Mike Smith’s first thought after the Dubai World Cup on Saturday was of Zenyatta, the exceptional horse he rode from a long last to first in the 2009 Breeders’ Cup Classic. But Arrogate is even better than Zenyatta and proved it with an astonishing performance, shrugging off the loss of several lengths at the start to win going away without ever leaving second gear.
Some very good horses have won the Dubai World Cup over the past 21 years, and some very average ones too. The only way Arrogate’s performance is likely to be bettered in the next 21 years, however, is if Bob Baffert’s four-year-old returns for another attempt at the race next year.
Arrogate is used to the standard American practice of putting a handler in the stalls. Without one, he simply fell out of the gate and turned away from the stands with all 13 of his rivals in front of him. Smith waited until they were into the back stretch to unleash Arrogate’s immense stride and start to make some ground, but he was still nearly 10 lengths adrift of the pace halfway around the far turn.
The next few seconds removed any lingering doubt that Arrogate is one of the very best dirt runners for many years. He made ground around the bend with ease and then lengthened again, closing down and then catching Gun Runner, the leader, with a furlong still to cover. As he crossed the line two and a quarter lengths clear of Gun Runner, with Neolithic another five back in third, he became the first horse in history to win $17m in prize money, less than a year after finishing third on his debut at Los Alamitos.
Arrogate is owned by Prince Khalid Abdullah, whose Frankel retired unbeaten after 14 starts in 2012. He has not reached that pinnacle yet, but took a significant stride towards it here in the eighth race of his career and promises to be closer still by the time his career draws to a close.
“That was very emotional for me,” Baffert said. “I couldn’t believe it. I thought: ‘We’ve come all this way for this, how could he break so poorly?’ I heard the whole crowd, the heavy sigh, even the announcer said: ‘He is dead last,’ or whatever, and I’m thinking: ‘What is this? There is no chance he can win, this is not Hollywood, this is not a script where he comes running at the end.’
“Then on that turn for home, with that tremendous long stride he was gobbling up the ground. I was thinking, no way. I was watching this unfold before me thinking: ‘Where has this horse come from?’ He shows us something spectacular every time he runs.”
Smith is unsure why Arrogate was so slow to stride, but was growing in confidence that his partner was up to the task well before Baffert started to believe. “He’s used to having someone stick their head up in the doors,” Smith said, “but whatever happened, I just think it happened for a reason. It made him much more impressive. It might have been a boring race, it made it an unbelievable race.
“Once I got away like that, I had to sit there and let him collect himself.
“Zenyatta came from way back, it took her a while to get going. Once we were on the backside, I moved a little and he jumped at them and I thought: ‘We’re still here.’ I called on him heading for home and he just took off, it was incredible. I won the Breeders’ Cup Classic on Zenyatta, people said that was the greatest race but I think this race has topped it.”
Baffert will work backwards from the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Del Mar in November when planning the remainder of Arrogate’s campaign and he is unlikely to see a racecourse again for a couple of months at least while he is freshened up for the summer and autumn.
But the memory of this performance will not fade easily. Arrogate’s slow start and electrifying finish advertised his immense talent not just to his home audience in the United States, but around the world.
“He had to establish himself,” Baffert said. “We all knew he was this great horse but he hadn’t had a lot of racing. If anybody wasn’t super-impressed with that, they don’t like horse racing. I still can’t believe he won the race. How did that happen? How did he pull it off?”
Jack Hobbs, the 2015 Irish Derby winner, recorded his first win since September 2015 and beat three of last season’s Group One winners in the process as he stormed clear to win the Dubai Sheema Classic by two and a quarter lengths with Postponed, who took the Sheema 12 months ago, a well-beaten third.
William Buick tracked the pace set by Highland Reel, who won last season’s Breeders’ Cup Turf from the front, before striking for home at the top of the home stretch. He stayed on strongly all the way to the line as Postponed dropped away, and it was Seventh Heaven, who took last season’s Yorkshire Oaks, who emerged from the pursuers to take second place.
Sheikh Mohammed was in the winner’s enclosure to welcome back Jack Hobbs, along with John Gosden, the five-year-old’s trainer, whose perseverance with a horse who because of injury had only two outings last year injury was rewarded with victory in one of the richest turf events in the calendar.
“His father [Halling] was a talented horse, but quite delicate,” Gosden said. “He did his best racing at five. When [Sheikh Mohammed] bought into him before the  Derby, he talked about the Sheema Classic and I said, as a five-year-old.
“I didn’t plan not to race last year, but he got a stress fracture of the pelvis and we lost the year. We could only go for the Champion [Stakes in October] and he was third to Almansour and Found, which is the best form in Europe.
“William got off and said: ‘John, this horse isn’t focused.’ The little semi-blinkers have just made him focus. He’s very genuine, but he’s a bit of a dreamer.”
The main target for Jack Hobbs this summer is the King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot in July, with a run in the Hardwicke at Royal Ascot a few weeks earlier to sharpen him up.
The Kentucky Derby is a potential target for Saeed bin Suroor’s Thunder Snow after the son of Australian sire Helmet got up in the final stride under a strong ride by Christophe Soumillon to win the UAE Derby.
Helmet is in the relatively early stages of his stallion career but would probably not be seen as an obvious source of winners on dirt. Thunder Snow’s first attempt on the surface was a winning one, however, as he responded to Soumillon’s urgings to edge out Epicharis, the long-time leader, by a short-head.
“He’s a champion with a big, big heart, so I just rode him to the line and he gave me everything again,” Soumillon said. “I said to Saeed that he was a champion when I rode him [to victory in the Group One Criterium International] at St Cloud [in October]. It’s why I wasn’t very worried about the dirt here, good horses can always get out of trouble and that’s what he did today.”
The Godolphin operation regularly sent runners to Louisville in the 1990s, when victory in the Kentucky Derby was seen as one of Sheikh Mohammed’s keenest ambitions. Sixth place is the best that any of their challengers has managed, however, and the project, if such it was, seemed to have been largely abandoned in recent years.
Thunder Snow could revive it, but he also holds entries in the 2,000 Guineas at Newmarket, on the same weekend, and is also seen as a possible candidate for the Derby, another race Godolphin has yet to win.
“In his last piece of work five days ago, he was absolutely brilliant,” Suroor said. “It was a new trip for him also but I had confidence in the jockey, he did a great job on him.
“We will keep the options open, but I would like to see the horse in few days before Sheikh Mohammed makes a decision.”