Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert’s stable put on powerful performances coast to coast in half of the four Breeders’ Cup “Win and You’re In” Challenge Series races held at Saratoga and Del Mar this weekend. With respect to the very narrowly-bypassed honorable mention Collusion Illusion, who won the Bing Crosby Stakes (G1) and a free trip to the Sprint, we present our latest Three Stars of the Week:
After he won the Hollywood Gold Cup (G1) at Santa Anita Park, Baffert shipped Improbable to Saratoga for his next appearance, where he was set to defend his trainer’s title in the Whitney Stakes (G1). Running second in the clear early provided Improbable with a trouble-free trip and the first shot at passing the pacesetter. He drew off enough at the top of the stretch to withstand a late bid from the favorite Tom’s d’Etat, who stumbled out of the gate and was forced to trail early on. After back-to-back Grade 1 wins and now a ticket punched for the Breeders’ Cup Classic, Improbable can no longer be ignored in the older dirt male division.
It takes a career-best effort to topple the top thoroughbred in the nation, but that’s exactly what Vexatious gave in Saturday’s Personal Ensign Stakes (G1) at Saratoga. After closely tracking the early pace, Vexatious got the first jump near the top of the stretch, but Midnight Bisou, the defending champion and the country’s number one-ranked horse entering the race, soon met her throat latch and looked ready to run by. Vexatious had other plans, however, and dug in gamely to keep her head in front the entire length of the stretch to deal the powerhouse Midnight Bisou her first defeat of the year.
3. Fighting Mad
A day after teaming up to pilot Thousand Words in his upset of the Shared Belief Stakes, Abel Cedillo and Baffert brought home the top prize in Sunday’s Clement L. Hirsch Stakes (G1) at Del Mar. The 4-year-old New Year’s Day filly has now won all 3 career route attempts, 2 of those coming at Del Mar, and has the burning early speed that makes her dangerous, especially in shorter fields. Like Vexatious, she’s well on her way to the Breeders’ Cup Distaff.