It was 15 minutes before Saturday’s Grade I, $300,000 Los Alamitos CashCall Futurity, and all eyes and ears were directed to Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert in the paddock.
His two jockeys, Drayden Van Dyke and Joe Talamo, were surrounding him like players waiting for instructions from their coach during a timeout.
“You’re 1-9,” Baffert told Van Dyke, who was riding unbeaten Improbable.
“You’re 9-1,” Baffert told Talamo, who was riding unbeaten Mucho Gusto.
Onlookers were curious whether there would be any clues about who Baffert thought might triumph. In the end, the bettors got it right.
Mucho Gusto shot to the front in the 1 1/16-mile race. Heavily favored Improbable caught him in the middle of the long stretch and pulled away for a five-length victory, giving Baffert his fifth consecutive win in the race for top 2-year-olds. Improbable earned 10 points toward a possible appearance in the Kentucky Derby, a race Baffert has won five times.
Two of the owners of Improbable are WinStar Farm and China Horse Club, the same group that won the Triple Crown this year with Justify, trained by Baffert.
“It’s a fun position to be in,” Baffert said. “We can start thinking of the Derby.”
Improbable, a son of City Zip, was a $200,000 yearling purchase at the Keeneland September sales. He apparently likes long stretches, because he won the Street Sense Stakes on Nov. 2 at Churchill Downs going one mile on Breeders’ Cup Day and is three for three.
The winning time was 1 minute 41.18 seconds. Improbable escaped any problems after Savagery bolted to the outside going into the first turn. Savagery finished fourth but was disqualified and placed fifth.
“This horse got lost on the far turn,” Baffert said. “Once he straightened out, he got into that long, beautiful stride. The good horses always find a way to win. He had trained like he was going to run like this.”
Baffert and Talamo also remain excited about Mucho Gusto, who lost for the first time in three attempts. Mucho Gusto kept battling through the stretch.
“He’s a cool horse,” Talamo said. “Even in defeat, he’s a hard-trying horse. For the winner, what a tremendous horse he is.”
Said Baffert: “He tried very hard and just got a little tired. His race was very encouraging. We’ll just let these horses come along at their own pace and hope they stay healthy.”
Baffert and Van Dyke also were the winning team for the Grade I, $300,000 Starlet Stakes for 2-year-old fillies. Chasing Yesterday, the half sister to Triple Crown winner American Pharoah, won by a head over Enaya Alrabb. Mother Mother finished third.
Baffert is making big plans for 2019. Game Winner won the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and remains No. 1 in the Baffert barn, but Improbable can’t be too far behind, and there are others who could emerge, since Baffert 2-year-olds have won 20 maiden races this year.
“Every time I come to the barn, I’m excited,” Baffert said.