(Improbable / Photo by Holly M. Smith)

From the NYRA Media Team:

Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert will look to win the Grade 1, $750,000 Whitney for the second straight year with different horses, as two-time Grade 1-winner Improbable will ship from California for the historic race for 4-year-olds and up this Saturday at Saratoga Race Course.

Owned by WinStar Farm and China Horse Club International, Improbable captured the Grade 1 Hollywood Gold Cup at 1 ¼ miles on June 6, netting a career-best 105 Beyer Speed Figure. Baffert, who won his first career Whitney last year with McKinzie, saw Improbable work seven furlongs in 1:25.80 over Del Mar’s main track yesterday.

Baffert said Improbable was originally a possibility for the Grade 1 Pacific Classic on August 22 at Del Mar, but plans changed after Maximum Security’s victory in Saturday’s Grade 2 San Diego Handicap to mark his successful return from a five-month respite.

“He’s coming,” Baffert said with a laugh from his California base 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 yesterday. I think if Max laid an egg, we would have done that. But Max showed us the horse we all thought he was.”

Improbable started his career with three consecutive wins, including the Street Sense at Churchill Downs after breaking his maiden in September 2018. He capped his juvenile campaign with a five-length win in the Grade 1 Los Alamitos Cash Call Futurity in December of that year, propelling him to the Triple Crown trail in 2019 which started with back-to-back runner-ups in the Grade 2 Rebel and Grade 1 Arkansas Derby.

After being placed fourth in the Grade 1 Kentucky Derby and running sixth in the Grade 1 Preakness, the City Zip colt won the Shared Belief in August at Del Mar before running fourth in the Grade 1 Pennsylvania Derby in September and fifth in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile in November.

After an extensive sophomore campaign, Baffert did not bring Improbable back until April, with a second in the Oaklawn Mile before a 3 ¼-length score in the Gold Cup last month. Baffert said his charge is now ready to get back on the road.

“The only problem with shipping him is that he has issues in the starting gate, for some reason,” Baffert said. “He doesn’t have [those issues] in California. But he’s doing really well.”

Irad Ortiz, Jr., who rode him in last year’s Kentucky Derby, is expected to have the return call in the Whitney, Baffert said.

McKinzie, who defeated a seven-horse field to win last year’s Whitney while earning a 111 Beyer, will not bid for a repeat. But Baffert said a return engagement at the Spa is still a possibility with the Grade 1, $500,000 Woodward for 3-year-olds and up going 1 ¼ miles on September 5 an option.

Maximum Security, who last year won the Grade 1 Haskell, at Monmouth Park, the Grade 3 Bold Ruler at Belmont Park and the Grade 1 Cigar Mile at Aqueduct Racetrack en route to an Eclipse Award as champion 3-year-old, could also run in the Woodward. A son of New Year’s Day, Maximum Security has nine wins in 11 career starts, including six grade or group victories.

“I might run McKinzie in the [Grade 1] Bing Crosby here going six furlongs [August 1 at Del Mar] this weekend, or the Woodward. I’m not sure yet,” Baffert said. “It’s either McKinzie at the Woodward or Max at the Woodward. It depends. You never know. We’re keeping all our options open. We’ll nominate him [Maximum Security] everywhere.”

Baffert will be well represented at another prestigious Saratoga race, with Uncle Chuck targeting the Grade 1, $1 million Runhappy Travers on August 8. A son of Uncle Mo, the lightly raced Uncle Chuck will enter the “Mid-Summer Derby” 2-for-2 in his career, winning his debut by seven lengths on June 12 at Santa Anita before dominating a higher caliber field by four lengths in the Grade 3 Los Alamitos Derby on July 4.

Owned by Karl Watson, Michael Pegram and Paul Weitman, Uncle Chuck was a $250,000 purchase at the 2018 Keeneland Association September Sale. He will now enter his first Grade 1 appearance against a field expected to include Grade 1 Belmont Stakes-winner Tiz the Law.

“He looks good. I mean, he’s training right along and maturing,” said Baffert. “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 Sunday at Del Mar.

Baffert also said Eight Rings, who won the Grade 1 American Pharoah at 1 1/16 miles in September, is likely for the Grade 1, $300,000 Allen Jerkens Memorial presented by Runhappy. The sophomore Empire Maker colt ended his 2019 running sixth in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and ended a five-month layoff by running seventh in the Bachelor on April 25 at Oaklawn.


