What we learned: Improbable takes torch after Awesome Again

What we learned: Improbable takes torch after Awesome Again
Photo: Benoit

Improbable took an important step toward Horse of the Year at Santa Anita Park Saturday by blitzing the Awesome Again Stakes (G1) field, including his more accomplished stablemate Maximum Security, for a sparkling 4 1/2-length victory for trainer Bob Baffert.

Unfortunately for Maximum Security fans, he was either flat or exposed.

[Click here for Santa Anita Park Results.]

In fairness, Maximum Security did receive a less-than-ideal trip. For one, he went three wide on the first turn through a lively pace, which is not easy to overcome.  

After the turn, Maximum Security traveled in third while sandwiched in between Sleepy Eyes Todd and Midcourt. He never had breathing room. 

As Maximum Security kept company with other speed horses, Take the One O One led the group with a slim cushion through an opening quarter in 23.33, while Improbable bided his time in last, 4 1/2 lengths behind the pacesetter at that point.

Take the One O One went through the half-mile in 46.36 and even tried to open up afterwards, taking a brief two-length advantage at the start of the far turn.

From a visual standpoint, Maximum Security was in deep waters at that point. As he tried to claw his way to the front, his stablemate Improbable caught up with the group following a wide, eye-catching move.

At the top of the stretch, Improbable passed Maximum Security before he could even enjoy the lead for a second. After swallowing the field and securing the lead on the turn, Improbable opened up in midstretch.

Meanwhile, Maximum Security ran on his wrong lead for half of the stretch. While he fought off Midcourt and held second late, this colt did not resemble a star or leading older dirt router. He gave no answer for his stablemate and barely held off a Grade 2-level runner late.

Sure, Maximum Security had a wide first turn. He also ran in an uncomfortable position between two speed horses while Take the One O One set a fast pace. But the best older dirt router in the country is supposed to overcome adversity and at least fight in the stretch. Improbable outran him by 4 1/2 lengths and probably had more in the tank.

Is it possible Maximum Security fooled a few handicappers (including this one) into thinking he was the exact same horse under Baffert compared to Jason Servis? He only competed against horses such as Midcourt, Sharp Samurai and Higher Power in the San Diego Handicap (G2) and Pacific Classic (G1), and those horses are average at best.

Once Improbable switched back to the West Coast and brought new blood to the group, he demolished Maximum Security.

Granted, Improbable had the best position in last behind the fast pace. Drayden Van Dyke rode this 4-year-old colt perfectly by not getting caught in the speed trap. But it is not as though Improbable came out of nowhere with this effort. This year, he also won the Hollywood Gold Cup (G1) and Whitney Stakes (G1) before this race, and he lost the Oaklawn Mile in April by only 3/4 of a length to a sharp Tom’s d’Etat.

The torch has been passed.

With his third straight Grade 1 win, and with the most recent one over Maximum Security, Improbable becomes the new top older dirt router.

Princess Noor overcomes
inside trip in Chandelier Stakes

Once again, Princess Noor gave a powerful performance in the Chandelier Stakes (G2), cementing her lead among 2-year-old fillies heading into the Breeders’ Cup.

Instead of setting the pace or running wide in the clear, this time Princess Noor took dirt by running in the pocket early behind her stablemate Illumination.

Despite traveling in the box, Princess Noor was comfortable.

Approaching the far turn, Victor Espinoza set up the final blow by guiding Princess Noor outside Miss Costa Rica. She then made her bid and caught Illumination.

Princess Noor took the lead and gave another explosive kick, opening up to 8 1/4 lengths by the wire over Varda, with another 9 1/4 lengths between Varda and Miss Costa Rica. Once again, Espinoza did not use the whip once in the stretch run.

In terms of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies, it is hard to imagine Princess Noor losing. Not only is this filly devastatingly fast, she can set the pace, stalk outside or settle in the pocket and eat dirt. The 1 1/16-mile distance is not a problem either.

Right now, Princess Noor hits almost all the checkpoints. The only knock against her is the average 78 Beyer Speed Figure, but perhaps that is not a huge concern given she won completely under her own power.

With Princess Noor's versatility and ease in which she wins races, the Breeders' Cup does not seem like the right time to play against her.

Get Her Number runs faster time
in American Pharoah Stakes

As impressive as Princess Noor ran in the Chandelier, Get Her Number put up a faster time later in the card in capturing the American Pharoah Stakes (G1).

Get Her Number turned in a 1:44.92 for the 1 1/16 miles, while Princess Noor crossed the wire in 1:45.59 for the same distance. Get Her Number also earned a higher Beyer Speed Figure of 84 compared with Princess Noor’s 78. The Chandelier and American Pharoah were the only races at the distance for the entire card.

Get Her Number did receive a break when Luis Saez on Spielberg decided to tug his mount back and concede the pressing position.

Get Her Number then flanked the pacesetter Dyn O Mite for a cozy trip.

Approaching the far turn, Get Her Number made the front with little effort. Waspirant and Spielberg made their bids as well, but neither of them were able to sustain it.

Then, Rombauer came within range into the stretch run, but Get Her Number kept him at bay under mild urging. Get Her Number held on by 3/4 of a length over a resilient Rombauer, with Spielberg 5 1/2 lengths behind Get Her Number in third. Another 4 1/2 lengths came between Spielberg and Waspirant in fourth.

The spaced-out margins are a great sign.

Get Her Number did not crush these horses, but this group might back up the quality of this race as time goes on. The spaced-out margins indicate a quality win, and the Beyer Figure is higher than Princess Noor. As of this writing, the TimeformUS Speed Figure is not entered in the system.

If Jackie’s Warrior cannot stretch out, the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile becomes wide open. If nothing else, Get Her Number is in the mix of top contenders.

Meet Reinier Macatangay

My first time at the racetrack came as a 5-year-old kid at Santa Anita Park. For most of my younger life, that was the only track I attended other the occasional visit to Hollywood Park. 

Years later, after graduating California State University, Stanislaus with an English MA, I began writing for Lady and the Track. From late 2014-2016, my articles were seen on a weekly basis and covered handicapping, interviews with well-known racing personalities, fashion and more. 

The handicapping style I use concentrates on pace analysis. Some horses are compromised by the pace. Others are helped. Handicappers just starting out cannot easily see how pace affects the finish, so with this blog, I hope to help those unsure of how to apply pace into their handicapping and post-race analysis. 

On an unrelated note, I enjoy video games and attending anime or comic-book conventions. I am currently based in Kentucky, but spend a lot of time traveling between there and California.

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