WHAT’S WRONG WITH ARROGATE? AND, ARE SUCCESSFUL HORSE TRAINERS THE BEST KIND OF COACH IN ALL OF SPORTS?
No one seems to be talking about one of the more interesting sports stories of the weekend.
Didn’t anyone see Arrogate, the World’s Best Racehorse on dirt, lose again on Saturday at the Grade 1 TVG Pacific Classic at Del Mar?
Well, it’s not just the fact that the superstar finished 2nd by a half-length behind stablemate Collected.
It’s that Hall of Fame trainer for both winning horses, Bob Baffert (trained 2015 Triple Crown winner American Pharoah), looked utterly befuddled after the race instead of cheerful, as one would expect when his horses took 1-2 at Saturday’s prestigious $1 million event.
I had the same reaction sitting in my living room when his big-league prodigy failed to fire for the 2nd race in a row.
I wondered, where was the Arrogate that broke track records at the Travers, won last year’s Breeder’s Cup Classic over California Chrome, took the victory at the inaugural 2017 Pegasus World Cup and ran down Gun Runner from last place at the Dubai World Cup to become North America’s all-time leading earner?
Did something happen to him between that victory at Dubai on March 25 and July 22 when he lost at the San Diego Handicap (G2) by 15 ½ lengths? Why did he still look lackluster on Saturday at Del Mar?
Is something wrong with Arrogate?
We have to assume that by his reaction at the finish line on Saturday, Baffert was asking himself the same exact questions.
After San Diego, Baffert admitted he didn’t know what the problem was. And, despite some hopeful words of encouragement after Saturday’s continued backpedaling by his accomplished colt, Baffert still seems to lack clarity as to what is holding back his wunderkind at the moment.
Which brings me to a fascinating (and obvious) thought about horse racing: Unlike sports that have human athletes to verbally communicate with, horse trainers can’t just ask their equine athletes what is wrong, or why they are not performing to their previous standard.
Horse trainers only have intuition, experience and guesswork as their tools to lead their disciples.
They have to cut through the communication barriers and get a talented beast to perform on the highest level without saying a word to one another.
I find this to be a truly unmatched accomplishment.
It poses the question: Are horse trainers the best at what they do in all of sports?
True: horse trainers don’t have to coach a team and create a winning chemistry with multiple individuals. They also have a jockey to help motivate their horses as well.
But, they don’t have the benefit of direct feedback from their athletes and that is why I think that when they achieve the ultimate success, horse trainers are one of the best kinds of coaches in all of sports.
And so, here we have arguably the world’s best thoroughbred horse trainer (on dirt), who has trained a Triple Crown Winner, won 4 Kentucky Derbies, 6 Preakness Stakes, 2 Belmont Stakes and 3 Kentucky Oaks, and who also galvanized a 2-year-old Arrogate with shin problems to become the world’s richest race horse.
Yet, he can’t find a way to get through to him after 2 lackluster races.
However, if Baffert can turn Arrogate back around to his winning ways just a few months from now at the Breeder’s Cup Classic, when he is expected to race again, the 65-year old deserves extra kudos for figuring out the pathway to success for his inhibited colt.
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