(Midnight Bisou / Photo by Holly M. Smith)

Bloom enjoying the ride with Midnight Bisou

Midnight Bisou, last year’s Eclipse Award-champion Older Dirt Female, has given owner Jeff Bloom plenty of special memories.

The 5-year-old bay daughter of Midnight Lute boasts a resume which consists of 13 graded stakes victories over eight different racetracks and over $7 million in lifetime earnings.

Her sensational career will continue Saturday when she seeks back-to-back victories in the Grade 1, $500,000 Personal Ensign presented by NYRA Bets at Saratoga.

Trained by Hall of Famer Steve Asmussen, Midnight Bisou will attempt a sixth Grade 1 victory in the Personal Ensign having won all five of her triumphs at such caliber over five different surfaces.

As a 3-year-old, Midnight Bisou won the Grade 1 Santa Anita Oaks while conditioned by west coast-based Bill Spawr before being transferred to Asmussen following a third in the Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks. Three starts later, she picked up a victory in the Grade 1 Cotillion at Parx Racing en route to a third in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Distaff.

At age 4, she came back bigger and stronger and put together an Eclipse Award-winning campaign which consisted of Grade 1 victories in the Apple Blossom at Oaklawn, Ogden Phipps at Belmont and last year’s Personal Ensign. This year, Midnight Bisou has not appeared to have lost any luster having displayed a game inside-closing effort in the inaugural $20 million Saudi Cup in February and last out won the Grade 2 Fleur de Lis at Churchill Downs by 8 ¼ lengths.

“Steve couldn’t be happier with how well she’s doing,” said Bloom, who owns Midnight Bisou in partnership with Madaket Stables and Allen Racing. “She’s been remarkable from the get-go, and it’s just amazing that she continues to show that. She actually has more to show us.”

Initially slated to go through the sales ring at the Fasig-Tipton November Sale last year, Bloom withdrew his superstar mare from the sale to keep her in training for a 5-year-old campaign.

“We talked about it a lot, but we had made the decision prior to the Breeders’ Cup that we would go ahead and campaign her another year and enjoy the ride. Fortunately, it’s worked out well and she’s already rewarded us substantially,” Bloom said.

Midnight Bisou will attempt to become the first back-to-back winner of the Personal Ensign since champion Beautiful Pleasure (1999-00). She won last year’s running in dramatic fashion, battling through the final furlong with Elate before getting her nose on the wire first and registering a career-best 104 Beyer Speed Figure.

“Talk about a lot of sweat and anxiety waiting out the stretch run and the photo finish which seemed to last forever,” Bloom said. “From a fan’s perspective, what an incredible race to watch between two competitive fillies battling it out down the stretch. To end up on the right end of the photo finish was both relief and excitement.”

Never off the board in 21 lifetime starts, Midnight Bisou will be looking to not only defend her title in the Personal Ensign but secure a second Eclipse Award in what is a highly competitive division.

“She’s been incredibly consistent throughout her entire career and she’s showing us that she’s improving,” Bloom said. “It’s hard to come up with enough adjectives to describe what kind of a racehorse she is and what she’s meant to our family.”

Despite her highly competitive nature on the track, Midnight Bisou is quite gentle around the barn, which Bloom says is one of many reasons why she is so special.

“It’s such a perfect combination,” Bloom said. “It’s like as soon as she puts her boxing gloves on, she’s ready to go in the ring and she’s focused. She just knows what she’s supposed to do. But around the barn she loves the attention, the love, the affection and she is just so sweet. She’s an absolute pleasure to be around.”

Bloom went on to speak of multiple stakes winner Snapper Sinclair, who breezed five furlongs over Saratoga’s Oklahoma turf course Sunday morning in 1:03.75. The son of City Zip is possible for action at the Spa this meet, but Bloom said that the primary target is a repeat win in the Tourist Mile at Kentucky Downs on September 7.

Snapper Sinclair has shown an affinity for the all-turf course having won the Fasig-Tipton Turf Showcase Juvenile during his 2-year-old campaign.

