The Del Mar Thoroughbred Club held the post-position draw for the TVG Pacific Classic on Tuesday evening, and when the world’s top-ranked horse, Arrogate, got gate No. 8 in a field of eight, a few observers groaned.
Bob Baffert was not among them.
For Saturday’s 1 1/4-mile race on dirt that will give the competitors plenty of time to establish their lanes, Arrogate’s trainer liked his spot for two very good reasons: The horse can stay out of early trouble, and he has no excuses.
“I’d rather see him out there than in the 1-hole,” Baffert said. “He’s a target. On the outside you can stay out of harm’s way and give him a chance to get his legs under him.”
In a race that Baffert said Tuesday is “monumental” for the future of Arrogate’s career, the horse with the highest earnings ever ($17 million) will try to come back from one of the biggest upsets in the history of Del Mar.
With a seven-race winning streak on the line and sent off as a 1-20 favorite, Arrogate didn’t fire and was beaten by 15 ¼ lengths by Accelerate in the July 22 San Diego Handicap.
In the 27th running of the $1 million Pacific Classic, which is part of the “Win and You’re In” Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series, Arrogate, with Mike Smith riding, once again faces Accelerate, as well as another impressive Baffert-trained entry in Collected.
Accelerate, ridden by Victor Espinoza, drew the No. 3 post position, and Collected (Martin Garcia) will be next to him in the No. 2 slot.
The three horses make up Del Mar’s morning-line favorites – Arrogate at even money, Collected at 5-2 and Accelerate at 3-1.
The five other horses are Donworth, who is 15-1 in the No. 6 position with Mario Gutierrez aboard, Curlin Road (20-1, No. 7, Flavien Prat), Hard Aces (20-1, No. 5, Santiago Gonzalez), Sorry Erik (30-1, No. 4, Kent Desomeaux), and Royal Albert Hall (No. 1, 30-1, Corey Nakatani).
Baffert has heard the speculation from some corners of the racing world that he might ultimately pull Arrogate from the Pacific Classic to save him for the Breeders’ Cup Classic in November at Del Mar.
Questioned about it, the trainer repeated four times, “He’s running.
“He needs to run on this track. I’ve got to see him run on this track,” Baffert said.
“I’m hoping Arrogate had a bad day and can get over it. He’s got to get his legs under him early (in the Pacific Classic). He got way back (in the San Diego); you can’t get way back here.”
Accelerate, trained by John Sadler, is 2-0 against Arrogate. Collected has not faced him before, but Baffert has him on on a three-race winning streak in 2017, with seven wins overall in 10 starts.
Collected is expected to force the early pace, but Baffert said he figures all three of the favorites will take to the front of the pack early.