By Rory Carroll
DEL MAR, California (Reuters) - Arrogate will look to defend his 2016 title and go out on top when he battles a tough field in the Breeders' Cup Classic at the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club racetrack on Saturday.
Already the all-time leading money winner among North American thoroughbreds, a victory would add a $6 million purse to his career earnings of $17.3 million in what is expected to be the last race of his illustrious career.
The four-year-old colt, who will be piloted by Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith, has looked vulnerable as of late.
After winning seven consecutive races, including the 2016 Classic, Arrogate has lost his last two starts, both in Del Mar.
Trainer Bob Baffert said he expects a return to form for Arrogate when he runs the 1 1/4 mile (2km) race at the scenic oceanside track.
"I think he will run well," he said on Thursday.
If not, any one of the three other Baffert-trained horses in the race could cross the line first, which would give the 64-year-old his fourth consecutive win at the Classic.
That includes the four-year-old Collected, who defeated Arrogate by a length in the Pacific Classic on Aug. 19.
But Arrogate's stiffest competition could come from the speedy Gun Runner, who is expected to be the morning-line favourite ahead of Arrogate.
The Steve Asmussen-trained four-year-old colt has won three Grade One victories since losing to Arrogate in a thrilling finish at the Dubai World Cup at the beginning of the year.
"This track is made for a horse like Collected or Gun Runner, where they can get out there and their speed is dangerous. They can zip around those turns," Baffert said.
"Gun Runner is the horse to beat," he said.
(Reporting by Rory Carroll, editing by Nick Mulvenney)