“He’ll stay there and train at Saratoga,” Bloom said. “We’ll go for a third victory at Kentucky Downs if we can get it done with him. Whether or not he runs at Saratoga prior to the Kentucky Downs meet is still up in the air.

A veteran of 26 starts, the 5-year-old Snapper Sinclair has won on both dirt and turf with his only stakes wins taking place at Kentucky Downs. He has placed four times against graded stakes company on dirt and has accumulated $1,234,760 in earnings.

“He’s a millionaire but he’s kind of done it the hard way,” Bloom said. “He’s got such a large personality. He has that striking white face. He’s just a fun and exciting horse.”


Lexitonian breezes in preparation for G1 Bing Crosby; Vexatious returns for G1 Personal Ensign

Calumet Farm’s Lexitonian, trained by Jack Sisterson, was scratched at the gate of Saturday’s Grade 1 Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap but was in good order Sunday morning breezing a half-mile under assistant trainer Mark O’Dwyer in 47.66 seconds on the Saratoga main track.

Whitmore, assigned post 2 in the Vanderbilt, broke through the gate before the start of the race and was quickly pulled up by jockey Joel Rosario. Lexitonian, from the inside post, subsequently sat back on his haunches dislodging jockey Tyler Gaffalione and was scratched at the gate. The remainder of the four-horse field was backed out and reloaded with Volatile proving victorious.

“I think a horse’s natural instinct when another horse breaks through the gate is to want to go after it,” said Sisterson. “He’s such a competitive horse that when Whitmore broke through, he wasn’t going to abide by Tyler. He wanted to go after that horse and that’s just him.

“Mark was with him and looked at him at the barn after the race and the vet went over him and there were no issues,” added Sisterson. “Unfortunately, that’s racing. You can’t predict what’s going to happen, but the main thing is he’s okay.”

O’Dwyer said Lexitonian was in good order Sunday morning and moved comfortably during the swift half-mile breeze.

Lexitonian entered the Vanderbilt off a sharp optional-claiming win on May 29 at Churchill Downs that garnered a 95 Beyer Speed Figure. The Speightstown chestnut was expected to use Saturday’s test as a springboard to the Grade 1, $300,000 Forego, presented by America’s Best Racing, a seven-furlong sprint for 4-year-olds and up on August 29.

However, Sisterson said Lexitonian will now ship to Del Mar for a start in Saturday’s Grade 1 Bing Crosby, a six-furlong sprint offering a berth in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint.

“He ran such a fast Ragozin number at Churchill, a career high, we thought with that much of a leap forward you don’t want to run back too quick,” said Sisterson. “So, we penciled in the Vanderbilt and if he ran well we’d go to the Forego. We had the plan for months and it didn’t happen and now he’s full of energy and needs to run, so if he comes out of the breeze well this morning, he’ll go to the Bing Crosby at Del Mar.”

Calumet Farm and John Anthony Stables’ American Tattoo, who was nominated to Saturday’s Grade 1 Whitney, will instead point to next Sunday’s $100,000 Birdstone, a 1 ¾-mile stamina test for older horses at the Spa.

Previously trained by Todd Pletcher, the Birdstone will mark the 5-year-old son of Not For Sale’s first start for Sisterson. A five-time winner from 11 starts, American Tattoo was a Group 1 winner in his native Argentina capturing the 2018 Polla de Potrillos. He finished third in last year’s Grade 2 Marathon at 1 ¾-miles in November at Santa Anita and won the 10-furlong H. Allen Jerkens in December at Gulfstream Park.

“He’s training great at the moment at Keeneland. We have a great facility, thanks to Calumet, where we can train them and allow them to be a horse at the same time,” said Sisterson. “He gets turned out in his paddock every day and he enjoys that. He’s bought into our system and really blossomed and come around. He acts like a distance type of horse in his breezes, and he gets better as he hits the wire and gallops out. I think the mile and three-quarters will suit him. If he runs well there, we’d look at the Calumet Cup for him at Kentucky Downs [on September 7].”

Calumet Farm’s Vexatious, a 6-year-old Giant’s Causeway mare, posted a career-best 100 Beyer when second last out to Monomoy Girl in the Grade 2 Ruffian on July 11 at Belmont and is slated to make her next start in Saturday’s Grade 1, $500,000 Personal Ensign presented by NYRA Bets, offering a berth in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff.

