By Nicholas Godfrey
Improbable is new Breeders’ Cup Classic favourite
Santa Anita: Awesome Again Stakes G1 $300,000 1m1f, dirt, 3yo+
Improbable (Bob Baffert/Drayden van Dyke)
A one-two for Bob Baffert – but not in the order the betting suggested as Improbable completed a G1 hat-trick by demolishing his rivals at Santa Anita, circling the field as they entered the stretch with a stunning last-to-first rally to win going away.
Odds-on stablemate Maximum Security posted an ugly effort, racing with little obvious enthusiasm three wide just behind a decent pace and then struggling to get second, 4½ lengths adrift of a mightily impressive winner.
After what was arguably the most laboured performance of his controversial career, Maximum Security’s Breeders’ Cup Classic claims took a severe dent.
On the other hand, Improbable is the new market leader for Keeneland on November 7 at around the 4-1 mark after landing this Breeders’ Cup Challenge ‘Win and You’re In’ contest, one of five on Saturday’s card at Santa Anita.
Bob Baffert: “I knew I was coming in here with two really good horses. Maximum Security was in that scrum and they were really running up close. I saw Drayden, he knew what was happening, so he just sat back. He rode a great race, he knew what was going on, he took his time, rode him with patience. He’s had good luck with this horse; he loves this track. He seems to be better in the gate here that’s why we ran him here. I hate to see my horses have to beat the other horse but ‘Max’ ran gallantly. He fended off the speed and the next one is the big one, but today it was all about Improbable.”
Drayden van Dyke: “With the longer distances it seems like he would be closer, but they were going quick and he was back there going his comfortable pace and I was confident with him. He’s been training super, so I was just waiting for the stretch to come.”
Luis Saez (Maximum Security’s jockey): “There was a lot of pressure along the way and he couldn’t get comfortable, but that’s how these races go. You win sometimes and don’t others. The good thing is he pulled up pretty good, so let’s see how next time goes. He was fighting at the end of the race, but we lost.”
Princess Noor looks superstar in the making
Santa Anita: Chandelier Stakes G2 $200,000 1m½f, dirt, 2yo fillies
Princess Noor (Bob Baffert/Victor Espinoza)
Jockey Victor Espinoza was left comparing Princess Noor to the best horses he has ever ridden like American Pharoah and California Chrome after the $1.35m filly extended her unbeaten record to three with a totally dominant display.
Sent off 1-5 favourite, she angled out from behind horses before drawing away from stablemate Varda to score by 8¼ lengths, in the process becoming Bob Baffert’s 12th winner in the former G1 event that used to be called the Oak Leaf.
Princess Noor is set to start a warm favourite for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies, for which this is a ‘Win and You’re In’ qualifier.
Victor Espinoza: “She reminds me of other great horses I used to ride like American Pharoah and California Chrome. The talent is there, we just have to let them be happy around the racetrack. I’ve been riding amazing horses, but as a filly, she’s the best one I’ve ever ridden.”
Bob Baffert: “This filly is just incredible and very talented. I don’t train her as hard and I run her into shape. You never know if they can go two turns until they do it and it looks like that’s not going to be a problem. This was perfect for her. If you don’t have the clientele behind you it’s hard to get a filly like this but she was just a knock-out, she was something else.”
Switch to dirt pays off for Get Her Number
Santa Anita: American Pharoah Stakes G1 $300,000 1m½f, dirt, 2yo
Get Her Number (Peter Miller/Flavien Prat)
A surprise result in the main west-coast prep for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile as 8-1 chance Get Her Number holds off Rombauer (pair clear). The winner was switching to the main track after being a beaten favourite on turf at Del Mar.
Hot favourite Spielberg found nothing in the straight on his debut around two turns and remains a maiden after three starts.
Flavien Prat: “He was a bit disappointing last race – I thought I had a good race, easy pace, and he didn’t really show a turn of foot. I thought running on the dirt was a good move. Breeders’ Cup is always something we all look forward to so it’s cool.”
Santa Anita: Rodeo Drive Stakes G1 $300,000 1m2f, turf, 3yo+ f/m
Mucho Unusual (Tim Yakteen/Juan Hernandez)
A first G1 success for jockey Juan Hernandez following his move from Golden Gate over the winter as Mucho Unusual makes all, allowed to set a modest pace and then easily holding Maxim Rate. This race used to be the Yellow Ribbon; the winner gets an expenses-paid berth in the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf.
Santa Anita: John Henry Turf Championship G2 $200,000 1m2f, turf, 3yo+
United (Richard Mandella/Flavien Prat)
Ridden to claim the lead, last year’s Breeders’ Cup Turf runner-up United was much the best here, making all for a comfortable victory.
Flavien Prat: “On paper it seemed like there was no speed, so I thought maybe I could try to take the lead. He was traveling well. I loved the way he was galloping and he made a good move as always down the lane. Ever since he ran in the Breeders’ Cup, where he was a longshot, he just keeps moving up. It seems like he’s improving a lot and I’m really enjoying what he’s doing.”