Unplaced as the post-time favorite in the Kentucky Derby (G1) and Preakness (G1), Improbable regained the winning thread in Sunday’s $98,000 Shared Belief Stakes at Del Mar. The 3-5 favorite ran up to billing as by far the class of the small field, and in the process stamped himself as a candidate for the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (G1).

Only three opponents lined up against Improbable, the most interesting being King Jack who was unbeaten from two starts. Bettors accordingly made him the even-money second choice, while Lieutenant Dan (10-1) and Street Class (34-1) rounded out the quartet. The market had the order of finish pegged exactly right.

Aside from the easier level of competition, Improbable was also shortening up in trip to a mile and making other changes. Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert decided to put the blinkers back on the colt for the first time since the Arkansas Derby (G1), when he experimented with the headgear and finished second to Omaha Beach. Jockey Drayden Van Dyke, his regular rider through his undefeated two-year-old season, regained the mount for the first time since he was upset in a division of the Rebel (G2).

“I put the blinker back on him,” Baffert said, “and told Drayden to send him. He got a little tough on the first turn, but I think that’s how he wants to run. Just let him go.”

Improbable forced the pace set by Lieutenant Dan, put him away on the far turn, and opened up down the stretch in a final time of 1:37.53. The son of City Zip and the A.P. Indy mare Rare Event appeared to get tired late, but still held King Jack at bay by a comfortable 2 3/4 lengths.

“I was really happy with it,” Baffert commented on Improbable’s first win since last December’s Los Alamitos Futurity (G1). “It took him a little while to come back and get used to this track. I still thought, even after his last work, that he wasn’t quite ready. But his class carried him.”

Van Dyke was likewise pleased with the effort.

“We were wanting to get him to break good and get position and he did that,” the winning rider said. “He was a little more aggressive today; Bob told me he put a bigger blinker on him today and he might be that way. I was working with him on the backside; it’s give and take (rating a horse that wants to go). But he got to where he needed to be, then put in a very nice finish. He’s a nice horse.”

Improbable on Sunday sported the silks of co-owner China Horse Club, which races him in partnership with WinStar Farm and Starlight Racing. The chestnut has compiled a record of 8-4-0-2 and earnings of $829,520.

As a footnote to the Shared Belief, Omaha Beach was originally aiming for this spot to launch his comeback. Hall of Fame trainer Richard Mandella had to rule him out after he came down with a virus, a minor but ill-timed hiccup that pushed back his schedule.

Daily Racing Form’s Jay Privman reported that if Omaha Beach had been ready to return in the Shared Belief, Improbable was improbable to run against him.