Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert entered Saturday’s $300,345 Los Alamitos Futurity (G1) with a terrific chance of racking up his 11th victory in the juvenile feature, and his 1-5 favorite Improbable lived up to billing – and then some. Passing his two-turn test with ease, along with some residual greenness, the unbeaten colt stated his case to become a major Kentucky Derby (G1) contender.
Improbable had scraped home by a neck in his six-furlong debut at Santa Anita September 29, but proved far more authoritative on the step up to a mile in the November 2 Street Sense S. at Churchill Downs. Part of the Breeders’ Cup “Future Stars Friday” card, the Street Sense itself showcased a budding star in Improbable, who overcame a less than ideal passage to romp by 7 1/4 lengths.
Those first two starts came for co-owners WinStar Farm, China Horse Club, and SF Racing. After his tour de force at Churchill, Starlight Racing joined the partnership in lieu of SF Racing – a move reminiscent of what the same principals did in the case of Justify earlier this year.
Improbable’s nearest rival in the market was 4-1 stablemate Mucho Gusto, also unbeaten but coming off a harder-fought success in the Bob Hope (G3). The remaining four entrants were all in double-digits, predictive of how the race played out.
The speedier of the Baffert colts, Mucho Gusto scampered to the lead from post 6 and crossed over to the rail. Savagery, in an attempt to peel outside of the new leader, instead careered too wide entering the clubhouse turn. Extra Hope was inconvenienced in being floated out, but Dueling was forced out into the middle of the track to avoid clipping heels.
Improbable, breaking from post 1, was unaffected by the fracas. Jockey Drayden Van Dyke took the opportunity to improve his position, moving off the rail and advancing into third. As Mucho Gusto established splits of :23.25, :47.25, and 1:10.82, he was pressed by Savagery. The stalking Improbable was still feeling his way into stride, initially with head cocked and overracing a tad, but began to gain when asked on the far turn.
Once straightening for home, Improbable finally got organized and deployed his lengthy stride to great effect. The City Zip colt overpowered Mucho Gusto en route to a five-length conquest. The time was snappy too. After reaching the mile mark in 1:34.79, Improbable completed 1 1/16 miles in 1:41.18.
Mucho Gusto kept on for second, three lengths clear of Extra Hope, who was the same margin ahead of Savagery. The stewards posted the inquiry sign to review the incident into the first turn, found Savagery culpable, and disqualified him to fifth. The hampered Dueling was declared the fourth-place finisher. King of Speed trailed the six-horse field.
The Los Alamitos Futurity offered Derby points to the top four finishers, with Improbable taking the lion’s share (10 points) and the rest according to scale (Mucho Gusto 4, Extra Hope 2, Dueling 1).
Improbable’s Derby hopes are bolstered by a solid pedigree. His dam is the winning A.P. Indy mare Rare Event, and second dam Our Rite of Spring is a stakes-winning half-sister to Grade 1 star Hard Spun, the runner-up in the 2007 Kentucky Derby and Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1).
Bred by St. George Farm and G. Watts Humphrey Jr. in Kentucky, Improbable first sold for $110,000 as a Keeneland November weanling. Taylor Made Sales Agency, agent, bought him there and pinhooked him for $200,000 as a yearling at the same venue the following September.
Now three-for-three, Improbable has bankrolled $269,520.
Quotes from Los Alamitos
Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert on Improbable and runner-up Mucho Gusto: “At the top of the stretch (Improbable) looked a little lost. (Jockey Drayden Van Dyke) had to hit him a couple of times. Once he straightened out, he got into that long, beautiful stride of his. The good horses always find a way to win. He had trained like he was going to run like this. I was really excited about (Mucho Gusto). He tried very hard and just got a little tired. His race was very encouraging.
“We’ll just let these horses come along at their own pace and hope they stay healthy. That’s the key. Improbable has a long stride like Justify. He’s just a smaller version. I’m not saying he’s at Justify’s level yet, but he’s a really good horse.’’
Elliott Walden of WinStar Farm, Improbable’s co-owner: “Bob (Baffert) has liked this horse all along. When Justify went to the farm from Del Mar this summer, Bob put Improbable in his stall. I loved his race today. The best thing about it was his last eighth of a mile and the way he galloped out. That gives you the hope for the future and that’s what we’re all looking for going towards the spring classics.’’
Winning rider Drayden Van Dyke: “We were just behind the trouble on the first turn, and to be honest, we benefited because we ended up where wanted to be, three wide behind the leaders. This is just such a cool horse. He hit another gear when we got to the stretch.’’