On Track with Johnny D: Improbable. Or is it?

By the time Improbable is finished with fellow sophomores his name just might turn out to be the most ironic Thoroughbred handle ever. The colt is owned by WinStar Farm, China Horse Club, and Starlight Racing, same folks who owned last season’s Triple Crown winner Justify. The moniker was planted on the son of City Zip because the owners of last season’s Triple Crown winner Justify figured the chances of them ever enjoying such amazing success again were ‘improbable.’

No doubt the name was researched before submission to the Jockey Club for approval:

Improbable

im·prob·a·ble

/imˈpräbəb(ə)l/

adjective

adjective: improbable

  1. not likely to be true or to happen.

Pretty simple. Straightforward. And a reasonable expectation. After all, just twice in the last 40 years have racing gods seen fit to dispense Triple Crown-winning talent. What are the chances that the same ownership group will ever repeat the feat in back-to-back seasons? Improbable? No. How about Impossible?

So far, the only ‘improbable’ aspect of Saturday’s Los Alamitos Futurity winner is that he might ever lose a race. He’s off and running…fast, too. Has won all three of his starts—two of them stakes—a Grade 1 Saturday and another over the Churchill Down’s racing strip, where they run the Kentucky Derby in May.

That a horse trained by Bob Baffert won the Los Alamitos Cash Call Futurity is as noteworthy as a January Minnesota snowfall. Baffert owns that race. He wins it about as often as he enters it–like the last 5 times. Between the Los Alamitos version and the original Hollywood Park Futurity edition Baffert has won on 11 occasions! Count ‘em 1, 2, 3, 4…well, you know the rest. Stop counting one short of a dozen and four past the number of Snow White’s dwarfs.

Come to think of it, Triple Crown races are beginning to resemble Southern California-based Futurity renewals—All Baffert, all the time. The trainer’s won more Triple Crown events than anyone else (15) and has conditioned the last two Triple Crown winners—American Pharoah 2015 and Justify! Only Sunny Jim Fitzsimmons has two TC sweeps with Gallant Fox 1930 and Omaha 1935. The way Baffert wins major 3-year-old races, there couldn’t be anything more ‘probable’ than to anticipate future soph success for Improbable.

Following last year’s Triple Crown whirlwind success with Justify, it’s understandable that his majority co-owners–Winstar and China Horse Club assumed that they had exhausted a lifetime’s worth of good luck in one season. Lightening couldn’t possibly strike twice. Ain’t gonna happen again. Especially not with a son of City Zip garnered for $200,000 at the 2017 Keeneland September Yearling Sale. ‘Zips mainly are known as outstanding turf sprinters. You know, something trained by Linda Rice going six furlongs over the weeds in the 7th at the Spa. No way one of those is going to quickly cover a mile and one-quarter’s worth of Louisville dirt on the first Saturday in May.

Truth is that this guy should have been named ‘Impossible,’ ‘No Way Jose,’ or ‘Are You Kidding Me.’ No matter that City Zip’s half-brother is Hall of Fame resident Ghostzapper and that Improbable’s dam Rare Event is an A.P. Indy mare, no one could possibly have anticipated what’s unfolded so far for this colt or what might transpire in the future.

Monday, on the Steve Byk radio show, Baffert suggested that he doesn’t pay too much attention to breeding. All he wants to know is if one can run. How fast and how far TBD. He’ll handle the rest. Right now, according to several Kentucky Derby future books, Baffert’s got the two most ‘probable’ winners of the Derby in his barn—BC Juvenile star Game Winner and Improbable. The former is roughly 7-1 to win the Kentucky Derby and the latter is around 10-1! And, in case you need a reminder, the Kentucky Derby is over five months away!

Forgive me if I feel like ‘Improbable’ could be the name of the latest M. Night Shyamalan movie, starring Bruce Willis as a follicly-challenged trainer who sells his soul to the devil—played by a deliciously-evil Samuel L. Jackson—in order to become the first conditioner in history to saddle three Triple Crown winners. Willis’ smooth dome would function in complete juxtaposition to Baffert’s unmistakable white-mane, immediately drawing critical comparisons. Perhaps Monica Potter would be cast as the Willis character’s loyal wife, Jill.

It suddenly occurs to me that no matter the name of last Saturday’s Los Alamitos Futurity winner he’d be the current topic of conversation. That he’s trained by Bob Baffert is coincidence. That his owners are the same group that successfully campaigned the 2018 unbeaten Triple Crown winner Justify mere happenstance. That he likely will go on to win the 2019 Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes…wait for it…improbable!

Or is it?

Race On!

On Track with Johnny D: Improbable. Or is it?

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