Arrogate v. Pharoah? It's Arrogate

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Arrogate has the upper hand over American Pharoah, Bill Finley writes | DRC/Mathea Kelley

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It's one of those arguments that can't be answered with concrete answers, only guesses and speculation. Nonetheless, when you have two once-in-a-lifetime type horses actually come along in successive years, both of them trained by the same person, it's an irresistible debate. Who is the superior horse, American Pharoah (Pioneerof the Nile) or Arrogate (Unbridled's Song)?

Since the GI Breeders' Cup Classic, I thought the answer was Arrogate, but to say or write so seemed like blasphemy. Arrogate didn't even race in the Triple Crown. Pharoah not only won it, he broke a 37-year dry spell, accomplishing the most important feat there is in the sport–a feat that was beginning to seem impossible. Triple Crown winners belong in a pantheon, and it's a small group of 12 that doesn't welcome many outsiders.

The who-is-the-better horse question can only truly be answered on the racetrack. Barring that, you can go to speed figures. On the Beyer numbers, Arrogate is better. American Pharoah ran a 105 in the GI Kentucky Derby, a 102 in the GI Preakness S., a 105 in the GI Belmont S. and a 109 in the GI Haskell Invitational S. He did not reach the upper stratosphere of the Beyer scale until his Classic win, in which he ran a 120. Since he came of age in the GI Travers S., Arrogate has run a 122 in his win in Saratoga, a 120 in his Classic win and a 119 in the GI Pegasus World Cup.

He's the faster horse.

Then there are earnings. $17 million for Arrogate. $8.6 million for Pharoah. But subtract the bounty from the Pegasus World Cup, a race that did not exist when American Pharoah was racing, and the difference is not that noticeable. It's not a fair way to compare the two.

I am ignoring earnings and giving only slight credence to speed figures. I am basing my vote on what Arrogate showed Saturday, the ability to win the G1 Dubai World Cup despite tremendous adversity. That's something that, at this level, only the greatest among the greats can do. As wonderful a horse as he was, when faced with the only real difficult situation he faced in his career, American Pharoah, by contrast, came up short in the Travers.

The heart and the ability to overcome adversity, that's what separates the two.

After his inexplicable clunker in his career debut, Pharoah breezed through the Arkansas preps, the Triple Crown races and the Haskell. It's not that he always had dream trips, but never did he face anything serious enough that he had a legitimate excuse had he been beaten. The Travers was different. Frosted (Tapit) looked him in the eye down the backstretch and, even though the pace was not that fast, it was more than he could handle. He was worn down in the stretch, losing to Keen Ice (Curlin). That is, by the way, the same Keen Ice that has been beaten double digit lengths in all three of his starts against Arrogate, including in the Dubai World Cup. He's now lost to Arrogate by a combined 33 1/2 lengths.

Compare that to what happened to Arrogate yesterday. He was body slammed at the start and wound up last. It cost him four or five lengths and took him out of his comfort zone, which is to stalk the pace.

Smith never panicked. He didn't rush his horse, Rather, he methodically picked off horses, but that meant that he had to stay on the outside and he had to get past a very good horse in Gun Runner (Candy Ride {Arg}).

“I thought then, 'If he wins this race, he's the most incredible horse I've ever seen,'” Baffert said, perhaps so caught up in the moment that he forget that trainers are not supposed to say anything that can be construed as a comparison between top horses owned by different interests.

According to Trakus, Arrogate traveled 13 metres (42 feet) more than Gun Runner did, but that hardly mattered. He won comfortably, by 2 1/4 lengths, and was not under anything even remotely resembling a stiff drive.

As Arrogate crossed the wire, Meydan announcer Terry Spargo dared to mention Arrogate in the same breathe as Man o'War.

“Have we seen the anointing of the Man o'War of the 21st century?” Spargo asked.

That may be a stretch. Then again, maybe not. And is it a coincidence that Arrogate did what he did just four days shy of Man o'War's 100th birthday?

Arrogate will soon be on his way back to Baffert's base at Santa Anita. After winning, in succession, a $5-million, $12- million and $10-million race, he really doesn't have anything else to prove, and it would almost seem like he were slumming if he would show up in a mere $1-million race. The Baffert/Juddmonte team has been very careful about picking its spots for Arrogate and doesn't do so until it has carefully weighed all options. My guess is that we don't see him again until a prep for the Classic, either in the GI Pacific Classic or the GI Awesome Again S. Then he'll try to repeat the Classic–Pegasus World Cup daily double before being sent off to stud.

So, most likely, we won't get to see too much more of him, but what a treat it will be to see him when he returns to the racetracks of the U.S. Whenever or wherever that may happen to be, the sport will be, with apologies to American Pharoah, treated to an appearance by nothing less than the greatest horse of modern times.

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