After a largely disappointing 3-year-old campaign, Improbable has come back with a vengeance as a 4-year-old. On Saturday, the son of City Zip earned his second top-level win in succession with a two-length triumph in $695,000 Whitney Stakes (G1) at Saratoga, benefiting in part from a bad stumble by even-money favorite Tom’s de’Etat at the start.
Fractious in the gate but entirely professional once the latch was sprung, Improbable rated in second as longshot Mr. Buff set pedestrian splits of :25.12, :49.74, and 1:13.36. By My Standards and Code of Honor tracked in third and fourth, respectively, while Tom’s d’Etat was forced to trail some five to six lengths behind the leader after his troubled beginning.
Improbable bid for the lead around the far turn and easily seized it from the outclassed Mr. Buff, opening up to what would be a three-length advantage at its largest by mid-stretch. With the slow pace blunting any possibility of a serious challenge from the back, Improbable won comfortably under Irad Ortiz Jr. in a time of 1:48.65 for 9 furlongs on a fast track.
“He got up really quick and he put me in the race,” Ortiz said. “I just took a little hold because Mr Buff looked like the speed of the race. I put him in second in the clear, like we wanted and went from there.
“He was comfortable. By the backside, we felt pressure but by his own he started picking it up. I let him do his thing because they were going really slow so I let him go early. When I asked him turning for home, he responded really well.”
Owned by WinStar Farm, CHC Inc., and SF Racing, the Bob Baffert-trained Improbable paid $8.50 as the third choice. By My Standards edged the unlucky Tom’s d’Etat for second by a half-length, while Code of Honor finished 2 1/2 lengths farther back in fourth in a dull effort. Mr. Buff trailed the quintet.
“He was standing fine. He just missed the break,” said jockey Joel Rosario about Tom’s d’Etat. “The horse to the inside of him was moving a little bit. He was straight, he just stumbled a little bit. It changed my plan because I had to really get riding from there. I couldn’t take my time.
“I thought the pace was fine. Even after that, I was not too far from the lead. It looked like I was in a good spot. But stumbling out of the gate, I lost ground right away.”
Improbable is now 2-for-3 this year and with this Whitney win secured an automatic bid toward the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) at Keeneland in November. After a narrow, season-opening loss to Tom’s d’Etat in the Apr. 11 Oaklawn Mile, the chestnut put to rest any doubts of his ability to get 1 1/4 miles with a 3 1/4-length score in the Hollywood Gold Cup (G1) at Santa Anita on June 6.
Improbable joins Sultry Song (1992), Horse of the Year Criminal Type (1990), and Hall of Famer Ancient Title (1975) as others to pull off the Hollywood Gold Cup/Whitney double.
Deemed a major prospect for the 2019 classics after a dominating score in the Los Alamitos Futurity (G1) at two, Improbable was largely underwhelming last season scoring only one stakes victory, in the Shared Belief at Del Mar. His only other placings in seven starts were in a division of the Rebel (G2) and the Arkansas Derby (G1) in his first two starts of the season. He was the beaten favorite in both the Kentucky Derby (G1) and Preakness (G1), finishing unplaced in both. Improbable’s record now stands at 13-6-3-0, $1,529,520.
Bred in Kentucky by St. George Farm and G. Watts Humphrey Jr., Improbable was a $200,000 Keeneland September purchase. He was produced by Rare Event, by A.P. Indy, and is from the family of Grade 1 winner and dual classic-placed Hard Spun.