October 21, 2020

Improbable stakes Horse of the Year claims with Awesome Again triumph

Improbable winning the Awesome Again (G1) - © Benoit Photo
Improbable winning the Awesome Again (G1) - © Benoit Photo

The up-and-down career of Improbable can easily be described as—well—improbable. An undefeated Grade 1-winning juvenile, Improbable compiled a frustrating 1-for-7 record as a sophomore, done in by a combination of poor starts and tricky inside trips.

When high-class 2-year-olds fail to progress as 3-year-olds, they rarely recapture their elite form as older runners. But against the odds, the 4-year-old Improbable has managed to resurrect his career. After dominating the Hollywood Gold Cup (G1) and Whitney (G1) during the spring and summer, the Bob Baffert-trained son of City Zip emerged as a serious Horse of the Year contender when powering to victory in Saturday’s $300,000 Awesome Again (G1) at Santa Anita.

Despite entering the race with impressive credentials, Improbable wasn’t expected to win the Awesome Again. Favoritism in the 1 1/8-mile event fell to Improbable’s stablemate Maximum Security, the champion 3-year-old male of 2019. Fresh off victories in the San Diego H. (G2) and Pacific Classic (G1) at Del Mar, Maximum Security started at 1-2 in a field of five, with Improbable the second choice at 9-5.

But it didn’t take long for the complexion of the race to shift in favor of Improbable. When the gates opened, longshot Take the One O One came barreling out with Sleepy Eyes Todd, Maximum Security, and Midcourt in close pursuit, sucking the four speedsters along through increasingly stiff fractions of :23.33, :46.36, and 1:09.79.

In contrast, Improbable was content to trail the field by a half a dozen lengths in the early going. A clean start helped the chestnut colt settle comfortably behind the early speed duel, marking a return to the late-running tactics Improbable successfully employed as a juvenile.

“The gate guy did a fabulous job with him, holding him still, he got out clean,” explained winning jockey Drayden Van Dyke. “He showed a different tactic today which he showed before when he was two. He used to come off the pace more than usual. With the longer distances it seems like he would be closer, but they were going quick and he was back there going his comfortable pace and I was confident with him. He’s been training super, so I was just waiting for the stretch to come.”

By the time the homestretch approached, Improbable was in full flight, sweeping past the leg-weary leaders with a visually spectacular turn of foot. Improbable led by daylight passing the eighth pole and ultimately won wrapped up by 4 1/2 lengths in 1:49.01.

Maximum Security failed to fire his best shot after tracking the fast early tempo, but battled gamely down the stretch to edge Midcourt by a half-length for second place, completing a 1-2 sweep for Baffert trainees. Take the One O One and Sleepy Eyes Todd weakened to trail the field.

“There was a lot of pressure along the way and he couldn’t get comfortable, but that’s how these races go. You win sometimes and don’t others,” said Luis Saez, rider of Maximum Security. “The good thing is he pulled up pretty good, so let’s see how next time goes. He was fighting at the end of the race, but we lost.”

Produced by the A.P. Indy mare Rare Event, Improbable was bred in Kentucky by St. George Farm and G. Watts Humphrey Jr. Owned by the high-profile partnership of WinStar Farm, China Horse Club, and SF Racing, Improbable has compiled a 14-7-3-0 record with earnings of $1,709,520.

“I knew I was coming in here with two really good horses,” said Baffert. “[Improbable] loves this track. He seems to be better in the gate here; that’s why we ran him here. I hate to see my horses have to beat the other horse but ‘Max’ ran gallantly.”

Emphasizing the impressive scope of Improbable’s 2020 campaign, prevailing in the Awesome Again secured the versatile colt a second “Win and You’re In” berth to the Nov. 7 Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) at Keeneland, where he’ll vie for the winner’s share of a $6 million purse.

But for Improbable, there’s much more on the line than purse money alone. Victory in the Classic would virtually lock up Horse of the Year honors for Improbable, completing an impressive—and yes, improbable—career renaissance.