On a typical summer’s day most of us love to kick off our shoes, put on a pair of flip-flops and shorts and head to the seaside, but it’s not everyone’s of heaven.
Bob Baffert, declaring himself “down but not out” after last Sunday’s shock defeat of Dubai World Cup winner Arrogate on his domestic return in the Grade 2 San Diego Handicap at Del Mar, still plans to go back to California’s coastal racetrack with the world’s most expensive thoroughbred for the Paci c Classic on 19 August.
“The Silver Fox” is universally regarded as one of the greatest trainers in America, but with no physical reason having come to light as to why Arrogate, who started at 1-20, trailed in a lack- lustre 15 lengths fourth of five.
Maybe the answer to the mystery which left both Baffert and jockey Mike Smith scratching their heads is simple, either he has not recovered from his 26,750km round trip to Dubai or the horse is not a fan of Del Mar.
Baffert finds the journey to Dubai tough enough himself, he suffered a heart attack after his previous visit but, though the penny dropped in time for Arrogate to come from last to first and win the $10-million World Cup at Meydan in March, the gruelling USA-Dubai trip has left its mark on plenty of equally talented American thoroughbreds in the past.
For instance, the brilliant Cigar, who captured the inaugural running of what was then the richest race on the globe in 1986, never looked the same potent force on his return to America, losing his 16-race winning streak when a 1-10 chance for the Pacific Classic, and, in fact, he landed just one of his remaining four races before he began his stud career in Kentucky.
Even John Sadler, who saddled the all-the-way winner Accelerate at Del Mar, admits he went there hoping to pick up the silver medal, and of the $2.6 million wagered on the win, place and show markets, more than $2.4 million was placed on Arrogate.
This was only the second time Arrogate has been to Del Mar, billed by locals as “where the turf meets the surf” and on the previous occasion he was a 1-10 shot for a claimer and made heavy weather of beating third-rate opposition, so maybe California’s seaside racecourse does not oat his boat.
Baffert regrets not having sent Arrogate to Del Mar for a pre-race gallop – “he was fine afterwards but ran at and I can only assume that I left him short,” he reflected as he emerged from the barn but is obviously keen to put any lingering doubts he might have about his stable-star’s dislike of the track before 4 November, when Del Mar stage the Breeders Cup for the first time.
Despite Arrogate’s seven-race winning streak coming off the buffers here, he remains a warm favourite for the defence of his Breeders Cup Classic crown, but following this sensational reverse it was reminiscent of when Buster Douglas knocked out Mike Tyson to become boxing’s world heavyweight champion in Tokyo in 1990 – I would not be tempted by odds of around 6-4 until he shows us that San Diego was a mi- nor blip on the horizon.
Khalid Abdullah, who owns Arrogate, will be hoping for a better outcome at Ascot on Saturday, when his dual Oaks heroine Enable takes on Coolmore’s globetrotting superstar Highland Reel in the £1.15-million King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes, Europe’s midsummer middle-aged championship.
Professional punters are split down the middle, with Highland Reel, six times a Group 1 winner on three different continents, duelling for favouritism with Enable, whom trainer John Gosden compares favourably with an- other of his star three-year-old fillies, Taghrooda, who put the older horses in their place in this race three years ago.
Gosden is making a late c ON THE UP. Momo is improving as she learns more about racing and off a light weight looks the runner to beat over in Race 8 over 1200m at the Vaal tomorrow. all on Enable’s participation, but the 18mm of rain which fell at Ascot last weekend has prompted the trainer to book a call to Saudi for Wednesday to discuss running at Ascot with the owner-breeder.
Any ease in the ground would favour the filly far more than Highland Reel, who relishes fast going, besides which Enable would be receiving a valuable 7kg from her elder rival.
Enable has claims to be regard- ed Europe’s best of the classic generation (colt or filly) this season, having outstayed Rhododendron in a slog through the mud at Epsom and then scored a facile 5.5- length success in the Irish Oaks at The Curragh, albeit only two weeks ago.
Frankie Dettori, waxing lyrical on the plane back from Ire- land, said: ”Enable was so brave at Epsom, but she showed at The Curragh that she has phenomenal speed as well as stamina when blowing them away with her gear- change.
“She is a proper mile and a half (2400m) champion, and whether it be the King George or the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe I’d be going there full of confidence. She’s improving fast and is all class.”
However, the word defeat is not in Highland Reel’s vocabulary. He has shown himself to be Ballydoyle’s next Iron Horse, mopping up the cream in California, Chicago, Hong Kong and Dubai, and he again proved impossible to pass when winning at Epsom and Royal Ascot last month.
There are only showers forecast for the Ascot area between now and Saturday, but the ground could be similar to which Highland Reel encountered in the Sheema Classic at Meydan in March, and he never turned up that day.
Jack Hobbs, a stablemate of Enable, found the ground way too fast at Royal Ascot and never let himself down, but could be a different proposition on this easier going and might even outrun Highland Steel for second.
Idaho, Highland Reel’s younger brother, could be Coolmore’s best. He won the Hardwicke Stakes here at the Royal meeting, and last week’s monsoons have increased his chances.