The New York Racing Association is presenting a series of diaries to help celebrate the 150th Runhappy Travers on August 24 at Saratoga Race Course. "In Their Own Words" will feature prominent owners, trainers and jockeys as they re-live some of the most stirring moments in the rich history of the "Mid-Summer Derby."
Here is the fourth and final part of the series:
Dominant Arrogate Smashes Track Record in Sizzling Travers Performance
By Bob Baffert and Mike Smith with Tom Pedulla
Trainers sometimes sense when their horse is sitting on a win. I definitely had that feeling as we prepared Arrogate for the Travers three years ago.
We had never turned him loose in the afternoon. In the morning, I could see there was a lot to work with. Rafael Bejarano, who had been riding Arrogate, said he could not lose in the Travers. He had hoped to keep the mount but he was already committed to American Freedom, another nice 3-year-old.
Mike Smith picked up the mount. I told him, "This is a really good horse, I mean a really good horse."
I did not like it when we drew the rail. I told Mike to do everything he could to get out of there in good shape, and he did that. Arrogate went to the lead, but they were moving. My wife, Jill, was alarmed. "Man, they're going fast," she said. I saw he was just doing it easily, though.
As one fast fraction turned into another and he entered the turn for home, I remember thinking to myself, "It's probably going to take its toll here."
This was the first time Arrogate was ever set down and, man, did he respond. He took off like Usain Bolt. After he crossed the finish line, I heard the track announcer say it was a track record, 1:59.36. I heard about it again when we reached the winner's circle.
When Mike got to the winner's circle, he said, "You guys were right about him. He can really run."
We had enjoyed such a great ride with American Pharoah (who ended a 37-year Triple Crown drought in 2015). He spoiled us. I figured I would never have another horse like him and then Arrogate came along.
When you set a track record at Saratoga, that's a real track record with all the history there. He just blitzed them (by 13 ½ lengths) and they were good horses. Until then, I didn't think there was another horse that could run with California Chrome in that year's Breeders' Cup Classic. Now, I knew that there was (Arrogate went on to win the Classic).
I tell people I have had two unbelievable performances with horses I trained. Arrogate was involved in both of them. First there was the Travers. When he went from last to first in the Dubai World Cup, that was unbelievable.
When it comes to a "wow" moment, nothing tops the Travers.
Bob had told me a lot about Arrogate even before he ran. The whole barn was excited about his potential, and I was excited when I got the opportunity to ride him in the Travers.
It did not make my job any easier when we drew the rail. Bob said, "Get him into a good position around the first turn and you should be in good shape."
Arrogate was a big horse and it took him some time to get going. I was extremely aggressive with him leaving the gate. I figured if I couldn't make the lead, at least I would have good position. It took three or four jumps, but once I got him going, he just took me from there. He had such a big, fluid, gorgeous stride. He covered ground so easily.
I knew we were going fast. I didn't know we were going quite as fast as we were. Going into the far turn, they came up to me. When they did, he jumped into the bridle. There is no better feeling in the world for a jockey. I said, "Man, this thing is over." I mean, he was gone.
When he opened up turning for home, I looked at the big screen just to see where everybody was. He had opened up about 10 lengths. I was just in awe.
We were jogging back when I heard the track announcer say "fastest Travers ever." I was stunned. Then I looked at the time.
We knew before the Travers that Arrogate was good. We did not know he was great.