Bob Baffert puts a horse in the Los Alamitos Futurity. Bob Baffert wins the Los Alamitos Futurity.
Lather. Rinse. Repeat.
And since last impressions are so influential in futures betting, Improbable’s five-length victory here Saturday has already made a dent in Kentucky Derby futures betting. William Hill cut Improbable from 15-1 to 10-1, tying him for the second choice with the idle Instagrand. Only Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner Game Winner at 5-1 – another Baffert-trained colt – is shorter priced.
As impressive as Improbable (1-5) looked in winning Saturday’s $300,345 Grade 1 points prep for the Derby, and as big as he ran in a 7¼-length win in the $100,000 Street Sense Stakes during Breeders’ Cup weekend last month at Churchill Downs, there will be cynics who will spend most of the next five months telling us why this colt cannot win the roses.
Improbable is not very big. In his three races – all wins ridden by Drayden Van Dyke – he has not drawn a post position wider than 2. He faced only five others Saturday in his graded-stakes debut, including an overmatched stable mate. He has not been in a race with any other bona fide Kentucky Derby prospects.
OK, those last two sentences throw shade on Mucho Gusto (4-1), the second-place horse that completed a Baffert exacta worth a whopping $2.80 on the dollar. Now 2-for-3, he is still a respectable 60-1 to win the Derby. But he does not look like he is in that league. At least not right now.
Thanks to Improbable, Baffert has now won this race 11 times, including all five runnings since it was moved here after the closing of Hollywood Park. Combined with Chasing Yesterday’s win an hour later in the $300,345 Grade 1 Starlet Stakes for fillies, Baffert is now 31-for-56 this year with his 2-year-olds. By going 2-for-4 on Saturday, his success rate actually dropped about a half-point to 55.4 percent.
“Yeah, what happened there?” Baffert said. “I’ve been doing this all my life. I’ve got great clientele. I’ve got a great team. In this business they can give you the tools, but you have to win. You have to produce. As long as you produce every year, you get these chances. It took me over 30 years to get to this point where they send me these nice horses.”
Until Jerry Hollendorfer brings Instagrand back from his break to reclaim the hype he earned during the California summer, and until Game Winner gets back into Derby preps presumably no sooner than mid-winter, the all-too-early Derby buzz will belong to Improbable.
“Once he got straightened out (in the stretch), he got into that long, beautiful stride of his,” Baffert said. “Improbable has a long stride like Justify. He’s just a smaller version.”
Since Improbable is just a 2-year-old – a small-forward-sized son of City Zip out of an A.P. Indy broodmare – there are those 2-year-old things that crop up.
“At the top of the stretch he looked a little lost,” Baffert said. “Drayden had to hit him a couple of times.”
About the only drama that Improbable faced Saturday came in early in the 8½-furlong race. He was in third when Savagery (27-1), ridden by Florent Geroux, blew the first turn and drifted out about eight paths. He interfered with Extra Hope (15-1) and Dueling (11-1) and would have forced Improbable impossibly wide had there not been a length between them.
“We were just behind the trouble on the first turn,” Van Dyke said. “To be honest we benefitted, because we ended up where we wanted to be – three-wide behind the leaders.”
From there Improbable chased the pace-setting Mucho Gusto and his handy fractions of 23.25, 47.25 and 1:10.82. By the time they came into the forever-long, 460-yard stretch, Improbable overtook Mucho Gusto and extended his lead under Van Dyke’s insistent but never frenetic urging. He won in 1:41.18 on the fast, dirt track, the fastest time for this race since Dortmund started Baffert’s current streak four years ago.
“He just hit another gear when we got to the stretch,” Van Dyke said.
Extra Hope finished third and stayed there. Savagery crossed fourth but was demoted by stewards to fifth, switching places with Dueling. King Of Speed (26-1) was a non-factor finishing last.
Since they have not even turned 3 yet, it is way too soon to declare Improbable or any horse a Derby favorite. But Elliott Walden does not see it that way. Walden, the CEO of Improbable’s lead owner WinStar Farm, was also the CEO who was in charge of Justify’s 112-day dash to this year’s Triple Crown.
“We dream big,” Walden said. “I think this stamps (Improbable) as one of the favorites for the Derby. He’s got to continue developing and keep improving, but this does give you hope for the future. And that’s what we’re in this business for. To dream and to hope.”
Ron Flatter’s weekly racing column is posted every Friday morning at VSiN.com and after big races. You may also hear the Ron Flatter Racing Pod, also posted Friday mornings at VSiN.com/podcasts. This week’s edition includes Hall of Fame trainer Richard Mandella discussing Saturday’s Los Alamitos Futurity and TVG international racing specialist Candice Hare with preview from Asia of the Hong Kong International Races. Racehorses by the Letters considers the best horse with a name starting with “E.” The RFRP is also available at leading providers such as Apple Podcasts, Google Play Podcasts and Stitcher.