Tom Pedulla presents five takeaways from Whitney Day on Saturday at Saratoga Race Course and other key developments this weekend:
IMPROBABLE WHITNEY: Improbable, widely regarded as a disappointment at 3, is redeeming himself at 4. He was a beaten favorite in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve, ran a lackluster sixth in the Preakness Stakes and was a punchless fifth in the Big Ass Fans Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile as a sophomore. This year, it’s a different story. After placing second to Tom’s d’Etat in the Oaklawn Mile, he now boasts consecutive Grade 1 triumphs after adding Saturday’s Whitney Stakes to his June 6 success in the Hollywood Gold Cup at Santa Anita. Improbable was masterfully ridden in the Whitney by Irad Ortiz, Jr. “The horse is a fabulous racehorse and the best is yet to come,” said Elliott Walden, chief executive officer of co-owner WinStar Farm. Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert also oversaw McKinzie, last year’s Whitney winner. Baffert is the first trainer to capture the prestigious Whitney in consecutive seasons since Flint Schulhofer accomplished that with Colonial Affair and Unaccounted For in 1994-1995.
DERBY TICKET: Thousand Words failed to fulfill his promise early this season when he followed a victory in the Feb. 1 Robert B. Lewis Stakes with dull efforts in the San Felipe Stakes and Oaklawn Stakes. He finished fourth and 11th, respectively, in those races. He is rounding back into form when it counts most, following a runner-up finish in the Los Alamitos Derby with an upset win over Honor A. P. in the Shared Belief Stakes on Saturday at Del Mar. The victory, with Abel Cedillo aboard, was worth 50 Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve qualifying points. That is enough for Thousand Words to enter the Churchill Downs starting gate on the first Saturday in September. “He had soured out on me, but we got him going the right way,” said trainer Bob Baffert. “I think he earned his way to the Derby.”
QUICK TURNAROUND: After Vexatious was second best to Monomoy Girl in the Ruffian Stakes at Belmont Park, trainer Jack Sisterson began to ponder a step up to the Personal Ensign Stakes. He was not sure Vexatious could handle the three-week turnaround – until she told him otherwise. “We put this race in her hands and let her tell us she was ready to come back, and three weeks later she told us she was ready to run. Physically, she looked great and worked well last week,” Sisterson said. Vexatious and jockey Jose Lezcano were so ready for the challenge that they outdueled Midnight Bisou and Ricardo Santana, Jr. Vexatious earned her first Grade 1 victory while withstanding a stewards’ inquiry for alleged interference in the stretch. It also was the first Grade 1 for Sisterson, who had not won before at Saratoga.
PUTTING IT TOGETHER: L and N Racing’s Echo Town, unraced at 2, had alternated wins and losses through his first six starts this year before finally demonstrating his quality beyond a doubt with a 3 ½-length victory in the $300,000 H. Allen Jerkens Stakes Presented by Runhappy with Ricardo Santana Jr. aboard. It was the first career stakes victory for the son of crack sprinter Speightstown. “It was great to see him put it all together when it matters so much on this stage,” said trainer Steve Asmussen. “He ran solidly here.” Echo Town was timed in 1:22.53 for the seven furlongs on a fast main track.
TIZ PERFECT: Trainer Barclay Tagg described Tiz the Law’s final work for next Saturday’s $1 million Runhappy Travers Stakes as “perfect” after his Belmont Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets winner clocked 59.44 seconds for five furlongs. “I wanted to go in a minute and he went in a minute. It was perfect,” Tagg said. “We couldn’t have worked better. He came back good and he was breathing good. He’s a gem to work with.” The Constitution colt recorded splits of 23.4 and 36 seconds before galloping out in 1:13.2 for exercise rider Robin Smullen. He was the first horse on the main track on Saturday at 5:30 a.m. ET. That was not by chance. Smullen noted that he tends to become headstrong when he spots another runner while he is breezing.