The media scrum piling up outside of Churchill Downs' Barn 33 was a surefire indicator that the white-haired one himself was back on the scene. As Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert emerged to hold court for more than 20 minutes Saturday morning, he led off his Derby week testimonials by giving a hat tip to how stout the lone classic hopeful of his already on the scene was handling the hoopla himself.
With his stablemates and fellow Derby contenders Game Winner and Roadster en route from California, Grade I winner Improbable put in an easy gallop under regular exercise rider Jose Contreras at Churchill Downs one day before his scheduled final workout in advance of the first leg of the Triple Crown.
The son of City Zip was calm and professional on a morning in which likely race favorite Omaha Beach turned in his final pre-Derby move. As well as Improbable got over the Santa Anita Park surface in his preparations for his runner-up outings in the Rebel Stakes (GII) and Arkansas Derby (GI), Baffert feels the Churchill Downs main track actually may be more conducive to bringing out the best in the chestnut colt.
“(Assistant trainer) Jimmy (Barnes) has been really happy with him,” Baffert said of Improbable. “He really likes this track. They're coming from Santa Anita where it has been pretty deep, they've made it really, really deep. He'll work tomorrow…but he's really coming into this race pretty well.”
Improbable turned in a half-mile breeze in :48 at Churchill Downs on April 22, a move that may have set the colt up to show more speed early on in his classic try.
“I do know that Bob feels like you do have to get out of the gate well, feels like you need to get into a rhythm. And, you know, Improbable's strength is his stride, so I think he does want him to get in a nice rhythm and not have too many obstacles in his path,” said Elliott Walden, president and CEO of WinStar Farm, which co-owns the colt along with China Horse Club International and Starlight Racing. “It's possible that he would show a little more speed, but he's not a horse that's going to drag you to the front end or you're going to have to worry about slowing down. I see him somewhere in that first tier, probably four, five, six lengths off it.”
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