Improbable Much the Best in Awesome Again, Juveniles Shine at Santa Anita

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Improbable swept to the lead in the Grade 1 Awesome Again Stakes Sept. 26 at Santa Anita Park, defeating Maximum Security in the final West Coast prep for the Longines Breeders’ Cup Classic. (Eclipse Sportswire)

Improbable, a colt trainer Bob Baffert previously called “Baby Justify,” a reference to his 2018 Triple Crown winner, is now living up to that title in 2020.

Racing Sept. 26 in the $300,000, Grade 1 Awesome Again Stakes at Santa Anita Park, the 4-year-old City Zip colt won his third consecutive Grade 1 by defeating stablemate and 1-2 favorite Maximum Security by 4 1/2 lengths. This followed earlier top-level scores in the Whitney Stakes and Hollywood Gold Cup over the summer.

Though he performed at his best in the Awesome Again, he received an assist from several rivals in the 1 1/8-mile dirt race, who never gave Maximum Security a chance to catch a breather.

Improbable (Eclipse Sportswire)

Take the One O One shot to the lead with quarter-mile splits of :23.33, :46.36, and 1:09.79, but it was what was immediately unfolding behind him that seemed to compromise Maximum Security. The 1-2 favorite was blanketed by a pace-chasing foe to his inside in Sleepy Eyes Todd, and one on his outside in Midcourt.

Watching this unfold, jockey Drayden Van Dyke allowed Improbable to fall farther off the pace than usual. Kept all by himself in last, free of traffic behind the four speed horses, Van Dyke then called him into action on the second turn, and Improbable did the rest.

Six lengths off the leader after a half-mile, he pulled within 3 1/2 lengths after six furlongs and was in front soon after turning into the stretch. He opened up a three-length advantage with a furlong to run and continued pulling away under confident handling.

He raced 1 1/8 miles on a fast track in 1:49.01, paying $5.60 as the second choice in the field of five.

Improbable was a bit antsy in the starting gate but was under control when it was sprung and broke sharply.

“The gate guy did a fabulous job with him, holding him still — he got out clean,” said Van Dyke. “I was going to see what everyone else was gonna do, and they did what they did and I did what I did and it worked out good.”

Maximum Security, who came under early urging on the second turn from Luis Saez, did not produce his customary top-notch performance. He was a bit slow to change leads in the stretch but grabbed the place, a half-length ahead of wide-racing Midcourt, who settled for the show.

“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,” Saez said. “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.”

The Improbable-Maximum Security outcome gave Baffert a 1-2 finish. Baffert began training Maximum Security this spring after former trainer Jason Servis was indicted on doping-related charges in March.

Take the One O One and Sleepy Eyes Todd completed the order of finish.

The Awesome Again was just the second meeting between Improbable and Maximum Security following an encounter in the 2019 Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve at Churchill Downs. That day, Maximum Security crossed the finish line first before he was disqualified and placed 17th for interference, while beaten favorite Improbable saw his position elevated from fifth to fourth when largely unaffected by Maximum Security’s erratic run.

The Derby was one of numerous disappointments from Improbable at age 3. He also ran sixth as the public choice in the Preakness Stakes last year.

His victory in the Awesome Again gave Baffert his sixth victory in the race, the final major prep on the West Coast leading up to the Longines Breeders’ Cup Classic, and earned Improbable an expenses-paid berth in the $6 million Classic via the "Win and You're In" Challenge Series.


Surface Switch Unlocks Breakout Performance from Get Her Number

Gary Barber’s Get Her Number switched from turf to dirt and pulled off an 8-1 upset in the $301,000, Grade 1 American Pharoah Stakes.

With the victory, the 2-year-old Dialed In colt secured an automatic berth in the Nov. 6 TVG Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Presented by Thoroughbred Aftercare Association at Keeneland.

Get Her Number (Eclipse Sportswire)

Peter Miller-trained Get Her Number won on Del Mar’s grass in his Aug. 14 debut and finished a close fourth in the Sept. 7 Del Mar Juvenile Turf Stakes. Jockey Flavien Prat was back aboard Get Her Number on Saturday as the bay colt moved to the main track and stretched out to 1 1/16 miles for the first time.

