Saratoga is known as the “Graveyard of Champions.” On Saturday, that title belonged to Del Mar — all the way on the West Coast.
On Saturday, Accelerate cruised to an unchallenged 81/2-length victory in the G2, $300,000 San Diego Handicap at ole’ Del Mar, while Arrogate — the 1-20 favorite and acclaimed as one of the best to ever step hoof on the racetrack — had about as much life to him as an old Bing Crosby song, faltering from pillar to post and finishing a disappointing fourth.
Afterwards, both jockey Victor Espinoza — who was aboard the winner — and Hall of Fame rider Mike Smith — who was astride the disappointing favorite — were about as shocked as the rest of the racing world.
“I was surprised by how far I won,” said Espinoza, who was the regular rider for California Chrome and had to watch Arrogate beat up on his horse in both the Breeders’ Cup Classic last fall and the Pegasus World Cup early this year. “I wasn’t surprised that I did; I was here to win. I thought I’d sit second or third, but when that speed horse (El Huerfano) stumbled at the start, I made an easy lead. He (Accelerate) got in a nice rhythm; he was going easy. He’s a nice horse. This is the first time I rode him. I hope he can go on, so we can look at the Pacific Classic.”
Smith, on the other hand, had his hands full with a lackadaisical champion underneath him. “I’m at a loss for words,” he said. “He just was flat, so flat. We were going around there OK, and then I took him outside like I did in Dubai (where he won the Dubai World Cup in his last start in March), but he just didn’t pick it up. So I dropped him inside again and cut the corner, then wheeled him outside once more and tired to get something from him. But he was just flat. He wasn’t trying. So I just wrapped up on him and got him home safe. We’ve got to go back and start over again. Get it back right.”
Arrogate had been nothing but right ever since last summer. After breaking his maiden just before the Belmont Stakes last June, the colt went on a torrid winning streak. He won the 2016 Travers Stakes in eye-popping style and time. He won the Breeders’ Cup Classic, whipping the world’s best horse in California Chrome. He came back to embarrass Chrome and his followers in the Pegasus World Cup, before going to the Middle East and winning the Dubai World Cup after stumbling badly at the start. The run of those Stakes races by the run of Arrogate was enough to make all believe that a super horse was living in our very midst.
“He was just flat,” said Arrogate’s trainer Bob Baffert. “I think he was just flat. I knew coming down here can be tough. Maybe I should have blown him out (down here). Mike (Smith) said he was just flat and never in the race did he feel he had any horse…I think he (Arrogate) just laid an egg. I don’t think it had anything to do with the track. He was just flat.”
Accelerate, on the other hand, was fully inflated. And, he ran like a runaway balloon. Soon after the break, he and Espinoza zoomed to the front. And, they never looked back. The 4-year-old son of Lookin at Lucky, is owned by Hronis Racing and trained by John Sadler. And, it was his fourth win in 12 attempts and the purse money pushed his lifetime earnings to over $600,000.
The time for the 11/16-mile stakes was 1:42.15. And, ironically, it was Accelerate who defeated Arrogate, when he made his career debut at Los Alamitos Race Course on April 17, 2016. On that day, Accelerate beat Arrogate by a neck in a MSW event that was won by Westbrook. Accelerate was second.
Accelerate carried just 117 pounds for the San Diego, which was 9 pounds less than The Champ, who had his 7-race win streak snapped in embarrassing style. In that span, Arrogate had wracked up more than $17 million in purse money — to become the game’s all-time leading earner.
“He liked this track,” said Sadler of his horse, Accelerate. “You know he won two here last year. He trained really well Sunday up at Santa Anita and showed a lot of pop when Victor worked him for the gate and they kept telling me it was $50,000 for second. You want to win, you don’t want to concede anything, but I’m surprised we won because Arrogate is the best horse in the world. A couple of things went right for us and one of them was that Arrogate didn’t fire his best. That’s what has to happen for these big upsets.”