By Mark Lamport-Stokes
ARCADIA, California (Reuters) - Second choice Arrogate stole the limelight from favorite California Chrome with a storming finish to win the showpiece $6 million Breeders' Cup Classic by half a length at Santa Anita Park on Saturday.
Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith piloted the three-year-old colt past the celebrated field in a dramatic stretch run, overtaking Chrome over the last 50 yards in front of a packed grandstand to win America's richest race.
Chrome, a five-year-old chestnut in what is expected to be the penultimate outing of his stellar career, started as an odds-on 4-5 favorite but came in second after leading the 1-1/4 mile Classic most of the way.
Keen Ice, who pulled off a stunning victory by three-quarters of a length over American Pharoah in last year's Travers Stakes, placed a distant third as a 30-1 shot with Hoppertunity a neck behind in fourth.
Arrogate started on the outside from the 10 hole as an 8-5 choice in a field of nine runners and went on to provide Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert with his third consecutive Classic triumph, and his 14th Breeders' Cup win overall.
"Going in, I knew we had a great horse and we thought we could be competitive but down deep I really wasn't sure we could beat California Chrome," said Baffert, after Arrogate improved to five wins from six career starts.
"When Chrome was out there cruising, I thought no way he (Arrogate) is going to catch him, he's going to run second, but at least he showed up. Then he suddenly started getting into that gear and that last 50 yards I could not believe."
On the final turn, Arrogate cut to the inside of Melatonin and then shifted back to the outside to take dead aim at California Chrome.
"I have a great horse but I have a great jockey and what he did today was incredible," added Baffert, 63, who saddled 2014 Classic champion Bayern at Santa Anita and last year's winner at Keeneland, American Pharoah, with Victor Espinoza on board.
Hall of Fame jockey Smith, who won the $1 million Filly and Mare Sprint earlier in the day, extended his Breeders' Cup record of career victories to 25 with Arrogate's barnstorming run.
"That was incredible," said Smith. "He (Arrogate) has got amazing stamina and he doesn't quit. He could have gone around again."
Arrogate had delivered the performance of the year in the Travers Stakes at Saratoga in August, storming to victory by 13 1/2 lengths in a track record, but Smith felt that Saturday's win was equally impressive.
"They were both incredible performances," said the 51-year-old jockey. "I'm at a loss for words."
California Chrome, winner of the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes in 2014, ended up losing to "the real McCoy", said Chrome's trainer Art Sherman.
"I knew he (Arrogate) was the one we had to beat, but I didn't know how good he was," said Sherman. "We had no excuses."
(Editing by Andrew Both)