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Improbable makes Bob Baffert a repeat G1 Whitney winner

SARATOGA SPRINGS — Improbable made his Saratoga Race Course debut a memorable one, staying just off pacesetting Mr. Buff before taking command entering the final turn and powering home a two-length winner in the prestigious Grade 1, $750,000 Whitney on Saturday.

Owned by WinStar Farm, China Horse Club and SF Racing, Improbable bested the five-horse field to notch his second consecutive Grade 1 victory following his 3 ™-length score in the Hollywood Gold Cup on June 6 at Santa Anita. Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert shipped the 4-year-old City Zip colt to New York for the first time off that race, and the trek netted the conditioner his second straight Whitney win, following McKinzie last year. Baffert is the first trainer to repeat in the Whitney since Hall of Famer Flint Schulhofer won with Colonial Affair and Unaccounted For in 1994-95.

One of five stakes on a loaded 12-race card, the 93rd running of the 1 1/8-mile Whitney saw Improbable earn an automatic entry to the Grade 1, $7 million Breeders’ Cup Classic on November 7 at Keeneland.

After acting fractious in the gate, Improbable settled down and broke sharp from post 2 under jockey Irad Ortiz, Jr. Even-money favorite Tom’s d’Etat stumbled leaving from the outermost post as Mr. Buff, the longest shot on the board, expectedly went to the front, posting an opening quarter-mile in 25.12 seconds and the half in 49.74 on the fast main track.

Improbable tracked in second position with By My Standards, Code of Honor, last year’s Grade 1 Runhappy Travers winner, and Tom’s d’Etat trailing. Ortiz, Jr. urged his charge up entering the far turn and took command over Mr. Buff just past the three-quarter mark near the rail when straightened for home. Under encouragement in the stretch, Improbable prevented By My Standards from making a late three-path rally, hitting the wire in a final time of 1:48.65.

Off at 3-1, Improbable returned $8.50 on a $2 win wager. He won his third career Grade 1, including the 2018 Los Alamitos Futurity, and improved his career earnings to $1,529,520.

The win marked Ortiz, Jr.’s second Whitney triumph in three years, adding to his effort aboard Diversify in 2018.

Cross Border remains unbeaten at Saratoga

SARATOGA SPRINGS — The 62nd running of the Grade 2, $250,000 Bowling Green at Saratoga Race Course was not without some anxious moments during the stretch run, but Cross Border, 10 days removed from a victory in the Lubash, was awarded the victory and kept an unbeaten record at Saratoga intact for leading owner Three Diamonds Farm and trainer Mike Maker.

The dark bay son of English Channel was named the winner of the 1 3/8-mile event over the Mellon turf following the disqualification of four-time graded stakes winning millionaire Sadler’s Joy, who was placed fourth due to interference within the final eighth of a mile. Cross Border arrived at the Bowling Green off a 6 ™-length victory in the Lubash on July 22.

Stable mate Marzo established command heading into the first turn and opened up by five lengths past the Saratoga grandstand through an opening quarter-mile in 25.30 seconds and a half in 50.38 seconds over a firm turf course.

Meanwhile, jockey Jose Ortiz had Cross Border tucked along the rail in fourth with Sadler’s Joy just to his outside. Approaching the far turn, Ortiz gave Cross Border his cue while Hall of Fame jockey Javier Castellano did the same aboard Sadler’s Joy. At the top of the stretch, Cross Border was five wide in between horses with Sadler’s Joy in pursuit.

In the final furlong, Sadler’s Joy assumed command with Cross Border and Channel Maker to his inside coming in close quarters and crossed the wire first by a neck in a final time of 2:14.77.

Highland Sky, who crossed the wire third, was subsequently elevated to second.

Following the race, the stewards ruled that Sadler’s Joy would be disqualified from first to fourth due to lugging into the path of Cross Border and Channel Maker who crossed the wire second and fourth respectively. Following the ruling, Channel Maker was elevated to third.

The official remaining order of finish was Sadler’s Joy, Marzo and Dot Matrix. Pillar Mountain was scratched.

Moretti continues Pletcher’s dominance in $100K Birdstone

SARATOGA SPRINGS — Repole Stable and Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners’ Moretti repelled a challenge from Rocketry at the top of the stretch and posted a popular 1 ¢-length triumph in Sunday’s $100,000 Birdstone at Saratoga Race Course, continuing trainer Todd Pletcher’s dominance of the 1 §-mile dirt marathon.

It was the fifth win in nine runnings of the Birdstone for Pletcher, whose previous victories came with Rule [2011], San Pablo [2012], Repole-owned Micromanage [2014] and Hard Study [2017]. Hall of Fame jockey Javier Castellano earned his fourth win in the race, following Rule, Micromanage and Turco Bravo [2016].

American Tattoo, a one-time Pletcher trainee, got to the front under a snug hold from Luis Saez to lead the five-horse field through an opening quarter-mile in 25.67 seconds under mild pressure from Expert while Castellano positioned Moretti in the clear, three wide in third. Moretti’s stablemate You’re to Blame was unhurried in fourth as Rocketry, third in last year’s Birdstone, trailed the field.

The half went in 51.49 with American Tattoo and Expert still leading the way, as You’re to Blame edged Moretti for third and Rocketry remained the trailer. The order stayed the same through splits of 1:17.75 and 1:43.79 when Expert ranged up to forge a short lead over You’re to Blame as American Tattoo dropped back after running 1 ™ miles in 2:08.51 on the fast main track.

Moretti, racing without blinkers following his come-from-behind second to Tacitus in the Grade 2 Suburban last out on July 4 at Belmont Park in his most recent effort, established command once straightened for home and faced a challenge from Rocketry, who had followed Moretti’s move on the far outside. The top two set down for a drive to the wire that was decided when Moretti edged clear past the eighth pole, completing the distance in 2:58.51.

You’re to Blame came flying late to edge Rocketry by a nose for second. Expert was another 7 ¢ lengths back in fourth, followed by American Tattoo. Highland Sky, who ran third but was promoted to second following the disqualification of first-place finisher Sadler’s Joy in Saturday’s Grade 2, $250,000 Bowling Green, and Standard Deviation were scratched.

Moretti, a 4-year-old son of multiple Grade 1-winning $5 million earner Medaglia d’Oro bred in Kentucky by Thor-Bred Stables, fetched $900,000 out of Fasig-Tipton’s 2017 Saratoga Selected Yearling Sale but had never run at Saratoga. After racing only twice at 2 and three times at 3, he has made six starts this year and won three of the last four including the 1 3/8-mile Flat Out on June 11 at Belmont Park.

Sent off as the 6-5 mutuel favorite, Moretti returned $4.60 for a $2 win bet.

The Birdstone was the second consecutive win on Sunday’s program for Pletcher, who also took the eighth race with Bass Racing’s Fort Worth. A New York-bred son of City Zip that sold for $550,000 as a 2-year-old in training in 2018, Fort Worth ran six furlongs in 1:09.71 over a fast main track to take the second-level state-bred allowance by 2 ™ lengths.

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