Brian’s Blasphemous KY Derby Analysis: Improbable

Undefeated in three starts as a juvenile, the final of which came in a smashing victory in the G1 Los Alamitos Futurity, Improbable has backed up his early promise now entering the Kentucky Derby as one of its top leading contenders. Off of a winter break, Bob Baffert brought Improbable (one of Baffert’s three entrants in the race) back in the first division of the Rebel at Oaklawn. As we outlined in our trip notes, Improbable suffered an odd defeat that he shouldn’t have incurred — a wide trip be damned — against an inferior group with a clear journey. Still, the race came back fast enough on speed figures, and Improbable appeared poised to improve next out in the Arkansas Derby. He did.

Improbable squared up against Omaha Beach (this year’s likely KY Derby favorite) at Oaklawn again, acquainting himself nicely while making a strong outside mode on the far turn which turned the G1 affair into a match race. From thereon, Improbable was held at bay and was never going to go by the winner, but this was proof that Improbable is still a very strong contender in this division.

So, stretching out a furlong, how will Improbable turn the tables on Omaha Beach at Churchill? First, he will have to get the distance. This is an issue as Improbable tired in the stretch of the Rebel going a mile and a sixteenth. Even after going wide on both turns, it doesn’t bode well for his improvement going longer. But, by City Zip, out of an A.P. Indy mare, Improbable has enough pedigree to see out the distance. Aside from the distance, the trip Improbable will pull in the Derby is crucial to whether he’ll see out the distance or not. With little gate speed, and a running style that often requires clear, outside running room into the stretch, Improbable may be plenty wide at Churchill, decreasing his chances considerably. 

Secondly, the pace flow will need to be in his favor. Improbable was beaten in the Arkansas Derby due to a lack of tactical speed, which Omaha Beach exploited when getting the first jump. This go round, the pace up front must be quicker in order to aid Improbable by the leaders rounding into the stretch. This is a bit of a tricky proposition, as expected pace scenarios always are. With so many handicappers thinking the pace isn’t going to develop, you may be best suited to make a score by betting the race as if it’s going to come apart in the end, aiding closers. We must admit though, an expected average to quick pace is most likely and could be very harmful to Improbable.

So, now third off the layoff, as an immature green runner that clearly has a lot of unexposed potential, there’s no issue with the argument that Improbable is again going to improve next-out. He’s fast, classy, battle-tested, and may be better suited away from Oaklawn where he suffered his only two defeats. He has a win at Churchill. There’s nothing wrong with a bet on Improbable in the Kentucky Derby, but he won’t be on our thinnest tickets up top.

Here are our trip notes of Improbable:

5th career start: April 13th, Oaklawn, G1 Arkansas Derby, one mile and a sixteenth

Improbable is #1

Not much speed, 2/3 path first turn, angled outside, made a big early advance on the backstretch, into 2nd just a length off leader Omaha Beach into the far turn, all-out to get on near even terms into the stretch, quickly lost a bit of ground prior to 8th pole, kept on, was never going to go by, disposed at the wire. Improbable improved second off the layoff in this spot, putting it to leading Derby candidate Omaha Beach around the far turn before getting held off in the stretch. This was an evenly run race, whereas Improbable would likely need some help on that front to defeat Omaha Beach; that one appears just a bit better.

4th career start: March 16th, Oaklawn, G2 Rebel (first division), one mile and a sixteenth

Improbable is #9

Fair early speed which kept him 3/4 wide into the first turn from the outside post, in perfect spot outside in 2nd tier with the pace quickening after Extra Hope went up to make a premature move, four wide in close contention on far turn, struck the front into the stretch with the race seemingly over, shied his head away from the inside as he’s done before, kept on but could not open up, could not hold off the oncoming winner late. Without taking the layoff into account (although Baffert usually brings them back to the races ready off extended winter vacations), this was a strange loss from Improbable as he had the race entirely won against inferior foes at the head of the stretch. The ground loss seemingly got him beat here. We don’t put too much stock into him turning his head in the stretch because he had done that previously while widening.

3rd career start: December 8th, Los Alamitos, G1 Los Al Futurity, one mile and a sixteenth

Improbable is #1

Not much early speed, quick advancement into the first turn when pace slowed, steadied briefly due to being rank before settling outside just behind contested pacesetters, went up to challenge them rounding into the stretch before disposing a mild bid on the outside by Extra Hope, ridden out to an easy score in the stretch moving his head around some. A very similar effort to his previous win, this time around two turns.

Trip notes of Improbable’s first two career starts can be found in the comments.


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  • 2nd career start: November 2nd, Churchill Downs, Street Sense stakes, one mile
    Not much gate speed but rushed up after start, keenly running up in behind a very contested pace on backstretch, angled out confidently while in 2nd tier into the turn, inhaled leaders easily rounding into the stretch, fully disposed Trophy Chaser at 3/16ths pole, ridden out. An easy, much the best win for Improbable here, improving when stretching out.

    1st career start: September 29th, Santa Anita, Maiden Special Weight, six furlongs
    Broke a tad slow, not much early speed behind contested pace up front, up to leaders with momentum near the top of the stretch, challenged Stretford End who pressed the pace himself, wore him down, finished fine while perhaps a bit distracted. An easy enough win for Improbable, although the runner-up was likely best.

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