DEL MAR, Calif. – Michael Phelps finishing a dull fourth in an Olympics race. Usain Bolt trudging home behind three guys he seemingly could beat running backwards. Hard to imagine, right? So too Arrogate losing the San Diego Handicap, which on Saturday at Del Mar looked to be his merely for showing up.
You don’t get points for attendance, though, not in this game. Arrogate was present, but he was hardly accounted for. Cigar’s 16-race winning streak coming to an end in the 1996 Pacific Classic was the biggest upset in track history. Arrogate said hold my Del Margarita.
In what will now rank as the biggest upset in the history of a track that opened 80 summers ago, the horse rated heretofore this year as the world’s best didn’t just lose, he was soundly trounced, finishing fourth as the 1-20 favorite, beaten 15 1/4 lengths, as Accelerate won before a crowd of 16,568 that grew awfully quiet when the result became obvious.
Accelerate ($17.60), the second choice in the field of five, won by 8 1/2 lengths over Donworth, who was 2 1/2 lengths in front of third-place Cat Burglar, who was 4 1/4 lengths in front of Arrogate. The only horse Arrogate beat was El Huerfano, who stumbled so badly at the start that jockey Evin Roman lost his stirrups and didn’t get them back until halfway through the race.
But with the exception of winning trainer John Sadler and winning co-owner Kosta Hronis, few were watching Accelerate as he came to the wire. Most were transfixed on Arrogate, whose seven-race win streak and seeming invincibility came crashing down.
Arrogate trailed early in the race, and then midway down the backstretch, jockey Mike Smith began to niggle at him to advance, and Arrogate stayed in place, his ears pinned flat, looking nothing like the horse who would usually breeze up to his rivals with his ears moving like radar.
Smith said Arrogate was “really, really flat.”
“I’m at a loss for words,” said Smith, who noted that Arrogate pulled up fine after the race.
“He gallops and works faster than that,” Smith said. “I’m dumbfounded.”
Smith said that down the backstretch, “I asked him two or three times, and there was no response.”
“I tipped him out like I did in Dubai,” Smith said, referring to Arrogate’s powerful victory in his last start, the Dubai World Cup. But when Smith didn’t get the response he hoped for, “I cut the corner” – saved ground on the far turn – but nothing Smith could do was going to propel Arrogate forward on this day.
In the post parade, “He was cool and calm. Maybe too calm,” Smith said.
During the race, “I tried to rouse him two or three times. I know him. He should catch those horses like that.”
“Usually you touch him with the stick, he responds,” Smith added.
Smith said the situation with Arrogate reminded him of when Holy Bull, the favorite in the 1994 Kentucky Derby, never fired. Holy Bull rebounded in his next start to win the Met Mile, and Smith said he believed Arrogate could rebound from this setback, too.
“I know what he’s capable of,” Smith said.
Bob Baffert, who had trained Arrogate to consecutive victories in the Travers, Breeders’ Cup Classic, Pegasus World Cup, and Dubai World Cup, echoed Smith’s comments that Arrogate seemed flat.
“I think he just laid an egg,” Baffert said right after the race. “I don’t think it had anything to do with the track. He was flat.”
Baffert later sent a text reading, “He is OK. Flat.”
Flat describes the wallets of those who thought they’d get a quick 5 percent on their investment betting Arrogate to show. Of the $1,402,055 bet to show on the race, some $1,320,483 was wagered on Arrogate. With Arrogate finishing fourth, there were outsized show payoffs of $22 on Accelerate, $67.40 on Donworth, and $38.20 on Cat Burglar. The show price on Donworth was a Del Mar record for that pool, as was the $119.80 place payoff on Donworth.
There was $2,671,939 bet to win, place, and show on the race. Of that, $2,457,472 was bet on Arrogate.
Accelerate, who now joins 1996 Pacific Classic winner Dare and Go as winners of the races that produced the biggest upsets in track history, has the distinction of beating Arrogate the only two times they met. Accelerate was second and Arrogate third in a maiden race at Los Alamitos in April 2016, which had been Arrogate’s only loss until Saturday.
The Grade 2, $300,000 San Diego – a prep for next month’s Grade 1, $1 million Pacific Classic – marked the fourth win in 12 starts for Accelerate, a 4-year-old colt by Lookin at Lucky who is now 3-for-3 at Del Mar. He wore blinkers for the first time in the San Diego after finishing third behind Collected and Cat Burglar in the Grade 3 Precisionist at Santa Anita on June 24.
Sadler said if someone was intent on the lead, he would have been happy with Accelerate sitting second, but when El Huerfano stumbled badly at the start, Victor Espinoza seized the moment and went straight to the front. Accelerate set fractions of 23.49 seconds for the quarter, 47.06 seconds for the half, and 1:11.39 for six furlongs before completing 1 1/16 miles on the fast main track in 1:42.15.
“A hush came over the crowd when we beat Beholder last year,” Sadler said of his Stellar Wind winning last year’s Clement Hirsch. “This reminded me of that.”
Hronis, who owns Accelerate with his brother, Pete, said he got the chills in the post parade when track announcer Trevor Denman described Arrogate as the best horse in the world.
“It was an honor to be in the race,” Hronis said he was thinking before the race. “We were the second choice to the best horse in the world.”
And then they ran the race.
“A couple of things went right for us and one of them is that Arrogate didn’t fire his best,” Sadler said. “That’s what has to happen for these big upsets.”