He’s 3-5 on the morning line, which says something about how much will be expected of #9 Improbable when he makes his much-anticipated three-year-old debut in the first division of Saturday’s $750,000 Rebel Stakes (gr. II) at Oaklawn Park.
Trained by Bob Baffert, who has won the Rebel six times since 2010, Improbable is undefeated in three starts and hasn’t been challenged in his two stakes wins, dominating the Street Sense Stakes at Churchill Downs by 7 ¼ lengths before cruising to a five-length victory over the next-out winners Mucho Gusto and Extra Hope in the Los Alamitos Futurity (gr. I). For those efforts, Improbable earned BRIS speed figures of 99 and 100, both superior to the career-best figures posted by his Rebel rivals.
Improbable hasn’t run since December 8, but fitness shouldn’t be any issue—he’s been training up a storm with 11 workouts since January 9. Plus, under the allowance conditions of the Rebel Stakes, Improbable will be carrying three pounds less than his primary rival #8 Galilean. Drawing post nine should afford Improbable plenty of options to work out a perfect trip, probably stalking Galilean and the speedy #7 Classy John early on. He’ll be a short price, but I don’t expect to see Improbable lose this Road to the Kentucky Derby prep race.
For the exotics, Galilean is a logical choice given that he’s won three of his four starts in California. He’s been particularly effective since stretching out to a mile and beyond, dominating the King Glorious Stakes and California Cup Derby (both against California-breds) by a combined 13 ½ lengths. But I’m just as intrigued by #1 Extra Hope, who finished third behind Improbable in the Los Alamitos Futurity.
Trained by Richard Mandella, Extra Hope returned to action on January 31 with an eye-catching performance in a one-mile allowance optional claiming race at Santa Anita. Showing more speed than usual over a sloppy, sealed track, Extra Hope pressed a solid pace (six furlongs in 1:08.97), then took command and pulled away to win by 3 ¼ lengths over Baffert’s capable colt Kingly. Like Improbable, Extra Hope boasts a solid recent work tab, and he’ll have Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith in the saddle.
Among the locals, #2 Long Range Toddy must be respected after finishing second in the Smarty Jones Stakes and third in the Southwest Stakes (gr. III), but while he did have a little trouble in the Southwest (waiting in traffic at a key moment on the far turn), he also seems to have reached a ceiling form-wise that could leave him vying for the minor awards. #4 Easy Shot’s overall form might not be as flashy, but he’s been competing against tough company in California, where he finished third in the Robert B. Lewis Stakes (gr. III) last month. He might have recorded a similar finish in the Sham Stakes (gr. III) two starts back if not for a lack of racing room in the final furlong.
I’ll key Improbable on top of a couple large trifectas while emphasizing Galilean and Extra Hope underneath:
$7 trifecta: 9 with 1,8 with 1,8 ($14)
$4 trifecta: 9 with 1,8 with 2,4 ($16)