ARCADIA, Calif., Nov. 3 (UPI) -- The central question for Saturday's $6 million Breeders' Cup Classic seems to be: Is Arrogate for real?
If he is -- that is, if he runs back to his track-record victory in the Grade I Travers Stakes at Saratoga this summer -- he will be a real threat to the likely favorite, Kentucky Derby and Dubai World Cup winner California Chrome.
If that effort in the "Midsummer Derby" was just a fluke, the race is California Chrome's to lose.
And the kicker is, no one knows the answer to that question. (Saturday Classic post position and time, plus information on how to watch is posted below.)
"You don't know for sure," Arrogate's trainer, Bob Baffert, said on the Santa Anita backstretch this week. But Baffert hastened to add the 3-year-old Unbridled's Song colt's three earlier races were far better than they looked. So, he reasoned, the 13 1/2-lengths Travers victory actually might not have been quite as surprising as it appeared.
California Chrome's trainer, Art Sherman, remains quietly confident, as well he might after watching his 5-year-old son of Lucky Pulpit rip through six straight wins this year, including the $10 million World Cup and a demolition of an excellent field in the Grade I Pacific Classic.
Sherman, a former jockey, was asked bluntly at a media event: Can any of these rivals beat him Saturday if he runs his race? Equally bluntly, he replied, "I don't think so. I know I'm putting a lot of weight on my shoulders saying that."
If form is any guide, there might be a little game-playing in the first furlong of the race between California Chrome's jockey, Victor Espinoza, and Arrogate's rider, Mike Smith. Each horse has won while leading throughout. Each has won while pressing the early pace.
Arrogate drew the outside stall with California Chrome set in No. 4. Who will go and who will wait? Or will they both go and risk burning out in the stretch?
There are eight others in the 1 1/4-miles race. California Chrome already has defeated five of them, some multiple times. The others aren't much better off. Effinex has finished behind a couple that California Chrome has defeated. Shaman Ghost is making only his second Grade I start. And Melatonin hasn't run since June.
A potential wild card is Frosted, who turned in a freakishly good performance of his own earlier this year at Belmont Park, winning the Grade I Met Mile by 14 1/4 lengths in a sparkling time of 1:32 3/5. He drew the No. 2 gate and if jockey Joel Rosario should send him to challenge for the lead -- as he did in winning the Grade I Whitney at Saratoga in August -- things might get complicated.
California Chrome's owners are hoping victories in the Classic and, all being well, in January's $13 million Pegasus World Cup at Gulfstream Park, could make him the all-time money-earning Thoroughbred, bypassing some Japanese rivals. Although that should be plenty to send him to the breeding shed, Sherman admitted he dreams of one more season.
"He could run for $27 million in purses" in 2017, Sherman said, perhaps understating the potential. "I never dreamed I could train a horse like this."
The Classic is only the exclamation point on a magnificent day of racing. Nine Breeders' Cup World Championship events include some of the toughest, most competitive races in the history of the event.
The $2 million Breeders' Cup Mile on the turf, in particular, is a massively tough heat, pitting some of Europe's best milers against an unusually strong American contingent. Several world-class horses will finish off the board in this one if it's not a multiple dead-heat.
The $4 million Longines Breeders' Cup Turf at 1 1/2 miles also sets incredibly good Europeans, including Group 1 Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe winner Found and globetrotting veteran Highland Reel, against old warrior Flintshire and a host of potential upsetters. Found won this race last year at Keeneland, defeating Golden Horn.
Also on tap are the $2 million 14 Hands Winery Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies, the $2 million Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf, the $1.5 million TwinSpires Breeders' Cup Sprint, the $1 million Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint, the $2 million Sentient Jet Breeders' Cup Juvenile and the $1 million Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint.
Post time: 8:35 p.m. Eastern
Position – horse, (odds), jockey, trainer
1 – Effinex, (15-1), Flavien Prat, James Jerkens
2 – Frosted, (5-1), Joel Rosario, Kiaran McLaughlin
4 – California Chrome, (1-1), Victor Espinoza, Art Sherman
5 – Win the Space, (30-1), Gary Stevens, George Papaprodromou
6 – Melatonin, (12-1), Joseph Talamo, David Hofmans
7 – War Story, (30-1), Scott Spieth, Mario Serey Jr.
8 – Shaman Ghost, (20-1), Irad Ortiz Jr., James Jerkens
9 – Hoppertunity, (15-1), John Velazquez, Bob Baffert
10 – Arrogate, (5-2), Mike Smith, Bob Baffert
How to watch on television:
2:30-9 p.m. Eastern on NBCSN (cable or satellite)
The Breeders' Cup Classic will air 8-9 p.m. Eastern on NBC
NBC Sports Live Extra will stream coverage throughout the day – access requires cable/satellite television subscription.
Early races will be streamed live from 1-4:30 p.m. Eastern via Facebook Live by the Breeders' Cup