SARATOGA SPRINGS — McKinzie won’t be back to try to win the Whitney for the second year in a row.
Maximum Security was also nominated to the race, but he’ll stay in California, too.
So what does trainer Bob Baffert have left to send to one of the crown jewels of the Saratoga Race Course meet on Saturday?
One of the other multiple Grade I-winning older dirt males in his barn is not a bad alternative.
Fresh off a win in the Grade I Gold Cup at Santa Anita, Improbable will be in a short but star-studded field for the Grade I Whitney, which will be part of a blockbuster card that also includes the Grade I Personal Ensign, Grade I Allen Jerkens, Grade II Bowling Green and $200,000 Caress, a turf sprint for fillies and mares.
Improbable, who was a close fifth in the Kentucky Derby and a close sixth in the Preakness last year, has carved out a nice resume for himself while in the shadow of his more accomplished stablemates.
On June 6, he won the Gold Cup by 3 1/4 lengths over Higher Power, who was third to Maximum Security in the San Diego Handicap at Del Mar last Saturday.
“He’s coming,” Baffert told the New York Racing Association on Sunday morning. “We were going to run him here in the Pacific Classic, but we wanted to see what Max was going to do. I think if Max laid an egg, we would have done that. But Max showed us the horse we all thought he was.”
The Pacific Classic is Aug. 22 at Del Mar, where McKinzie will get his next start after finishing two lengths behind Vekoma in the Met Mile at Belmont Park on July 4.
If Improbable wins the Whitney, which was first run in 1928, Baffert will become the third trainer to win it in consecutive years. Shug McGaughey won with Personal Ensign in 1988 and Easy Goer in 1989, and Scotty Schulhofer won with Colonial Affair in 1994 and Unaccounted For in 1995. They each won it again with a third horse, McGaughey in 2015 with Honor Code and Schulhofer in 2000 with Lemon Drop Kid.
Improbable worked seven furlongs in 1:25.80 on Del Mar’s main track on Saturday.
By running him in the Whitney, Baffert keeps him separated from Maximum Security and McKinzie on the stakes calendar, for now. McKinzie is entered in the six-furlong Bing Crosby at Del Mar on Saturday, but Baffert said he also would consider him for a return engagement to Saratoga on Sept. 5 for the Woodward, which has been stretched to a mile and a quarter this year.
Baffert said Maximum Security also might run in the Woodward.
“It’s either McKinzie at the Woodward or Max at the Woodward,” he said. “It depends. You never know. We’re keeping all our options open. We’ll nominate him [Maximum Security] everywhere.”
Improbable finished fifth by nine lengths in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile in November, then didn’t kick off his 2020 campaign until April, when he was second by three-quarters of a length to Tom’s d’Etat, the likely Whitney favorite, in the Oaklawn Mile.
Irad Ortiz, Jr., who rode Improbable in last year’s Kentucky Derby, is expected to have the return call in the Whitney.
“The only problem with shipping him [Improbable] is that he has issues in the starting gate, for some reason,” Baffert said. “He doesn’t have that in California. But he’s doing really well.”
Baffert will also take on the best 3-year-old in North America, Tiz the Law, in the Travers on Aug. 8, with the lightly raced Uncle Chuck, who won the Grade III Los Alamitos Derby on July 4 in just his second career start. Luis Saez will ride.
“He looks good. I mean, he’s training right along and maturing,” Baffert said. “We know that Tiz the Law is just a tremendous racehorse, so we’re looking forward to the matchup. I just like the way he’s training.”
Uncle Chuck breezed six furlongs in 1:12.20 at Del Mar on Sunday.