I awaited Saturday’s premier running of the Pegasus World Cup Invitational with the same jumpy nervousness and trepidation that I feel each time I leave the kids with the babysitter. What was going to happen? Was everyone going to behave and do their thing or would disaster in some form ensue? I paced. I worked through the possible outcomes, steeling myself for the chance that my horse could lose. I promised myself that I wouldn’t jump up and down and scare my kids again like I did during the Breeder’s Cup Classic. Frankly, my bladder can’t take that much jumping anyway.
While I waited, I thought back to the post I published on Friday. Sure, the idea that the Arrogate v. California Chrome has parallels with Sir Barton v. Man O’War might seem tenuous, but I’ve been living with Sir Barton and his career for more than three years. I’ve been a thoroughbred racing fan for thirty years. Nothing in my time following this sport has been closer to what fans at Kenilworth Park witnessed on October 12, 1920 than we all saw at Gulfstream Park on January 28, 2017. The story of Arrogate v. Chrome played out much like the Kenilworth Gold cup did, with the older horse running at a disadvantage and the young speedster showing everyone yet again that he definitely deserves the title of Best Racehorse in the World.
As has been speculated and was confirmed to me secondhand by someone who knew a trainer contemporary to Sir Barton’s time, the older Triple Crown winner was running at Kenilworth sore, but certainly looked good enough that the speculation about his fitness came after the fact. Chrome in his last race seemed to be healthy and ready to dash his way into retirement with verve. This rematch with Arrogate promised to be a fitting way for the near-Triple Crown winner to bow out from racing.
Arrogate seemed just as ready to roll, though, as Bob Baffert admitted, he was dealing with an abscess in one hoof that required a special shoe. Regardless, Arrogate looked ready, despite the abscess and the muddy chaos that led up to his trip to Florida. Prior to the match race, Man O’War had been dealing with a tendon that teetered between injured and not, with trainer Louis Feustel working to get the swelling down so that they could move forward with this one last start.
The race itself shook out to be much like the match race turned out, with the exception of the ten other horses on the track with Chrome and Arrogate. The eyes of the world weren’t looking at those others; they were focused on the chestnut veteran and his roanish grey challenger. They saw the two competitors run nearly parallel with each other for the first part of the race, and, when they turned for home, Arrogate found the lead and began to pull away from the field. Much like the match race, the older horse didn’t have the expected kick to meet the challenge and the younger horse powered home alone, beating all comers.
Not Exactly, But Close
Certainly, the match race didn’t quite play out as the Pegasus, with Sir Barton jumping out in front and then Man O’War catching and then passing the Triple Crown winner in before the quarter pole. The results nevertheless are strikingly parallel. Man O’War’s and Arrogate’s wins left them much richer, topping the earnings list for their respective years. Sir Barton’s lackluster performance showed that the wear and tear of his 1920 campaign had caught up to him; for Chrome, his own poor showing was owed to a possible twisted knee, not enough to compromise him long term, but, like Sir Barton, enough to affect this particular performance.
The biggest difference between the Pegasus and the Kenilworth Gold Cup is our accessibility to our stars. In Sir Barton’s and Man O’War’s time, newspapers were how people got their information; radio was on the horizon, but the predominant source of information came from the turf writers of the day. They could make or break a horse’s reputation; these writers hurled superlatives at Sir Barton in his 1919 Triple Crown run, but shifted them away from that history maker to his eventual rival the same year. For modern racing fans, the accessibility is so much greater that we can make or break reputations on our own, sometimes deviating and sometimes following the going wisdom of contemporary turf writers. It’s easy to have Chromies and Arrogaters when I can log onto Facebook or Twitter and access my horse. Reputations of yesteryear are far harder to change, a topic I’ll tackle another time. For now, though, I’m glad that I can go on Twitter today and get my daily Arrogate fix while hunting valiantly for more Sir Barton images that are proving far tougher to find.
See you, Chrome! Thanks for the memories.