The people came to see California Chrome vs Arrogate. The seasoned fighter meets the new upstart—the standard story for traditional race goers. But they also got to enjoy a very special party in the sun with live bands and nice food. Is that the way to get a new generation to discover racing?
Frank Stronach thinks so and he might just be right.Arrogate won the inaugural $12 million Pegasus World Cup – and he did it convincingly in a new track record time. With Big Money Mike Smith in the irons Bob Baffert had Arrogate “super cherry” and he won going away.
With Big Money Mike Smith in the irons Bob Baffert had Arrogate “super cherry” and he won going away.
The only closer in the race was Mr Stronach’s Shaman Ghost who finished second in the race his owner conceived. Arrogate and California Chrome, the two best dirt-horses in the world, met in a rematch after the Breeder’s Cup Classic that Arrogate had won after a fabulous finish coming from behind and beating California Chrome at the wire. This time Arrogate showed that he had earned the title of Longines World’s Best Racehorse in scoring by a margin of almost 5 lengths.
Mr Stronach and his team, with daughter Belinda at the helm, did a heroic job of getting the race off the ground in a little over a year. The public, who paid no less than $100 for a ticket, enjoyed themselves.
“It should be the No. 1 sport in the world because it gives so many people the feeling they can be winners”
With the possible exception of the big group of Chromies who had come from all over the country to watch their hero. They probably felt that Arrogate deserved his name. According to Merian-Webster, ‘to arrogate’ is ‘to claim or seize without justification’. After the race you would have thought you were at a wake. The absence of a cheering crowd was remarkable. Here we had just witnessed a fantastic performance by a horse who probably will go on to be one of the greats, but a large portion of the public was more interested in the horse that finished seventh. A farewell to one who had already proven himself to be great. The public held their breath–was Chrome badly hurt?
But no – he walked back to the barn sound. A small filling in his right knee was detected, but nothing that is going to bother him in his next career, which will mostly tax his hind legs.
California Chrome’s fan club has made a big mark on the racing community and their devotion to their hero has really been exceptional. Through the ups and downs they followed him around the world. At 5.45am on the morning before the race there were over a 100 people in front of Gulfstream’s grandstand to watch California Chrome make an easy canter around the racetrack. The same morning at 9.00am Arrogate did the same with Bob Baffert’s top exercise rider, Dana Barnes, in the irons. This was watched by a handful of reporters and other industry people. By that time the Chromies were probably having breakfast or they might have gone back to bed. Anyway they missed watching a beautiful horse gliding over the track. Two great horses without a doubt. And now Chrome is gone to stud and we have to be happy looking forward to Arrogate’s continuing career. He is entered in the Dubai World Cup, and we are now looking forward to that.
It will be interesting to see if the Chromies find a new favorite in Arrogate. Once you are hooked on the racing game the habit can be hard to break. But of course Arrogate does not have the same underdog attraction that Chrome had. Chrome was a once in a lifetime horse for his connections and Bob Baffert is one of the established major trainers that win big races by the dozen. He trained last year’s big sensation, Triple Crown winner American Pharoah, and has trained innumerable winners of major races. Arrogate was bought by Juddmonte Farms at the Keeneland Yearling Sales for $560,000 and he was far from the most expensive horse sold at that sale, where there were thirteen yearlings sold for over a million. And Arrogate is probably not the most expensive horse in Baffert’s barn, which is filled with the million-dollar babies. Of course the owner Juddmonte have had horses like the phenomenal Frankel and a bunch of other super stars and Arrogate is so far just one more to add to the collection.
The story of California Chrome is a true example of the American Dream. Two guys, Coburn and Martin, bought themselves the slow mare Love the Chase, whose groom said the famous words: “Anybody who buys this horse is a dumb-ass.” There was the stable name – The Dumb-Ass partners. They took Love the Chase to Lucky Pulpit, who didn’t exactly fit the mold for a super stallion, but the price was right at $2,000 and there it was. The mating that produced a true champion – California Chrome. California Chrome has really shown that even a dumb-ass can own a star and that is a part of what makes people love him.
Veteran trainer Art Sherman was to be his trainer and the rest is history. Both Bob and Art have trained some 2,000+ winners, but Bob’s horses have averaged $20,000+ per start, whereas Art’s starters have earned about $3,500
Interestingly, Art Sherman has trained about the same number of winners, but mostly in Northern California and with horses in another price range.
For Art and his son Alan, who plays a big part in the operation, Chrome was really a once in a lifetime horse. But who knows what the future holds in the roller-coaster world of horse racing? Maybe one little Chromie will be as good as daddy.
Frank Stronach’s new race, The Pegasus World Cup (G1), proved to be a success, with a handle of over $40,000,000, which was a new record for host track Gulfstream (not counting the Breeders’ Cup days). It also seems to have attracted a crowd new to racing – a young group who enjoyed the music and the over-all new approach to entertaining race-goers between the races. Gulfstream has been remodeled since Mr Stronach took over. The old grandstand has been replaced by a structure that is smaller and with spaces suited to the casino that is now a part of the operation.
Mr Stronach is a staunch believer in the attraction of racing and at the press conference after the race he said: “It should be the No. 1 sport in the world because it gives so many people the feeling they can be winners. Look at the spectators, they’re riding the horse home: ‘I’m Mike Smith, I’m riding, I’m riding.’ Even when you only have two bucks or five bucks on the horse, that’s great.”
“The Pegasus cost an amazing $30,000,000 to build, is over 30 meters tall, and the second highest statue in the US, only surpassed by the Statue of Liberty”
Frank Stronach is making a big effort to make racing a sport for everyone again. His company The Stronach Group owns not just Gulfstream Park, but also ‘The Great Race Place’ Santa Anita and they have also bought smaller, second-tier tracks such as Golden Gate in San Francisco and Portland Meadows in Portland, Oregon and remade them to a certain extent.
The Village at what used to be the parking lot at Gulfstream is a shopping center with exclusive brands of clothing and bars and restaurants catering to a lot of different tastes. The new grandstand is more suited to the smaller crowds that now attend live racing and with big rooms for the casino that is a big part of the revenue these days. On normal race-days it is free entry, but for the Pegasus general admission was $100 and more for seats in the restaurants—and people paid the price for this unique experience. Maybe something for other tracks to think of? But then the product has to be special. No lines to the concessions, exceptional food, and an extraordinary experience all round. The band played and race-goers seemed to enjoy the music, so much so that there was even some spontaneous dancing on the apron in front of the new grandstand.
And the big statue of Pegasus fighting a fire-breathing dragon in the parking lot. A landmark that stirs up the feelings of neighbors. Some like it and some don’t, of course, but we really liked it – it is an imposing structure that can be seen from quite a distance and it makes Gulfstream very visible. The Pegasus cost an amazing $30,000,000 to build, is over 30 meters tall, and the second highest statue in the US, only surpassed by the Statue of Liberty. For Frank Stronach the Pegasus is a symbol of the victory of good over evil – hopefully a suitable symbol for racing’s struggle to renew its reputation.