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Arrogate wins $12-million Pegasus as California Chrome fades to ninth

Arrogate crosses the finish to win the $12-million Pegasus World Cup Invitational at Gulfstream Park in Hallandale, Fla., in 2017.
(Mike Ehrmann / Getty Images)

The showdown racing fans anticipated between horse of the year California Chrome and horse of the world Arrogate failed to materialize Saturday in the Pegasus World Cup Invitational at Gulfstream Park. Arrogate blew open the $12-million race going to the far turn, leaving California Chrome in his wake to struggle home a distant ninth, 29 1/2 lengths behind.

It was the poorest performance of California Chrome’s 27-race career, which ended in the Pegasus. There was a report x-rays were going to be taken of his right knee.

“He didn’t look real comfortable,” California Chrome trainer Art Sherman said. “He didn’t break as sharp as he usually does and then he got hung out so wide. But down the backside he had no excuse.

“He looked like he was listless. I don’t know why. This is the first bad race he’s ever run for me.”

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In their previous meeting in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, Arrogate had to rally to finish a half-length ahead. Saturday he was almost half the stretch better than his rival. In his past three races, Arrogate has run the fastest Travers in history at Saratoga, followed that with the Breeders’ Cup Classic and topped it by capturing the world’s richest race. The $7 million he earned for running a mile and an eighth in 1:47.61 pushed his three-race earnings beyond $11 million.

Trainer Bob Baffert said he has no immediate plans for Arrogate. The ultimate goal is another trip to the Breeders’ Cup in November and perhaps an encore in the 2018 Pegasus, which Belinda Stronach of The Stronach Group said will probably be back at Gulfstream.

Shaman Ghost, owned by Frank Stronach, who created the Pegasus, was second, 4 3/4 lengths behind the winner, who crossed the finish line under Mike Smith in cruise control. Neolithic, who was on the early pace, held on for third, another 3 1/2 lengths back.

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The first half of the race played out as expected. Both favorites broke well enough. But Arrogate, coming out of the ground-saving No. 1 post, was able to hold his position on the rail while California Chrome, saddled with the outside No. 12, had to expend energy and still was pushed three and four wide.

“I used the first turn to our advantage,” Smith said. “I was able to get him out and let him stretch his legs. If I could have had the lead I would have taken it.”

However, 30-1 longshot Noble Bird was intent on setting the pace, so Smith let him go, with Neolithic to his outside.

California Chrome and his rider Victor Espinoza seemed to settle comfortably into fourth, outside Arrogate. “At the first turn I thought I was good,” Espinoza said.

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This feeling subsided as they raced down the backstretch. “I could see Victor was nuzzling his horse and he wasn’t responding,” Smith said. “He wasn’t the California Chrome that I know.”

Espinoza ratified that thought. “When we hit the five-eighths pole, he just completely shut down. I couldn’t keep up with the ones in front of me.”

That was when Smith hit the gas. With California Chrome slipping away, Smith had room to get outside. Arrogate went past Noble Bird and Neolithic on the turn as if it were a morning workout and they were Arrogate’s target horses.

Baffert said he briefly feared his horse could get trapped, but he began to breathe easier as Arrogate made his move. “When I saw him take off, I knew it would take something really special to get him.”

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It probably would have taken another Arrogate and there was only one like him in the Pegasus.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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sports@latimes.com


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