Improbable cannot make an appearance without onlookers remarking on his resemblance to 2018 Triple Crown winner Justify. This is for a good reason too: they are both chestnut colts with huge blazes that are trained by Bob Baffert and owned by Winstar Farm/China Horse Club.
However, Improbable’s life began much differently than Justify’s. Improbable’s dam, Rare Event, had an unsuccessful first pregnancy that resulted in a dead foal. Her next mating to City Zip produced Improbable. While her success at producing this foal was a great relief, Improbable was born with “dummy foal syndrome”.
While Justify was born a lively and active foal, Improbable was slow to develop. According to the Kentucky Derby’s article on Promises Fulfilled, having “dummy foal syndrome” means that a foal is displaying symptoms like “the inability to find the mare’s udder, lack of attachment to or interest in bonding with the dam, depression, and other abnormal behaviors”.
After receiving treatment at a nearby clinic, Improbable turned into a loving and playful foal. He had an attachment to humans, was curious, and loved to run. After Improbable was weaned, he and his dam were entered into the 2016 Keeneland November Breeding Sale. He sold to Taylor Made Sales Agency for $110,000 while Rare Event went to Calumet Farm.
At Taylor Made, Improbable grew into an intelligent and good looking yearling. All at Taylor Made were fond of the colt. When Taylor Made put him back through the sales ring at the 2017 Keeneland September Yearling Sale, the hammer fell at $200,000. They had nearly doubled their money off of their investment in Improbable.
Improbable was given to Bob Baffert to train. He made his first start in a Maiden Special Weight at Santa Anita on Sep. 29, 2018. He narrowly held off Stretford End after going three wide into the stretch to win.
Bob Baffert knew Improbable would succeed at a higher level, so he shipped the horse from California to Kentucky for the Street Sense Stakes in November. That traveling proved worth the effort when Improbable soared home to a 7 ½ length victory despite breaking sluggishly from the gate.
Improbable’s connections were very happy with this result. His fanbase began to grow and his attractiveness to bettors did too. It was no surprise that he went off as the favorite in the Gr.1 Los Alamitos Cash Call Futurity in December. It was also not shocking to see him draw well clear of the field to win by about five lengths.
As 2019 began, the horse racing community was eager to see the previous year’s top juveniles return to the track. Improbable and his Champion Two-Year old stablemate Game Winner were among those whose names were rattled off on “top Kentucky Derby hopefuls” list. They were both undefeated and were both pointed to run in the Gr.2 Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park.
Everyone following the Kentucky Derby trail anxiously awaited the race to see who would emerge from the race with an untarnished record. However, an array of problems at Santa Anita Park forced more horses to enter into the Rebel Stakes and a decision was made to split the race into two divisions. Improbable would race in the first division while Game Winner would race in the second.
As it turned out, neither horse was victorious. Improbable came four wide into the stretch and was drawing away from the field when a fast closing and determined Long Range Toddy overtook him to win by a nose. Game Winner faced a similar defeat when Omaha Beach crossed the wire a nose ahead of him.
The race did not cast much doubts upon Improbable’s ability. Many believed the defeat could simply be attributed to his long layoff and wide trip. Because of this, Improbable was a close second favorite behind Omaha Beach coming into the Gr.1 Arkansas Derby.
Improbable desperately needed to perform well in the Arkansas Derby in order to get into Churchill’s starting gates on the first Saturday in May. He had just 26 points on the Kentucky Derby leaderboard, landing him at spot #25. He had to rank at least 20th to get into the Kentucky Derby and would be fighting with horses such as Omaha Beach, Long Range Toddy, and Country House for those precious points.
The start of the Arkansas Derby looked concerning when Improbable was restless in the gate and had to be backed out. He still broke well when the gates opened and sat mid pack on the backstretch. He tried to challenge Omaha Beach on the far turn but could not muster up enough strength to defeat the mud-loving son of War Front.
The game second place finish gave Improbable more than enough points to get into the Kentucky Derby. He currently sits at #11 on the leaderboard with 65 points. Since his back to back second place finishes, Improbable has been working out well. He posted his final work in preparation for the Derby on April 28, breezing 5 furlongs in 1:00.06. He ranked 9/25.
Improbable is projected by Horse Racing Nation to be at the odds of 10-1 on Derby day. In a wide open field of Kentucky Derby contenders this year, he looks to be one of the best with a solid record of 5:3-2-0. Irad Ortiz Jr. will be in the irons.
Come the first Saturday in May, Improbable will try to resemble Justify in more ways than just looks by posing in the winner’s circle with a garland of roses draped across his withers.
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Sources: Equibase Charts & Profile
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