Oaklawn News

Grade 1 winner Improbable completed major preparations for the $600,000 Oaklawn Handicap (G2) for older horses at 1 1/8 miles May 2 with a 5-furlong workout over a fast track Sunday morning at Oaklawn for Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert. Later in the day, Improbable drew post 14 of 14 for the race, the second straight race where he’s drawn the far outside.

Improbable breezed after the first surface renovation break under Martin Garcia, covering the distance in 1:00.20. Clockers caught the flashy chestnut in :37 for his opening 3 furlongs and galloping out in 6 furlongs in 1:12.60 and 7 furlongs in 1:26.20.

Improbable is seeking his first career victory at Oaklawn after three runner-up finishes – first division of the $750,000 Rebel Stakes (G2) and $1 million Arkansas Derby (G1) last year and the $150,000 Oaklawn Mile April 11 in his 4-year-old debut. Improbable has been under the care of Jimmy Barnes, Baffert’s traveling assistant, for all three races.

In the Oaklawn Mile, Improbable was beaten three-quarters of a length by millionaire Grade 1 winner Tom’s d’Etat after acting up in the starting gate and breaking from the extreme outside, post 11, under Drayden Van Dyke. Improbable has had a history of getting antsy in the gate.

“He ran a winning race,” the Southern California-based Baffert said. “Got beat by a really good horse. His gate issues, I don’t know why … you take him in the morning and you could set a bomb off in the gate and he won’t move. He knows. He’s smart. That’s the reason I left him there. That gate crew is getting to know him really well, and I think that’s going to help. Jimmy said the starter has been working with things on him and they’re going to figure him out. We’ll see what happens.”

Improbable schooled in the gate April 19 and breezed a half-mile in :49.40 Tuesday morning.

A son of the late City Zip, Improbable has a 4-3-0 record from 11 lifetime starts and earnings of $949,520. Improbable was unbeaten in three starts at 2, including the $300,000 Los Alamitos Futurity (G1) at Los Alamitos, before suffering his first career loss in the Rebel, which was his 2019 debut.

By the Numbers

After 11 career starts, trainer Juan Carlos Avila said he’s figured out that Trophy Chaser’s best races are routes. The 4-year-old son of Twirling Candy will get another chance to shine around two turns in the $600,000 Oaklawn Handicap (G2) for older horses at 1 1/8 miles May 2.

“I made a mistake for six months,” said Avila, who also owns Trophy Chaser. “I ran him 6 furlongs, 6 furlongs, 6 furlongs.”

After running third, fourth and fourth in those races, including the $300,000 Gallant Bob Stakes (G2) Sept. 21 at Parx, Trophy Chaser is 2 for 2 this year in his return to routes. Trophy Chaser was an 8 ¼-length allowance winner at 1 1/8 miles Feb. 2 at Gulfstream Park and won the $100,000 Challenger Stakes (G3) by a neck March 7 at Tampa Bay Downs. The Challenger was 1 1/16 miles.

Trophy Chaser hadn’t routed since finishing second, beaten a neck, in the $100,000 Mucho Macho Man Stakes in January 2019 at Gulfstream Park. The 1-mile race was his 3-year-old debut.

“He had a little problem and went to the farm for three months,” Avila said. “When he came back, I put him in a 7-furlong race. Very nice; 96 Beyer number. I am crazy, so I go to 6 furlongs, 6 furlongs. Third place, third place. I said, ‘Go to the long distance.’ He ran two big races. No more 6-furlong races.”

Avila said Trophy Chaser was rerouted to Oaklawn after the $1 million Charles Town Classic (G2) April 18 at Charles Town was postponed (Covid-19).

“The horse is running well,” Avila said.

Trophy Chaser and stablemate King Guillermo will represent the first local starters for the Florida-based Avila, who amassed roughly 3,000 victories in his native Venezuela before saddling his first United States winner in March 2018. King Guillermo is pointing for the split $500,000 Arkansas Derby (G1) May 2.

King Guillermo, a son of champion Uncle Mo, is coming off a 4 ¾-length victory in the $400,000 Tampa Bay Derby (G2) March 7 at Tampa Bay Downs. 

Finish Lines

A double Saturday increased Ricardo Santana Jr.’s lead in the rider standings after 53 days of the scheduled 57-day meeting. Santana won the fifth race favored Town Champ ($4.60) for Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen and the 10th race, the $125,000 Carousel Stakes for older female sprinters, aboard million Grade 1 winner Mia Mischief ($5) for Asmussen. The double gave Santana 53 victories, four more than Joe Talamo and Martin Garcia. Defending champion David Cohen is fourth with 43 victories. Santana was Oaklawn’s leading rider in 2013-2018. Mia Mischief represented the 691st career Oaklawn victory for Asmussen, a 10-time local training champion … Talamo rode one winner Saturday, Long Weekend, who captured the $100,000 Bachelor Stakes for 3-year-old sprinters. Long Weekend ($6.20) represented the 50th career Oaklawn victory and meet-high eighth stakes victory this year for Talamo, who is riding regularly in Hot Springs for the first time. … Town Champ, who became the meet’s first four-time winner, was claimed for $32,000 by trainer Greg Compton, who said he plans to point the 6-year-old gelding for an allowance race at Lone Star Park. … Friday’s $400,000 Fantasy Stakes (G3) for 3-year-old fillies at 1 1/16 miles drew a field of 14, including champion British Idiom and Grade 3 winner Shedaresthedevil for trainer Brad Cox and Grade 2 winner Venetian Harbor for trainer Richard Baltas. Shedaresthedevil won the $300,000 Honeybee Stakes (G3) March 7. The Honeybee is traditionally the final major local prep for the Fantasy.