On the front page of the Racing Post the other day, above a photograph of Mike Smith caught in the throes of some desert-induced orgasmic equine ecstasy, was the claim that Arrogate is the best horse on the planet. A bold claim. An extravagant claim. It may well prove true. But really, as things stand? The best horse on the planet!
I looked up the meaning of arrogate in a concise dictionary and to my amusement it is thus: ‘to make unduly exalted claims or baseless pretensions to a thing for oneself or for someone else.’ So the journalist in question in praising Arrogate was journalistically arrogating.
Of course I am being a pedant to take issue with the claim. It is personal opinion. Many will agree with the journalist’s claim and disagree with me. People very often do. What the journalist meant by ‘greatest’ was the greatest racehorse running at this present time. Even abetted by this clarification I do not think the claim can be borne out by the facts.
Gay Kelleway thinks Arrogate is the best dirt horse she has ever seen. He might be. Gay Kelleway is a greater authority on dirt than I shall ever be. But better than Secretariat, Man O’War, etc. But it is the Racing Post I most take issue with for making a presumptuous statement on its front page. It is as if the Racing Post board have already bought shares in the horse in preparation for when, quite soon, I suspect, he is retired to stud duties and the editor has been briefed to build up Arrogate’s stock.
While Frankel, Denman and Sprinter Sacre still live and breathe I would suggest they will always remain greater than Arrogate. There are undoubtedly others I could mention like Big Star and Valegro. Frankel, Denman and Sprinter Sacre raced and won for years beyond the number Arrogate will race for. That he has amassed £13 million pounds in prize-money is no reflection of his greatness one way or the other. £13-million is a reflection on quantity, it has nothing to do with quality. Yes he beat California Chrome in the Breeders Cup Classic, as well as the ridiculously arrogantly named Pegasus World Cup, the world’s richest race, (at least at the time of writing) beating little of note with the ease of Mo Farrah outrunning toddlers on a school sports day. His Dubai win, I suspect, showed the lack of class in his opponents and the torrential rain during the build-up to the meeting helped rather than hindered his coming-from-a-distant-parish win. Coming from last to first was no more notable than Gordon Elliot’s mare in the Cheltenham Bumper and no one as yet placed the mantle of greatness around her neck.
My gripe is that we will never see Arrogate in Europe, nor will we see him race on grass, so for anyone claiming he is the ‘best horse on the planet’ is indulging in baseless hyperbole. That he is the best dirt horse over the distance he races over is perhaps beyond dispute. He will never draw the crowds as the races he runs in will always draw the crowds, if indeed he runs again. Arrogate is now a cash machine and his owner will soon whisk him off to stud so those big bucks keep rolling in for many years to come.
To my mind the likes of Arrogate are of no real benefit to racing in general and to fill the pages of the industry’s daily newspaper with his exploits in faraway countries and the opinion of others is a worthless exercise. You will not see him put his reputation on the line at Royal Ascot, neither will you see him run anywhere where the odds are against him. The sport will not benefit for the small amount of sparkle that will be his career as a racehorse. We will never engage emotionally with him. Flat racing is predominately about ker-ching, not sporting endeavour. Flat racing is about heroes and heroines that are here today and gone tomorrow. Useless for the promotion of the sport. What flat racing needs, especially in this country, is another Brown Jack, a horse that won seven years in a row at Royal Ascot. Brown Jack, like Arrogate who started by finishing down the field in very minor races, started life in 1-mile 4-furlong juvenile hurdles, his debut coming at Bournmouth racecourse, and won the Champion Hurdle as a 4-year-old before ever running on the flat in this country.
Yes I know, it is a stretch of the imagination to combine Arrogate and Brown Jack in the same sentence, let alone suggest Brown Jack to be greater than Arrogate will ever be. But it is what I suggest. Greatness should be earned by longevity, by overcoming the odds and endearing oneself to the sporting public. Not by winning spurious races worth mega-millions beating who-knows-what on a surface that most racehorses around the world only ever train on. Because of the pumped-up reputation of the Breeders Cup and Dubai World Cup there is a danger that the countries who traditionally have raced on turf will think themselves as less than equals to those who race on artificial surfaces. The history of horse racing, even in America, was founded on races run over natural ground conditions. And not at the beach. The Pegasus World Cup may be worth zillions to the winner but it will never hold a candle to the Derby or Arc de Triomphe, even if those races are worth only the small matter of a million quid to the winner.
And then there is the thorny issue of race-day medication, an aid Frankel never had use of. Or Brown Jack. But that is a horse of a different feather, as some would quaintly say.
Keith Knight is a workaday writer of fiction, worker in the real world but foremost a horse racing fanatic. The joy of the sport is the horse - all horses.