upon returning stateside -- is a complete farce, Arrogate’s run in Dubai does shed some light on his performances of late.

The narrative of Arrogate’s Dubai World Cup victory revolved around him missing the start. Upon review, however, Arrogate didn’t actually break all that badly, but it was his inability to muster any sort of speed after the break which left him out the back. In fact, Furia Cruzada to his inside broke slightly worse than the big grey and zipped past him like he was standing still, while Keen Ice -- a horse not exactly known for his gate speed -- to his outside was able to cross in front of him without too much effort. Arrogate was hampered as a result, but based on the gate speed he displayed in races like the Travers and Pegasus World Cup Invitational, he should have been able to maintain his position between them without much fret.

Arrogate was able to overcome that tactical disadvantage to win in Dubai, a race which -- Gun Runner aside -- featured opposition well below the level of the biggest US G1s. While Gun Runner has comfortably won both of his races since the Dubai World Cup, he has yet to win over the 10-furlong trip they traversed that day; Gun Runner not truly seeing out that distance over what is a testing surface at Meydan is very much a possibility.

Down to G2 level in the San Diego Handicap, Arrogate -- a horse who has been near the lead in the bulk of his races at the highest level -- found himself beaten for speed once again. While better overall in the Pacific Classic, Arrogate was being urged before they reached the ½-mile pole despite a dawdling early tempo.

In fact, even removing the aberration that was Arrogate’s troubled start in the Dubai World Cup, in his five other attempts in graded stakes company, his first quarter times have starkly slowed.


FIRST ¼ TIME (s)
LEADER’S FIRST ¼ TIME (s)
TRAVERS STAKES (G1)
23.09
23.09
BREEDERS’ CUP CLASSIC (G1)
23.67
23.28
PEGASUS WORLD CUP INV. (G1)
23.69
23.46
DUBAI WORLD CUP (G1)
26.61
24.81
TVG SAN DIEGO HANDICAP (G2)
24.16
23.49
TVG PACIFIC CLASSIC (G1)
23.93
23.76

Of course, there are differences in times between surfaces, but what remains clear in his American races is that he is producing slower first quarter times than he did 12 months ago and he’s doing so in races which are being run at a slower early tempo than ever before. It’s a double whammy of sorts in that he’s suddenly beaten for speed in the early stages of his races and is simultaneously catching races which on tempo alone would favor leaders.

This was more apparent than ever in the Pacific Classic when he was urged mightily by Mike Smith out of the gate and still could not wrest the lead from Collected, who by no means was going fast for the level. The tactics were sound -- try to get him to the lead. When you have the superior stayer in the field by a long way, the most suitable tactic is nearly always to ping the horse out in front and never look back. Unfortunately for Arrogate, his large frame and stride have left him seemingly unable to do that these days.  

Arrogate has never been the fastest horse per se, but he produces much more consistent sectionals than his peers. Below is the peak speed (in miles per hour) reached in each of his runs to date, with those runs in which his top speed was the fastest (or joint fastest) in the field highlighted:


Peak Speed
4/17 Maiden (LRC)
N/A
6/5 Maiden (SA)
40.5
6/24 Allowance (SA)
40.6
8/4 Allowance (DMR)
39.9
Travers (SAR)
N/A
Breeders' Cup Classic (SA)
40.7
Pegasus World Cup (GP)
42.6
Dubai World Cup (MEYDAN)
41
TVG San Diego (DMR)
41.7
TVG Pacific Classic (DMR)
40.2

Rarely -- especially in the races thought to be among the best of his career -- has Arrogate reached the fastest peak speed of the field. Instead, the difference between Arrogate’s top speed and his average speed has historically been much less than his peers. In the Dubai World Cup, for example, Arrogate’s peak speed was over two miles per hour slower than top rival Gun Runner. In the final 1/16th of the race, however, Arrogate was averaging only 1.24 mph off his peak speed of 41 mph whereas Gun Runner was averaging 5.7 mph off of his peak speed of 43 mph. In the world of dirt routes, which is known for races finishing far more slowly than they begin, Arrogate’s ability to merely stay on at the end of his races has earned him several victories.

On some level, he’s similar to former Hong Kong galloper Designs On Rome. Named horse of the year during his illustrious career, the son of Holy Roman Emperor was brilliant when everything went his way as he -- similarly to Arrogate -- was the king of outstaying his middle distance counterparts. Routinely struggling to keep up in the early stages of his races, Designs On Rome regularly had to be ridden in patches mid-race in order to maintain his focus. He was best suited by races which were run at a fast early-slow middle tempo as to soften up the leaders and allow him to swoop around a compact field.

Nobody will argue that the Arrogate we saw in the Pacific Classic performed at the same level that he did at his peak, but could the answer be that at this stage of his career, Arrogate has simply become a more dour individual who would be better suited by further or at the very least by a quicker tempo which would turn the race into a true stamina test?

These horses aren’t machines, as they say, and even Arrogate and his lofty speed figures are no exception. He may not be one of “the greats” -- not a Dr Fager who set the dirt mile record while carrying 132 lbs or Seattle Slew winning against top flight competition following a life-threatening physical setback. When all the cylinders are firing, there’s a brilliance about Arrogate which is unmatched by any other horse in America. Unfortunately these days, without his past gate speed on his side, it appears he’ll need everything to go his way in running in order for us to see the best of him again.

2 comments:

Stewart Winograd said...

Thanks, Candice. Interesting take.

I view Arrogate's performance through the lens of the purses he has been running for. The Travers purse was $1.25 million, much higher than the allowance races he had been running in, and Arrogate emerged with one of his great performances. His next three races -- the BC Classic, Pegasus World Cup, and Dubai World Cup -- had purses of $6 million, $12 million and $10 million respectively.

The San Diego Handicap purse was a mere $300,000, or just 3% of his previous race. I believe Arrogate was not trained to be in peak form for this race, hoping that he would win on memory. He ran better in the Pacific Classic for a purse of $1 million, but still below his previous standard of excellence. I expect the BC Classic to bring forth Arrogate's best race since Dubai.
This does not in any lessen your analysis. The BC Classic is likely to have a lively pace, which would play into Arrogate's strength as a stayer and lessen the disadvantage of his slower and slower opening quarters.

Unknown said...

I think it’s simply a case of a horse not liking a surface.
Happens all the time, great horses aren’t immune to it either.

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