Normally, March brings with its warmer weather, Derby prospects galore— many of the good ones hailing from sunny California. 2019 has thrown us all for quite the loop thus far, with record rainfall putting a damper in regular training.
When Santa Anita closed last week following the 21st equine fatality of the meet— the reason for so many injuries unknown, (I think the rain had to have taken its toll on the track) trainers were left scrambling with little notice, altering course to prep races with Kentucky Derby points available.
Arkansas’ gem of a racetrack offered an open invitation to any and all comers for next weekend’s Rebel Stakes. They have even been generous enough to split the race into 2 divisions, should the stake accumulate 20 entries.
It’s a pretty unique situation, truly—and when Bob Baffert decided to ship both of his star 3yo colts, Game Winner and Improbable to Hot Springs, it left me with a few questions…
Will the two face one another, or will enough horses enter for a divisional split?
These two questions prompted me to wonder, moreover, who will prove better of the two, or more importantly, will they part ways in separate divisions, and BOTH win….
While I like the latter option, myself, it is far more interesting to speculate a matchup. So, in trying my best to overcome the emotion I feel after the death of 21 horses, just as the rest of us are, let’s have a bit of fun discussing a possible head to head matchup of 3yo heavyweights.
Game Winner ~
He’s the horse I have been raving about since last year. Not much has changed since then. Though he has yet to make his 3yo debut, I can’t help but gawk at how much Game Winner has grown up since his Breeders’ Cup Juvenile triumph.
He carries himself with the utmost confidence— a true competitor who is entirely the center of his own universe, Game Winner exudes dominance as well as a deeply-rooted maturity which helps him to relax during races. This is not a horse who will end up in a speed duel, nor is he a horse who will lazily hang back and depend on a hot pace’s unfolding.
As you can see, I think very highly of his every move. So, why is this even a discussion for me?
In recent works, Game Winner has appeared strong throughout his breeze, until he nears the wire… and then he swaps leads back and forth. Sure, this can be some greenness. But, as I stated above, Game Winner is a seasoned professional, and unsolicited lead changes could very well mean something else.
Perhaps he is getting tired? Though it is quite unlikely that Bob Baffert would have the horse anything but fit for what is to be the toughest matchup of his life, thus far.
Maybe the changes aren’t too big of a deal and I am simply creating a problem where there truly isn’t one. But when a competitor such as his stablemate, Improbable, looms one the horizon, any inconsistencies must be noted and examined, thoroughly.
Still, my gut tells me that Game Winner is the horse to beat, whether he runs against the promising son of City Zip or not. I will have to stick with that for now.
What is there to say about “Miniature Justify” that has not already been said? Though he isn’t the massive, imposing individual that the 2018 Triple Crown winner was, he is nonetheless effortless or impressive.
Improbable carries a fluidity in his movements that I have only seen twice before— and those belonged to American Pharoah and Justify. Horses like these waste not a step… their every stride catapults them forward evenly and efficiently.
On talent alone, I would say it is likely that Improbable surpasses his Champion stablemate, Game Winner, in the stretch at Oaklawn.
While a bit less experienced than his bay counterpart, he will be tested for the first time in his life against competition that is truly top tier. Will he stack up against some of the best 3yo colts in America?
My guess is yes…he surely will.
So you see— though I am currently on the Game Winner train, I do not take lightly the force which Improbable is.
Whether the Rebel is split in two or not, it’s going to be one telling weekend of racing.
Photo of Improbable by Alex Evers and our friends at Eclipse Sportswire