Bob Baffert will play a particularly strong hand in pursuit of a fourth Breeders’ Cup Classic at Keeneland on Saturday.
The Hall of Fame trainer has three victories in the $6million spectacular to his name – dominating from 2014 to 2016 with Bayern, American Pharoah and Arrogate.
All eyes will be on his team this year in a high-class renewal – with the betting headed by Improbable, who will be joined by Maximum Security and Authentic.
Improbable lowered the colours of Maximum Security in the Awesome Again Stakes at Santa Anita in September, while Kentucky Derby hero Authentic was last seen going down by a neck to top-notch filly Swiss Skydiver in the Preakness Stakes.
Baffert said of Improbable, who will be ridden by Irad Ortiz Jr: “He always showed a lot of talent as a three-year old, but, you know, he wasn’t really mentally mature, physically mature. We always refer to him as a ‘Little Justify’ because he’s a beautiful mover – (his) athleticism is just, the way he goes over the ground and his mechanics, but what a difference a year makes.
“He’s just really finally put it all together and I’m just happy they kept him in training an extra year and dealing with Elliott Walden and WinStar Farm – we set up a little schedule for him and it’s worked out perfectly.”
Authentic quashed any stamina concerns when digging deep to repel Belmont winner Tiz The Law in the Kentucky Derby, and while he could not quite edge past Swiss Skydiver, Baffert feels there could still be more to come from John Velazquez’s mount.
He said: “He actually came out of it (Preakness) really well. He was a late foal and he would make a wonderful four-year-old, but you never know what’s going to happen.
“I was disappointed in his Preakness run. I think he’s a horse that’s still a little bit green and he can be tough to ride sometimes – like sending him to the Derby, he got behind there a little bit and then wouldn’t engage in it. He’ll do that. He did that at the Haskell where he was running really well – he shuts himself down.
“It’s hard to get him going again and so I think he ran a good race, but the mare, she got the first move on him and he just couldn’t get by her. So he’s going to have to improve and I think he will, but he needs to be ridden aggressively away from the gate.”
Luis Saez was reunited with Maximum Security last time out, having been his regular partner in finishing first past the post in last year’s Kentucky Derby, only to be disqualified for interference, and winning the Saudi Cup in Riyadh in February.
Baffert, who took charge of Maximum Security following the Saudi success, said: “I think last time we were sort of chasing some speed that we knew was not really solid and I think post position and the break is going – that’ll tell the story. These riders are going to be on their own. They know their horses well.
“Saez knows Maximum Security better than anybody and he told me when he rode him last time, he was chasing and struggling, and if it could have been over, we would have just taken it back a little bit.
“It was a crazy pace and Improbable you know, Drayden (Van Dyke) saw what was happening, he just let them go, and then he came and got him. So I think it’s going to be these jockeys, they know their horse and they’re going to ride the way they feel, play the break.”
Tiz The Law has been one of the standout three-year-olds in America this year and looked to be doing everything right under Manny Franco in the Derby, looming alongside Authentic seemingly full of running – but the Baffert runner refused to buckle.
Jack Knowlton, operating manager of owners Sackatoga Stable, said of Barclay Tagg’s colt: “We’re obviously thrilled to have a horse of Tiz’s stature and accomplished what he’s accomplished. There are some other horses in there that you look, like Tom’s d’Etat, that you know are outstanding horses as well.
“So I think on paper, and obviously we don’t run the races on paper, but on paper, I think it looks like a tremendous race. Given the circumstances, the pandemic and all that, for the 35 partners and Tiz the Law and Barclay Tagg and his team, it’s been a rewarding year to have the horse.
“It’s been an incredible year and we’ve got one more race that we’re looking forward to.”