Vexatious ran second in the Grade 3 Modesty on the Arlington Park turf last July in just her second start for Sisterson and followed up with a brave second in the nine-furlong Summer Colony, defeated a neck to Blue Prize who exited that race to win the Grade 1 Spinster at Keeneland and the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Distaff at Santa Anita.

“She ran great in the Ruffian,” said Sisterson. “It was her third race off the layoff and typically, the way I train, they improve with racing. We leave a lot in the tank for them to improve and we thought she’d run a good race and she was second with a career high.

“In my opinion, she has the talent to be within a few lengths of any top filly in the country on her day,” added Sisterson. “Which she proved last summer finishing just a neck behind Blue Prize, who went on to the Breeders’ Cup.”

Vexatious breezed a half-mile in 49.45 Saturday on the Saratoga main track with O’Dwyer in the irons.

“Mark knows her well and he called me after the work to say she feels as good as she has done going into any race she’s run well in,” said Sisterson. “She’s coming back in just two weeks [from the Ruffian], which is a concern, but I think she’ll tell us when she’s not doing well. She’s held her coat well and eaten up, so she’s telling us she’s doing well.”

Sisterson said a prominent approach may be in the cards for Vexatious on Saturday.

“If it comes next week that Midnight Bisou scares people off and it’s a short field with no speed in the race, I’d have no problem at all if Jose [Lezcano] wants to jump out and make all with her,” said Sisterson. “She’s a true distance type of filly, but she can also run well at a one-turn mile and I wouldn’t be afraid of jumping out and making all because of the distance because in my opinion she only gallops and stays. The further the better.”

Calumet Farm’s Everfast, a closing second in last year’s Preakness for former trainer Dale Romans, joined the Sisterson barn for his 4-year-old campaign. With blinkers on for all three starts this season, Everfast ran a good second in his seasonal debut on April 18 in an Oaklawn Park allowance and followed up with another strong second, defeated a half-length by Owendale, in the Blame traveling one mile on the Churchill Downs main.

Last out, Everfast was off-the-board in the Grade 1 Makers Mark Mile on the Keeneland turf on July 10.

Sisterson said the addition of blinkers have helped provide the former late-running Everfast a more prominent running style.

“He jumped and went forward in his race at Oaklawn and he was forward again in the Blame,” said Sisterson. “We gave him a shot in the Makers Mark Mile but he didn’t handle the turf at all.”

Sisterson said the Take Charge Indy bay will make a return to dirt at Saratoga in an allowance sprint with an eye down the road to the Grade 1, $300,000 Forego presented by America’s Best Racing at seven furlongs on August 29.

“He’ll run seven eighths next Saturday at Saratoga,” said Sisterson. “That would be a prep for the Forego for him if all goes well.”


Mean Mary on target for G1 Diana

Trainer Graham Motion will point three-time graded stakes winner Mean Mary to the Grade 1, $500,000 Diana on August 23 at Saratoga.

Owned by Alex Campbell, Jr., the 4-year-old homebred daughter of Scat Daddy has won her last four races, three of which were over the Gulfstream Park turf. Following frontrunning victories in the Grade 3 La Prevoyante and Grade 3 Orchid over the South Florida oval, she replicated her frontrunning ways when taking the Grade 2 New York over the inner turf at Belmont Park.

On Saturday morning, Mean Mary worked six furlongs in 1:14.60 over the all-weather training surface at Fair Hill Training Center in Maryland.

“She went by herself and did it well,” Motion said of the breeze. “I’d like to get her to the Breeders’ Cup [Filly and Mare Turf] and it’s a mile and three sixteenths this year. I don’t think the cutback in distance will be an issue. She ran well going shorter early on so she should handle it just fine.”

Mean Mary is out of the Grade 1-winning Dynaformer broodmare Karlovy Vary, whose other two progeny are both winners.

Motion, who will be seeking his first Diana victory, saddled Campbell’s Ultra Brat to a close second-place finish to Sistercharlie in the 2018 running and finished second the prior year with Quidura. In 2016, he saddled the favorite Miss Temple City, who finished fourth.

“I’ve had some horses with other owners in the Diana. It’s a race I’ve had some hard luck in and I would really like to win it,” Motion said.