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TrackNotes: On Saturday, We Saw 'The Greatest Horse Since Secretariat'

Man o' War, the original Big Red, is considered one of, if not the, greatest Thoroughbred race horses who ever lived.

You'll get a thoughtful debate by fans of the other Big Red, Secretariat, with one advantage being that there are still people alive who saw Secretariat.

We cry that horses don't run enough over too few years, but Man o' War himself never raced past three years old. He won 20, lost one, famously, to Upset. Man o' War, carrying 15 more pounds, zigged, Upset zagged, and the race was pretty much over. Fifty more yards, however . . .

We still vicariously enjoy Man o' War these days through Tiznow, a direct descendant and one of today's best sires. And we can pop in the DVD any time we want to enjoy Seabiscuit, with the climactic match race with War Admiral, Man o' War's son and a great sire himself. The circular tidiness of this all is most satisfying.

As if they could, our jaws gaped that much more Saturday, when race announcer Terry Spargo, in the runout, declared "We are seeing the Man o' War of the 21st century!"

On Saturday, Arrogate, in one of the most important races on the planet, ran the 10 furlongs of a lifetime in the Dubai World Cup at the magnificent Meydan Race Course. Group I, $10 million purse, $6 million to the winner. The son of Unbridled's Song, out of the Distorted Humor mare Bubbler, is now the richest race horse ever at more than $17 million, current or past dollars be damned.

A race by any horse in any lifetime. And how happy it is to say, our lifetime.

His race life? That's what sets you right down on your britches. Because without being greedy, we don't know what his future holds. Only he does, if they let him, and he's not saying.

Nose down coming out of the saddling shed, it looked like shyness, but he was protecting himself. He seemed to know, to be able to look down and away from the noise and the crowd and the buzz and the deafening hush that people, race fans, at Meydan and all around the world threw at him. Think he doesn't understand when people act differently when he walks into the room? SHHH, there he is, in loud and quiet voices.

All we do, rather foolishly, if you think about it, is project, divine the feelings and thoughts of the horse. But as much as he could, he told us yesterday what he was thinking.

These horses are very intelligent, so I'm thinking they just want to keep it simple: Let me run. And in this race, the biggest of them all, for money he doesn't understand even though money is a huge reason why they race, he was smart and neat and tidy, minutes later having to do all of the filthy, dirty, nasty work he had to do to win.

Arrogate was magnificent.

His jockey, Hall of Famer Mike Smith, his guardian, if you will, who got here knowing these things, said as much. "He gets better (at the pre-race)."

This was no la-di-da. He had a horrible trip, starting immediately in the first and second steps out, where races can be and are almost always lost.

"He's used to having a gate human (in the starting gate chute) and he didn't see one. He was looking all around," Smith said. Welcome to racing in a foreign land. No lead ponies, unless you beg for one, and no gate attendants.

The 9 horse, he didn't stumble, not unaware or anything, he just didn't launch. Keen, but not in a bad way, he's above that, Arrogate tried to make up for it right away and was immediately pinched, bumped mere steps out of the gate. He quickly was last in the field.

Smith, what were you thinking? This is where races, no matter who you ride, are lost.

Having ridden so many great ones, and aren't we lucky to have seen it, Smith channeled the lady.

"I missed the break completely," Smith said. "I said, 'I'm just going to ride him like Zenyatta. I had no choice but to just sit there and let him collect himself."

Zenyatta, one loss ever, consecutive wins in the same atmosphere as Citation, was an amazon of a filly and mare, who took furlongs to build up her planetary momentum. She loved last place, got going, got them in the final hundred yards, or better sometimes.

On the backstretch, Arrogate was clear, but six or seven lanes outside. He probably ran the equivalent of an extra furlong.

Chicken, egg. Smith was relaxed and Arrogate was relaxed and Smith . . .

Finally in his element on the turn, don't blink, because Arrogate inhaled several as he made his move. "There he goes!" I'll tell you I yelled. Reminiscent of Secretariat's move in the first turn of the Preakness.

You just knew, right then, the race was over. The track just disked back to normal after a day of rain, Arrogate worked his damned way into the stretch where, in his last step on the turn and his first step in the stretch, he was bumped again. Just a nuisance to him, straight ahead focus, job at hand.

Gun Runner, who would have needed 10 furlongs of Arrogate calamity to win this one, was going strong, primed for this race. Any other race without this horse, Gun Runner wins. He gave it everything.

Freedom, Arrogate just absolutely poured on the coals two-plus lengths.

Bob Baffert, who nearly died in Dubai after a heart attack in 2012, is a changed man who understands, and appreciates, better than he did before. Once steely, now he savors.

He was incredulous, flabbergasted, right alongside us all.

"I was thinking, 'Maybe I shouldn't have brought him. Maybe he's getting tired.' . . . I thought, 'If he can't win, Mike will take care of him and not abuse him.'"

The silver-maned cool dude, eyes as big as saucers, was at once speechless, but also tripping to describe it.

"I thought then, 'If he wins this race, he's the most incredible horse I've ever seen,'" he said.

This from a man who trained American Pharoah and so many others. Had already won this race twice, with Silver Charm in 1998 and Captain Steve three years later.

His entire life passing in front of his eyes, and with the utmost respect for 'Pharoah, Baffert went there.

"He's the greatest horse since Secretariat."

Pausing to realize what he just had said, knowing what it meant, Baffert, with the wonderment we all had, blurted to the interviewer and all who could hear, "Can you believe he won that race??!!"

He was on our level, my level. Fandom. Just watch and enjoy it. In the end, that's all we can do.

On one hand, it's simple. Arrogate is just plain damned fast. With all of his trouble, he ran this race in 2:02-1/5. Pretty cool for 11 furlongs, oops, this was a 10-furlong race. He annihilated the Travers and Saratoga record last summer. The boy can run. And that's something in any league.

But there's more. He seems to know one thing: win. But he can do it in the most creative ways. Smith said he geared him down at one point, letting him gather himself.

Many, many horses at that point would have given up. Or worse, their riders would have given up. Smith let Arrogate tell him what he wanted to do, what he had left. Big Boy and Little Man. They listened to each other. You could see it.

In the head-on shot coming down the final 350 meters, Arrogate looked only ahead, straight ahead.

I know I've waxed many times here, for good reason. You're nothing if not sincere, and I won't take any of it back.

But Arrogate's and Smith's and Baffert's performances Saturday made it a race for the ages.

It's all right there, forever.

He was the 9 horse. Watch it as many times as it takes to see what they did.

You'll enjoy it, I promise.


Tom Chambers is our man on the rail. He welcomes your comments.

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Posted on Jun 9, 2021