Team Justify is back on the Triple Crown trail. That’s the inescapable conclusion after WinStar Farm, China Horse Club, and Starlight Racing’s Improbable romped as the 1-5 favorite for Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert in Saturday’s $300,345 Los Alamitos Futurity (G1). Baffert was extending his dominance in the 1 1⁄16-mile test, not only winning it for a record 11th time, but also furnishing the exacta with Mucho Gusto in second.
Improbable offers superficial parallels with Justify, in that both are powerfully made chestnuts with undefeated records. But the first obvious difference is that Justify never raced at two, while Improbable has already stamped himself as a top-flight Kentucky Derby (G1) contender. The question now is whether Improbable will progress through the spring as Justify did.
The odds-on choice after a sparkling, 7 1⁄4-length victory in the Street Sense S. on Breeders’ Cup Friday at Churchill Downs , Improbable was stretching out to two turns for the first time at Los Alamitos. The son of City Zip figured to handle the added ground, especially being out of an A.P. Indy mare, and he looked stronger the farther he went.
Improbable was drawn on the rail, thus avoiding a chain reaction of interference caused bySavagery, who blew the turn and forced Extra Hope out and Dueling hopelessly wide. As that unfolded in front of him, regular rider Drayden Van Dyke was able to steer Improbable into an outside stalking spot on the clubhouse turn.
Meanwhile, Mucho Gusto had hustled to the front and dictated the pace until Improbable began to wind up turning for home. Accosting his stablemate with giant strides, the blaze-faced colt dispatched him down the stretch and drew away by five lengths. Improbable clocked a brisk 1:41.18, not far off the fastest time since the race moved to Los Alamitos, the 1:40.86 posted by past Baffert star Dortmund in the 2014 running.
Improbable earned 10 points toward the Kentucky Derby while advancing his record to 3-for-3 with $269,520 in earnings. Mucho Gusto, hitherto unbeaten and the 4-1 second pick, was best of the rest by three lengths. His runner-up effort was good for 4 Derby points, and third-placerExtra Hope took home 2 points. Savagery crossed the wire fourth but was demoted to fifth for interference after a stewards’ inquiry. The stewards moved Dueling up to fourth, and he accordingly received 1 point.
Still comfortably atop the leaderboard is another unbeaten Baffert trainee, Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) hero Game Winner, with 30 points. One of the key storylines of the 2019 Derby trail will be how Game Winner, the presumptive champion two-year-old male, stacks up against rising challengers like Improbable.
The Los Alamitos Futurity is a 1 1⁄16-mile, Grade 1 race for two-year-olds annually run in December. Following the closure of Hollywood Park, the race has been run at Los Alamitos Race Course in Cypress, California, since 2014. The race originated in 1981 and the current purse is $300,000.
The Los Alamitos Futurity is part of the Road to the Kentucky Derby, and the race awards Kentucky Derby qualifying points of 10-4-2-1 to the respective top 4 finishers.
Six Futurity starters have gone on to win the Kentucky Derby: Gato Del Sol (1982), Ferdinand (1986), Alysheba (1987), Thunder Gulch (1995), Real Quiet (1998) and Giacomo (2005). Preakness Stakes winners include Snow Chief (1986), Real Quiet (1998) and Lookin at Lucky (2010). Pensioned leading sire A.P. Indy captured the 1991 Futurity before going on the next year to take the Belmont Stakes, and Point Given (2001) won the Preakness and Belmont after taking the Futurity as well.
The fastest time in the 1 1⁄16-mile Futurity is 1:40.74 by Afternoon Deelites (1994) with Kent Desormeaux aboard. The year before in 1993, Laffit Pincay Jr. rode Valiant Nature to victory in 1:40.78.
Trainer Bob Baffert has been a dominant fixture in the Futurity, winning the race a record 10 times including four in a row from 2014-2017. Jockey’s Alex Solis and Laffit Pincay Jr. won the race a record four times each.
The 2017 Futurity resulted in a bizarre finish. Solomini, also trained by Baffert, crossed the finish line first but the stewards put up the inquiry sign and, on a 2-1 vote, disqualified Solomini for interference in the stretch with Instilled Regard. Baffert’s other horse was 1-2 favorite McKinzie, who was second across the line and declared the winner. However, McKinzie was not present in the winner’s circle as he had already been led back to the barn after jockey Mike Smith dismounted.
The 2016 Futurity will be remembered for the brilliant win by Mastery. Sent off as the heavy 1-5 favorite for trainer Bob Baffert, Mastery blew away the field by more than seven lengths for his third consecutive victory. He was on his way to being the Kentucky Derby favorite after his next win by seven lengths in the 2017 San Felipe Stakes made him four-for-four. However, Mastery suffered a fractured leg after crossing the finish line in the San Felipe and the quick response by jockey Mike Smith helped save his life.
Baffert’s other two most recent winners of the Futurity were Mor Spirit (2015) and Dortmond (2014), who both went on to be contenders in the Kentucky Derby. Each won more than 42 percent of their races while earning more than $1.6 million on the race track.
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|6||Mucho Gusto 4-1||$2.60|
|5||Extra Hope 15-1|