With Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert on the scene, Improbable worked an easy half-mile in 51.80 seconds on a chilly Monday morning at Churchill Downs in preparation for Saturday's 144th Preakness Stakes (G1) at Pimlico Race Course.
“He worked really easy, an easy half around there,” Baffert said. “I didn't want to do too much with him. I just wanted to make sure that he still has a lot of energy.”
Improbable was 3-for-3 last year but is 0-for-3 this year, finishing second in Oaklawn Park's Rebel (G2) and Arkansas Derby (G1) prior to a fifth-place finish in the Kentucky Derby (G1) that was upgraded to a fourth upon the disqualification of first-place finisher Maximum Security.
“He's going over the ground really well, looks really healthy,” Baffert said. “He's really held his weight really well, especially for a horse who shipped twice to Arkansas and then came back here to run in the Derby. That's what you want to see this time of the year. It looks like he's enjoying himself out there, so I don't see anything that would make me want to change my mind [about running]. We want to go up there and make sure he's hitting on all cylinders. We don't want to go up there and embarrass ourselves. So we were looking good today.”
Baffert has saddled a record-tying seven Preakness winners: Justify (2018), American Pharoah (2015), both of whom went on the sweep the Triple Crown, Lookin At Lucky (2010), War Emblem (2002), Point Given (2001), Real Quiet (1998) and Silver Charm (1997). All five of Baffert's Kentucky Derby winners – War Emblem, Real Quiet and Silver Charm, as well as Justify and American Pharoah – prevailed two weeks later in the Preakness. In Improbable, Baffert will be trying to win the Middle Jewel of the Triple Crown for the third time with a horse who lost the Derby, following champions Point Given in 2001 and Lookin At Lucky in 2010.
“Point Given was a beast,” Baffert said. “This horse has run some big races, hasn't run a bad one, always shows up. That's what I like about that horse. The way the field is shaping up, it looks like it's going to be a big field. It's still a pretty even bunch. As we saw in the Derby, they're all right there. That's why there was so much traffic. They all have the same style, so you still have to get lucky.”
There is a strong possibility that Improbable will go to post Saturday as the favorite.
“I just inherited it, I think. But I wouldn't say he's a heavy, heavy favorite. It's still wide open. Improbable still needs to get away [from the gate]. For some reason, the first 100 yards, he scrambles a little bit. For a horse with as much natural speed as he has, it takes him a while to get going. In the Derby, he was right behind those horses and when Maximum Security slowed it down down the backside, everybody was bottled up behind. It was one of those things where he was fifth and stayed fifth the whole way, there was no moving. I think post position and the break are still very important for him.”
Baffert said he thinks the Preakness' 1 3/16-mile distance could help Improbable.
“A mile and a quarter might be stretching it,” he said. “The thing about his mechanics, he's really light on his feet, so he doesn't really struggle. We'll see how he handles Pimlico. He looked great today.”
Improbable will be one of four Preakness contenders who raced in the Derby, along with War of Will, Win Win Win and Bodexpress.
“We won't have any of the Derby winners in there,” quipped Baffert, referring to disqualified first-place finisher Maximum Security and adjudged winner Country House. “It's still going to be an exciting race. To me, it's still an important race. I really enjoy going to these races. I like the Preakness. I really enjoy it; it's a lot of fun. The pressure is off. We go in there and have a good time.
“All the Classics are really enjoyable. It's just a different type of race. It's all about the 3-year-olds,” he added. “The Breeders' Cup is like the Olympics, different divisions. These Classics are all about the same 3-year-olds. There are a lot of new shooters in here that look tough. There's a hometown horse [Alwaysmining] that's really good. That horse from Golden Gate, Anothertwistafate, he's a really good horse, too. So it's not a gimme. I'm not going in there feeling like I know I have the heavy muscle. I think I have a really good horse, but it's a pretty tough race.”
Improbable is owned by WinStar Farm, China Horse Club International and Starlight Racing, basically the same partnership that campaigned the Baffert-trained 2018 Triple Crown winner Justify. Mike Smith, who rode Justify, picks up the mount for the Preakness.
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