Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert was his usual cool self with $1 million on the line in the Pacific Classic on Saturday at Del Mar.
Wearing designer sunglasses, a blue sports coat, a light red shirt, tan pants and loafers, Baffert was either texting on his smartphone or smiling as he greeted fans and friends in the paddock, even taking photos with Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr, who brought the Larry O’Brien Trophy to show off.
“I’m always the same,” Baffert said. “I don’t have to run.”
Then came the big race, and Baffert’s horse won. It just wasn’t the 3-5 favorite Arrogate, North America’s richest thoroughbred. The other Baffert horse in the field, Collected, went to the front at the outset under jockey Martin Garcia and never looked back, holding off Arrogate by half a length to win the 1 1/4-mile race and earn an automatic berth in the $6-million Breeders’ Cup Classic at Del Mar on Nov. 4.
It was the second consecutive race in which Arrogate, once the world’s No. 1-ranked horse, was beaten at Del Mar. He finished fourth in the San Diego Handicap on July 22 and plenty in the crowd of 23,509 on Saturday are probably wondering if the track’s deep surface is affecting Arrogate’s performance.
“It’s not his favorite,” jockey Mike Smith said.
Baffert needed for Arrogate to have an improved effort to consider moving on to the Breeders’ Cup Classic.
“Coming into this race, there was a lot of uncertainty about Arrogate because of the uncharacteristic run of his last time,” Baffert said. “For a while, it didn’t look like he was going to do anything.”
Smith had Arrogate in third place, behind Collected and Accelerate. Down the back side, Smith said, “I was on the pedal all the way.”
Arrogate closed late but never really threatened Collected, a 4-year-old son of City Zip who is four for four in 2017. Accelerate finished third.
“I was happy the way he dug in,” Baffert said.
But Arrogate still isn’t running like the horse that won the $6-million Breeders Cup Classic at Santa Anita, the $12-million Pegasus World Cup Invitational at Gulfstream Park and the $10-million Dubai World Cup.
“It’s not the track surface,” Baffert said. “It’s him mentally and physically.”
Baffert, however, said he was encouraged.
“Even though Arrogate got beat, he got beat by a good horse,” he said. “It’s not the Arrogate we’re used to, but I feel off of this, as long as he’s healthy, I have a lot more confidence coming in here for the Breeders’ Cup.”
Meanwhile, there’s a new favorite for the Breeders’ Cup Classic. It could be East Coast star Gun Runner or Baffert’s newest stable star, Collected, who was sent off at odds of 3-1.
“When I asked him at the top of the stretch, he was running 100%,” Garcia said. “I hit him a few times, but he was giving me his all. I could feel Mike’s horse coming. It was like an animal creeping up behind me. But we had enough to get it done.”
In the $252,760 Del Mar Handicap, Hunt and jockey Flavien Prat won by three-quarters of a length over Itsinthepost to earn a guaranteed spot in the Breeders’ Cup Turf.
In the $300,000 Del Mar Oaks, Dream Dancing won by a nose over Beau Recall under jockey Julien Leparoux.