One of the great things about sports is the sparking of positive debate. Who is the best in Thoroughbred racing is often a beauty contest, that is until the runners square off.
The grade 1 Whitney Stakes has long been one of the most prestigious dirt races in the older horse division. Inaugurated in 1928, past winners include names like War Admiral, Kelso, Personal Ensign, Easy Goer, Lemon Drop Kid, and Gun Runner to name just a few.
When the runners lined up on August 1 for this 2020 edition, it was a short but very talented field. Highly regarded Tom’s d’Etat and Honor Code headlined the five horse field, but Mr.Buff , By My Standards and Improbable were in the lineup too.
The name in this group tweaking interest was that of Improbable. A veteran of heavy hitting horse races, this son of City Zip had one huge thing going for him…Bob Baffert trained.
Big Race Bob is California-based but has long been excellent at shipping and winning on the biggest stage. Last year he won this very same race with McKinzie. Improbable had been close in many races, but had only 1 grade 1 victory until capturing the Hollywood Gold Cup on June 6 in a blowout. With that in mind, to think the hall of famer was going to send his ever-improving talent East without a real shot to win was….Improbable.
Breaking alertly and stalking a slow early pace (25.12 opening quarter, 49.74 half mile), Baffert’s charge took command at the top of the stretch and ran like school was out. Winning by an impressive 2 lengths under jockey Jose Ortiz, he answered the call as best on this day.
Although he left the starting gate as not the favorite or the second choice, the winner in the Whitney was no doubt Improbable.
For those scoring at home, Baffert also launched a dinger in the Shared Belief Stakes at Del Mar (Thousand Words) and touched’em all again to close the weekend in the grade 1 Clement Hirsch Stakes (Fighting Mad) run at Del Mar.