Friday, 18 August 2017 09:21

Arrogate, Songbird Have Something to Prove

By Brendan O’Meara | Sports

It’s an East and West edition, a tale of two coastal stakes races, male and female, and questions abound.

Every race, at this point, is a prep race for the Breeders’ Cup. Those who harbored hopes of seeing the one-loss filly Songbird take on the recently defanged Arrogate in the Grade I $1 million Pacific Classic—run at a mighty 10 furlongs—got a heaping tablespoon of disappointment heaped onto their Grape Nuts. 

As a refresher, you may remember Arrogate as the previously invincible hell monster sent from the fiery rivers of Hades to wreak unspeakable havoc on dirt tracks the world over. He laughs at 10 furlongs and thinks two minutes is for chumps.

Last out Arrogate finished way off the board in the San Diego Handicap, didn’t fire in the least, which prompted his trainer, Robert Baffert, to take the blame telling people that he didn’t have Arrogate ready for the race. Accelerate won the race adding extra juice to these West Coast horses.

It could be argued that the Dubai trip, the one in which Arrogate used the nuclear option on Gun Runner et al, filed down his sharpness. That trans-world flight has a way of blunting the knife. A horse gets fat in the purse and loses a few lengths off his speed. There’s precedent.

The way Arrogate responded in the San Diego Handicap could be attributed to a training error and hubris. Baffert likely thought an 80-percent Arrogate would have been good enough for the win, take a picture, collect a nice little check and get on with training. Now there’s uncertainty as to whether the horse is the same, or, if he’s not, how much harder will he have to work to attain the spoils of late 2016 and early 2017.

We will know soon, but the gray horse with the infinite stride appears ready after a whistling half-mile breeze in 47 and change at Del Mar. Now we wait.

On the other side of the country, Songbird makes her return to the track for her third start of the year in the Grade I $700,000 Personal Ensign against her own sex on Aug. 26. As with any great filly or mare, the racing fans hunger to see the best females take their turns against males.

Folks eager to see Songbird try her hand in the Pacific Classic had their dreams dashed. This is a good thing. The Pacific Classic would have been a terrible debut against males for her even if the field were small and the pace favorable. (And besides, who would Magic Mike Smith choose? Arrogate or Songbird?)

Ten furlongs against accomplished older males is a big ask at this time of year for this filly. Her last race, a somewhat pedestrian win in the Del Cap at Delaware Park, was contested over 10 furlongs and she was allowed to set tepid fractions in a small field. That final time of 2:03.96 doesn’t inspire backflips and neither does her final quarter mile time of 26.46 seconds. But, again, this was only her second start of the year and she got thrown into 1 ¼ miles. At least she won. The Personal Ensign turns back to nine furlongs.

Never far from owner Rick Porter’s mind is Eight Belles, the filly who broke both her front legs following her second-place finish in the Kentucky Derby in 2008. It would be three years before he ran another top female horse, Havre de Grace, against males in the Woodward Stakes, but no horse has been as brilliant and nearly perfect as Songbird for Porter. 

So, yes, with full knowledge that all roads lead to the Breeders’ Cup, we’re better off waiting for the super match between Arrogate and Songbird, if it happens at all. 

Who wants to see these two clash in the Pacific Classic except Del Mar racetrack execs and SoCal fans? It would, no doubt, be a thrilling day at the races celebrating the meeting of two stars, two future Hall of Famers conditioned by Hall of Fame trainers. 

In the case of these horses, the two need at least one more race. One to quell the demons, the other to gain some footing. 

It’s conceivable that both will train up to the Breeders’ Cup from these races and the hope is that both come back safe and victorious, adding gas to the Breeders’ Cup bonfire and the potential for the most electric Classic since Zenyatta hit the nitro and overtook Gio Ponti in 2009. 

Brendan O’Meara is a freelance writer and author of Six Weeks in Saratoga. He also hosts The Creative Nonfiction Podcast. 

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