Trainer Bob Baffert is well accustomed to wheeling and dealing with expensive horses. Triple Crown winner Justify cost $500,000. Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Arrogate cost $560,000. Two of Baffert’s flashy maiden winners this year cost $925,000 and $625,000.
But some of Baffert’s best runners this season have been quite inexpensive by those standards, and that includes Improbable, who sold for just $200,000 at the 2017 Keeneland September yearling sale. Now racing for the powerful partnership of WinStar Farm, China Horse Club International, and Starlight Racing—three of the team members involved with Justify—Improbable has already earned back his purchase price with three wins from as many starts, and with his victory in Saturday’s Los Alamitos Futurity (gr. I), he’s already drawing comparisons to his Triple Crown-winning predecessor.
So far, Improbable has only been challenged once, in his debut on September 29th at Santa Anita when he dug down deep to wear down the capable Stretford End and win by a neck. In retrospect, the six-furlong distance of that maiden sprint might have been too short for Improbable; when he stretched out to a mile in the Street Sense Stakes at Churchill Downs, he made an eye-catching early move into a fast pace and then left his rivals reeling in the homestretch as he powered to a 7 ¼-length score.
That breathtaking performance stamped Improbable as the overwhelming 1-5 favorite for the Los Alamitos Futurity, where he would face tougher competition led by his own graded stakes-winning stablemate Mucho Gusto. But Improbable rose to the challenge like a very good horse, tracking the pace before remarkably accelerating in the second half-mile, running the distance in approximately :47.30 seconds—faster than his opening half-mile in about :47.50.
That tremendous move, coupled with a final sixteenth in :06.39, carried Improbable to a five-length victory and elicited praise from Baffert and WinStar Farm representative Elliot Walden. “Improbable has a long stride like Justify,” Baffert told Los Alamitos. “He’s just a smaller version. I’m not saying he’s at Justify’s level yet, but he’s a really good horse.”
“Bob (Baffert) has liked this horse all along,” added Elliot. “When Justify went to the farm from Del Mar this summer, Bob put Improbable in his stall. I loved his race today. The best thing about it was his last eighth of a mile and the way he galloped out. That gives you the hope for the future and that’s what we’re all looking for going towards the spring classics.”
Indeed, although Improbable’s sire is City Zip—not frequently considered a source of classic stamina—it appears that Improbable is instead following in the footsteps of his broodmare sire A.P. Indy, winner of the 1992 Belmont Stakes and a renowned source of stamina. Thus far, Improbable has shown no signs of distance limitations, and when you consider that City Zip has been known to sire the occasional long-winded runner as well—Pacific Classic (gr. I) winner Collected comes to mind—there’s no reason to think Improbable can’t be effective on the Road to the Kentucky Derby and in the Kentucky Derby itself.
And if Improbable keeps improving with maturity, then suffice to say, his rivals had better be on their toes!