“We wanted to see how the horse could do in the grass, so we decided to give that a shot,” said assistant trainer Ruben Alvarado.

“I thought it was a great move [switching to dirt],” Prat said. “He was a bit disappointing last race. I thought I had good race, easy pace, and he didn’t really show a turn of foot. I thought running on the dirt was a good move.”

Get Her Number broke sharply from post 6 in the seven-horse field but settled for second as Dyn O Mite grabbed the lead out of post 3. Dyn O Mite set fractions of :23.12 and :47.07 through the first half-mile with Get Her Number stalking on the outside. Spielberg, the even-money favorite, chased in third. After the half-mile, Prat allowed Get Her Number to take over the lead as Dyn O Mite gave way. Get Her Number ran three-quarters in 1:12.46, then opened up down the stretch, gaining a 1 1/2-length lead. Rombauer, an 11-1 shot rallying from last, came running late, but Get Her Number held strong to win by three-quarters of a length.

“We had a good trip; he broke well and he put me in the race,” Prat said. “He reacted well on the backside, and by that point I felt in control.”

The final time on the fast track was 1:44.92.

“I think Keeneland is the plan,” Alvarado said, referring to the Breeders’ Cup. “If everything comes off OK and looks OK, I think that is what we will do.”—Christine Oser


Princess Noor Sparkles in Chandelier

Princess Noor (Eclipse Sportswire)

Already considered a leading contender for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies, Zedan Racing Stables’ Princess Noor dazzled Sept. 26 with an 8 1/4-length romp in the $200,000, Grade 2 Chandelier Stakes.

The daughter of Not This Time remains undefeated in three starts with earnings of $303,000 for trainer Bob Baffert. She won an Aug. 22 maiden special weight at Del Mar before taking the Grade 1 Del Mar Debutante Stakes by 6 1/2 lengths. Victor Espinoza has been aboard for each start.

Espinoza said the dark bay evokes memories of some of his greatest mounts, like 2015 Triple Crown champion American Pharoah and two-time Horse of the Year California Chrome, but he added she’s the best of her division he’s ever had the pleasure to ride.

“She reminds me of other great horses I used to ride like American Pharoah and California Chrome,” the rider said. “The talent is there, we just have to let them be happy around the racetrack.

“I’ve been riding amazing horses, but as a filly, she’s the best one I’ve ever ridden.”

Princess Noor earned herself an automatic berth in the year-end World Championships on Future Stars Friday Nov. 6 at Keeneland with the victory in the Breeders’ Cup Challenge event.—Christine Oser


Mucho Unusual Punches Filly and Mare Turf Ticket in Rodeo Drive

George Krikorian’s California homebred Mucho Unusual punched her ticket to the Maker’s Mark Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf with a front-end score in the $300,000, Grade 1 Rodeo Drive Stakes.

The Tim Yakteen trainee came off a third-place finish in the Aug. 15 Solana Beach Stakes at Del Mar to earn her first Grade 1 in the 1 1/4-mile Rodeo Drive, a Breeders’ Cup Challenge event that awarded her with an automatic berth in the Nov. 7 Filly & Mare Turf.

It was also the first Grade 1 win for jockey Juan Hernandez, who recently moved his tack to the Southern California circuit after building his career on the Northern California circuit.

“Her mother, Not Unusual, has been a great producer, so it was great to get a Grade 1 win on that page for her. It’s very gratifying,” Yakteen said.—Claire Crosby


Front-Running United Strikes in John Henry

After United notched an eye-opening win in his final prep for a return trip to the Longines Breeders’ Cup Turf, trainer Richard Mandella may have raised some eyebrows in commenting on what will happen Nov. 7 at Keeneland.

“We’re going to blow their tires off,” Mandella said.

Even if the Hall of Fame trainer was speaking in a light-hearted tone, LNJ Foxwoods’ United is surely heading into the World Championships in outstanding form as evidenced by the gelding’s easy 1 1/2-length, front-running victory in the $201,000 John Henry Turf Championship Stakes.

The victory continued a string of stellar performances by United, who ran rather well at 51-1 odds in last year’s Turf, finishing second, a head behind Horse of the Year Bricks and Mortar.—Bob Ehalt

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