September 18, 2019

Improbable, Game Winner drill for Rebel clash

Improbable works with Drayden Van Dyke up at Los Alamitos Race Course on March 10, 2019 (c) Horsephotos.com/Cecilia Gustavsson

Although the San Felipe (G2) was lost in the wake of Santa Anita’s woes, the hotly anticipated clash between champion Game Winner and Improbable remains on course – just with a change of venue to Saturday’s $1 million Rebel S. (G2) at Oaklawn Park.

Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert shipped his unbeaten duo to Los Alamitos so that they wouldn’t be thrown more off schedule with the temporary closure of Santa Anita. On Sunday, the leading Kentucky Derby (G1) contenders drilled five furlongs at their home away from home.

Game Winner, last seen crowning his Eclipse Award campaign in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1), again worked in company to keep him engaged. Accompanied as usual by older Grade 2 winner Dr. Dorr, Game Winner equaled his time of :59.80 on the fast Los Alamitos track.

Improbable, who romped in his two-turn bow in the December 8 Los Alamitos Futurity (G1), ripped a solo five-eighths in :59.20 with Drayden Van Dyke.

Baffert spoke to Los Al publicity about his star three-year-olds (the horse initially labeled Improbable is multiple Grade 1-winning four-year-old McKinzie, who sped six panels in 1:11.80, but the real blaze-faced Improbable shows up a little later):

The all-time top trainer in Rebel history with six wins, Baffert will be heavily favored to get a seventh.

“We’re coming,” Baffert told Oaklawn publicity. “They worked well. Everything’s good. There’s no changing between now and then.”

With other Southern California-based sophomores scrambling for points, the Rebel could end up being split into two divisions, Oaklawn Park President Louis Cella revealed last week. That eventuality was looking increasingly likely to track officials as of Sunday.

If so, each Rebel division would be worth $750,000, and offer a total of 63.75 Derby points. The points scale would be 37.5 to each Rebel winner, 15 to the runners-up, 7.5 to third and 3.75 to fourth.

“We knew the Rebel was always there, but at first we were thinking not to ship,” Baffert said. “We could come back. We hate to ship twice.

“It changes things a little bit, but right now we’re going through a little crisis here in Southern California. We never dreamed the day would come they would close down Santa Anita, but we’re getting through it.

“The main thing is that the three-year-olds, they worked well. They’re coming up there. I think it’s very nice of them to want to split that race. That’s the key thing.”

Fellow Southern Californians Galilean, Gunmetal Gray, Extra Hope, Omaha Beach, and Easy Shot are expected to make the trip as well, while Long Range Toddy is among the locally based candidates.