A defence of their 2018 Kentucky Derby crown remains a live possibility for the connections of Triple Crown champion Justify after Improbable secured enough points in the USD1,000,000 G1 Arkansas Derby over the weekend to guarantee a start in the 2019 Kentucky Derby.
For WinStar Farm, SF Bloodstock and China Horse Club the priority at Oaklawn Park was ensuring enough points were secured to again play at Churchill Downs on the first Saturday in May for one of racing’s greatest prizes. With that task accounted for the opportunity now exists for Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert to zero in on a race he has enjoyed an affinity with in recent years.
“[I was] happy with the way he ran,” Baffert said of Improbable.
(fr left)Teo Ah Khing, Bob Baffert
“I was a little bit worried in the starting gate [gate 1]. He was acting up in there. I had a few moments there of maybe he was going to rear up or do something and get left. Luckily, they unloaded him and put him back and he left there well. I thought Jose Ortiz did a masterful job of riding him. We got beat by a good horse [Omaha Beach]. They showed how these California horses are good horses.”
While Improbable’s finishing charge was held by eventual winner Omaha Beach, his performance was outstanding in sloppy conditions that were clearly not conducive to his long striding action. The duo pulled lengths clear of their rivals to slug out a finish that could well be replicated at Churchill Downs in a few weeks’ time.
The hulking chestnut’s performance followed an electrifying win by ‘stablemate’ Quip who saluted in the USD750,000 G2 Oaklawn Handicap (1800m) on the same programme. Quip was game and gritty, prevailing in a close finish for his first win for the season. The triumph lifted his career earnings to USD942,500 from only eight career starts and hinted at what may be a fruitful season ahead.
The duo is expected to be key members of a WinStar Farm – China Horse Club – SF Bloodstock stable that was omnipresent across US racing last season. Alongside Yoshida, Audible and Bulletin, they form what promises to be a powerful arsenal of elite performers in 2019.
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