Though Improbable has long shown flashes of serious talent, slow starts and troubled trips have largely prevented the classy son of City Zip from delivering on his potential.
But on Saturday at Santa Anita, everything fell into place for Improbable. A clean outside stalking trip in the $300,000 Hollywood Gold Cup (G1) allowed the flashy chestnut to post a convincing victory, his first in a graded stakes race since the 2018 Los Alamitos Futurity (G1).
Three-time Hollywood Gold Cup winner and Hall of Fame inductee Lava Man led the post parade for the historic 1 1/4-mile race, which attracted a compact field of six horses. Improbable, racing for the partnership of WinStar Farm, China Horse Club, and SF Racing, was favored at 13-10 off a narrow runner-up effort in the Oaklawn Mile S.
Per the norm, Improbable broke a step slowly from the starting gate, but under urging from jockey Drayden Van Dyke, he recovered to track longshot Brown Storm through steady splits of :23.24, :47.57, and 1:11.84. The 2019 Pacific Classic (G1) champion Higher Power was content to relax in fourth place while racing outside of rivals.
Rounding the far turn, Improbable easily seized the lead, widening at will to hit the quarter pole three lengths in front. Higher Power gamely pursued the favorite down the lane, but Improbable was always in command and cruised to the finish line with 3 1/4 lengths to spare, hitting the wire in 2:01.69. Higher Power finished 4 1/2 lengths clear of Tenfold, followed by Brown Storm, the slow-starting Midcourt, and Parsimony.
“This horse has been training so well,” Baffert told Santa Anita after the race. “…Drayden had him in the perfect spot and he had plenty left for the run home. I’m happy for the team.”
Van Dyke agreed with Baffert’s assessment of Improbable’s training.
“It was how he has been working in the mornings, I worked him several times going 7 furlongs and these gallop-outs that he would give me were just unbelievable,” Van Dyke said. “He was doing unbelievable for this race, he was sitting on a big one and he ran a big one.”
Winning the Hollywood Gold Cup secured Improbable $180,000, boosting his career tally past the million-dollar mark to $1,129,520. Bred by St. George Farm and G. Watts Humphrey Jr., Improbable was produced by the A.P. Indy mare Rare Event, a four-time winner who was at her best on grass.
“Everyone thought (Improbable) was a turf horse and I thought he needed the dirt,” remarked Baffert. “This horse is only going to get better.”
If the Hollywood Gold Cup is any indication, that’s a scary proposition for Improbable’s rivals.