Weekend Takeaways: Improbable gaining ground on Game Winner

Weekend Takeaways: Improbable gaining ground on Game Winner
Photo: Chris Crestik/Eclipse Sportswire

Game Winner will be crowned champion 2-year-old colt without a doubt. He won two Grade 1 races in Southern California before scoring in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Churchill Downs Nov. 2, but it’s far from impossible that one of his Bob Baffert stablemates could dethrone him as an early Kentucky Derby 2019 favorite.

On the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile undercard, Improbable, owned by WinStar Farm, China Racing Club and SF Racing, romped home in the Street Sense Stakes in only his second start. Improbable then backed that performance up with a five-length win in the Los Alamitos Cash Call Futurity (G1) Saturday, notching his first win at the top level.

“At the top of the stretch (Improbable) looked a little lost. (Jockey Drayden Van Dyke) had to hit him a couple of times,” Baffet said. “Once he straightened out, he got into that long, beautiful stride of his. The good horses always find a way to win. He had trained like he was going to run like this… We’ll just let these horses come along at their own pace and hope they stay healthy. That’s the key. Improbable has a long stride like Justify. He’s just a smaller version. I’m not saying he’s at Justify’s level yet, but he’s a really good horse.”

Game Winner and Improbable are standouts in Baffert’s 2-year-old arsenal. Others include Los Alamitos Futurity runner-up Mucho Gusto, Coliseum and Roadster. The Hall of Famer’s Derby hopefuls are usually seen at Santa Anita Park and Oaklawn Park after the turn of the year, but with so many standouts, they’re likely to collide at some point on the Derby trail.

Without Game Winner and Improbable running against each other, it’s hard to say one is better than the other, as both are undefeated. What leaves Game Winner on top is an earlier start to his race career over the summer and a Breeders’ Cup victory. How they stack up against each other at 3 is to be determined. 

The Los Alamitos Derby confirmed Improbable is a colt to watch for on the Derby trail as he racked up his first 10 points (Game Winner leads with 30). It also showed that the biggest competition for Baffert’s Derby hopefuls might be the horses they share the same barn with, and Game Winner and Improbable are two of the biggest names in the 2-year-old division right now.

Chasing Yesterday looks like the best of Pharoah’s siblings

Summer Wind Equine’s Chasing Yesterday shined in her Starlet Stakes (G1) victory at Los Alamitos Saturday. The performance certainly made up for a disappointing go in the Spinaway (G1) during the Saratoga meet, where she never got rolling after losing a shoe. The win also makes her the first Grade 1-winning sibling of 2015 Triple Crown winner American Pharaoh.

Between her two Grade 1 tests, Chasing Yesterday regained her confidence in Santa Anita’s Anoakia Stakes and Del Mar’s Desi Arnaz Stakes. She faced tougher competition at Los Alamitos and overcame turning four wide to win by a head, running down Mother Mother, the pacesetter and her stablemate, and edging Enaya Alrabb in second. 

“I didn’t think (Chasing Yesterday) was going to get there because she had been so wide,” Baffert said. “She’s a nice filly, but (Van Dyke) really sat patient. He loves this filly and he had a lot of confidence in her…. Pretty nice to get a Grade I win with American Pharoah’s (half) sister.”

The mare Littleprincessemma has produced winners after American Pharoah, including Del Mar maiden winners American Cleopatra and St Patrick’s Day, who, like American Pharoah, are sired by Pioneerof the Nile. American Cleopatra was second in the 2016 Del Mar Debutante (G1) while St Patrick’s Day was runner-up in a Group 3 stakes this past September. Unlike the two before her, Chasing Yesterday is sired by Tapit.

Chasing Yesterday earned 10 points on the Kentucky Oaks 2019 trail by winning the Starlet. While she hasn’t faced the like of Jaywalk or Restless Rider on the East Coast – the one-two finishers in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies – or multiple Grade 1 winner Bellafina on the West Coast, the Starlet victory showed she has fight in her. And so far, she looks like the best of her siblings since American Pharoah. Look for her as a leading contender when the 3-year-old filly races pop up in Southern California. 

Hong Kong could have a strong contingent on Dubai World Cup day

Hong Kong-based horses successfully defended their turf during Sunday’s Hong Kong International Races at Sha Tin Racecourse, sweeping the four Group 1 events – the Hong Kong Vase, the Hong Kong Cup, the Hong Kong Mile and the Hong Kong Sprint.

Beauty Generation
(Mile) and Mr Stunning (Sprint) were both repeat victors from last year’s H.K.I.R while Glorious Forever had a breakthrough victory in the Cup and Exultant earned his first Group 1 in the Vase. At least two of the winners are under consideration for Dubai World Cup day. 

Trainer John Moore is hoping to take Patrick Kwok Ho Chuen’s Beauty Generation to the Dubai Turf (G1), which runs an extra eighth of a mile, at Meydan March 30. The conditioner might have to convince the owner it’s worth the trip, though.

“The owner and his father are of the opinion that they don’t come back the same horse when they travel but I’m trying to convince them that that’s not the case with the way that I travel my horses,” Moore said. “There’s a few little tricks there to make sure.

“If we’re going to prove him we’re going to have to do it on the world stage: We’ve done it here; home ground; that’s the advantage; he’s done it easily.

“I’d love to travel him, to take him to Dubai where everyone says right, here’s the top three in the world. I’ve won the Shaheen and had a few placings over there.

“I know the venue very well and I believe he could travel. If everything goes to plan he could win there.”

Also under consideration for Dubai is Tony Cruz-trained Exultant, who would point to the Dubai Sheema Classic (G1) for owner Eddie Wong Ming Chak. Exultant proved he could get the distance in Dubai with his Hong Kong Vase win.

Hong Kong’s runners bested horses from Europe, Japan and Australia throughout the H.K.I.R., a true international event, and if they do make the trip to Dubai in March, they’ll make a strong contingent away from their home turf.

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