Improbable rallies for impressive victory in Awesome Again Stakes at Santa Anita

Improbable rallies for impressive victory in Awesome Again Stakes at Santa Anita

Maximum Security had easily assumed the position of Breeders’ Cup Classic favorite, the result of six consecutive high-level wins. All he had to do was beat a small field of five in Saturday’s Grade 1 $300,000 Awesome Again Stakes at Santa Anita to be considered the best horse around.

But all that got turned upside down as stablemate Improbable went from far behind on the backstretch to a powerful run through the stretch to beat Maximum Security by a widening 4½ lengths.

Both horses are trained by Hall of Famer Bob Baffert, who inherited Maximum Security when his previous trainer, Jason Servis, went under federal indictment for giving horses performing-enhancing drugs. No evidence has been presented that Maximum Security received any illegal drugs.

It’s not as if Improbable was an unknown, having just won the Whitney Stakes and Hollywood Gold Cup. He was the favorite in last year’s Kentucky Derby, a race in which Maximum Security crossed the finish line first but was dropped to 17th after being disqualified for interference. Improbable was moved to a fourth-place finish.

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Improbable has had gate problems but was perfectly still Saturday as he and jockey Drayden Van Dyke watched everyone take off in the small field. He was last by at least six lengths at one point on the backstretch. But he started to get moving entering the far turn and had moved even with Take The One O One near the top of the stretch. From there, Van Dyke held on as Improbable widened his lead with ease.

“I knew I was coming in here with two really good horses,” Baffert said. “Maximum Security was in that scrum [early in the race], and they were really running up close. [Van Dyke] ran a great race. He knew what was going on. He took his time and rode him with patience. He loves this track.”

Luis Saez, who came in from New York to ride Maximum Security, offered a rationale for the horse.

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“There was a lot of pressure along the way and he couldn’t get comfortable, but that’s how these races go,” Saez said. “He was fighting at the end of the race, but we lost.”

This sets up an interesting $7-million Breeders’ Cup Classic race at Keeneland on Nov. 7. Improbable probably will have a rematch with Maximum Security and another stablemate, Authentic, winner of the Kentucky Derby. Also scheduled to run is Tiz The Law, winner of the Belmont Stakes and Travers Stakes.

Improbable paid $5.60, $2.40 and $2.10 in the 1 1/8-mile race. Maximum Security was second, followed by Midcourt, Take The One O One and Sleepy Eyes Todd.

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Santa Anita had seven stakes races on Saturday’s card, the partial result of a delayed start because of the Bobcat fire.

In a race that serves as an exceedingly early preview of next year’s Kentucky Derby, Get Her Number upset the favored Spielberg, a $1-million purchase, to win the Grade 1 $300,000 American Pharoah Stakes by three-quarters of a length.

Spielberg was the even-money favorite but has yet to win in three starts. Dyn O Mite went to the early lead, but Get Her Number was never far off the pace. Get Her Number went to the lead on the far turn and held on for the victory in the 1 1/16-mile race.

Get Her Number, running his first race on the dirt, paid $18.20 to win. Rombauer was second and Spielberg finished third.

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“We went back to the dirt and gave him a couple workouts that went well,” said Ruben Alvarado, assistant trainer for Peter Miller. “So we decided let’s do it and see if we get lucky or not.”

Flavien Prat has been the jockey for all three of his races.

The female version of that race, the Grade 2 $200,000 Chandelier Stakes, was won by Baffert’s Princess Noor by a commanding 8 1/4 lengths. She was the heavy favorite and could have won by more as jockey Victor Espinoza never asked the 2-year-old filly for anything extra in the race.

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Princess Noor paid $2.40 to win. Varda was second, and Miss Costa Rica was third.

“This filly is just incredible and very talented,” Baffert said. “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.”

Espinoza agreed with the promise of the filly.

“I’ve been riding amazing horses, but as a filly, she’s the best one I’ve ever ridden,” Espinoza, a Hall of Famer, said. “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 track.”

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Other winners on the seven-stakes card included Mucho Unusual ($8.20) in the Grade 1 $300,000 Rodeo Drives Stakes and United ($3.40) in the Grade 2 $200,000 John Henry Turf Championship.

Cherwa reported from Orlando, Fla.

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