By Richard Rosenblatt
This is why horse racing is such a fantastic sporting event, with or without spectators:
On the East Coast, a little-known 3-year-old colt named Andrez Conquist delivered the race of a lifetime by winning a maiden claimer on turf at Monmouth Park on Saturday at the astonishing odds of 158-1 (that’s $319.80 on a $2 win bet).
Two hours later, out on the West Coast, the brilliant 4-year-old Maximum Security, the 1-2 favorite, was thrashed by stablemate Improbable by 4½ lengths in the $300,000 Awesome Again Stakes (G1) at Santa Anita.
The victory was the first in eight career races for Andrez Conquist, who never ran better than sixth in his first seven starts. For “Max,” the loss ended a six-race win streak and was just the second time in 13 races he didn’t finish first (Max was disqualified from first to 17th in the Kentucky Derby for interference).
“I hate to see my horses have to beat the other horse but ‘Max’ ran gallantly,’’ Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert said. “He fended off the speed but the next one is the big one, but today it was all about Improbable.”
Back at Monmouth, when the numbers were calculated, it turned out to be the biggest win price in the 75-year history of the track,
“I don’t know what to say. Wow,” last-minute rider Tomas Mejia said. “They told me all the other jockeys that have ridden this horse have wanted to come from behind. The trainer said `get him close to the lead this time.’ So I was able to sit behind (the leader) for most of the race and then he just finished strong. I don’t know what else to say.”
A $1 exacta on Andrez Conquist and runner-up The Mormon Mauler (5-2) paid $723.20.
Maximum Security, reunited with regular rider Luis Saez, found himself in a tight spot for the first time in a while, and just didn’t have his usual stretch drive in the Awesome Again, finishing 4 ½ lengths behind Improbable, who came through with a strong finishing kick of his own.
The third straight Grade 1 win for Improbable ($5.60) set up another matchup between Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert’s colts in the $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) at Keeneland on Nov. 7.
Take the One O One, at 59-1, set the pace, with Sleepy Eyes Todd right behind and Maximum Security racing between horses duking it out for nearly a mile. Improbable, with Drayden Van Dyke aboard, was just cruising along behind in the field of five, and then made his move at the top of the stretch and pulled away for the easy win.
Winning time for the 1 1/8 miles 1:49.01.
“I knew I was coming in here with two really good horses,” said Baffert. “Maximum Security was in that scrum and they were really running up close (together). I saw Drayden, he knew what was happening, so he just sat back. He rode a great race, he knew what was going on, he took his time, rode him with patience.”
A year ago, Improbable went off as the Derby favorite and ran fifth behind Maximum Security (and move to fourth after Max was DQ’d). Improbable is now 14-7-3-0 for career earnings of $1,709,520.
Mucho Unusual ($8.80), the lone California-bred in the field, was in command throughout and won the 1 1 /4-mile Rodeo Drive on turf to earn a spot in the field for the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf (G1) at Keeneland on Nov. 7.
The win gave jockey Juan Hernandez his first career Grade 1. Trained by Tim Yakteen, the 4-year-old is a daughter of Mucho Macho Man.
Winning time was 2:00.19. Maxim Rate was second in the field of six, with 7-5 favorite Lady Prancealot third. With the win Mucho Unusual improved to 16-5-3-4.
“It means a lot. It is my first Grade 1, I always wanted to win a Grade 1, I always tried really hard, but I couldn’t, today was the day,’’ said Hernandez. “To win these races it’s all about opportunity, I want to thank the owners and trainer for this big opportunity.”
Yakteen said, “This is as big of a win as I’ve ever had. I haven’t had very many Grade 1 wins.”
East Coast-based filly Amnzi Yimpilo rallied under Luis Saez to beat eight rivals in the Speakeasy, and gain a fee-paid trip to the BC Juvenile Fillies Turf Sprint at Keeneland on Nov. 6.
Trained by Wesley Ward, the winner was the 5-2 second choice and returned $7.20 for a $2 win bet. Note that blinkers were off for the 5 ½-furlong race, and the winning time was 1:02.77.
“She was pretty nervous behind the gate, we had a little trouble, but I knew she was ready,” said Saez. “I could feel the power. She just broke very well and sat in a great spot which was the spot I was (hoping) to be in. When we came down the stretch, she fought. She was a fighter and we got there. I had a feeling we would get it.”
Wyfire ran second under Flavien Prat in his first try on the turf, With Windy City Red third.
A race for 2-year-old fillies, and who else but trainer Bob Baffert ends up in the winner’s circle with 1-5 favorite Princess Noor ($2.40) after she romped by 8 ¼ lengths in the Chandelier.
The win puts her at the head of the class as the likely favorite for the BC Juvenile Fillies (G1) at Keeneland on Nov. 6. The filly, a $1.35 million purchase, the filly covered the 1 1/16 miles in 1:45.59.
Princess Noor caught stablemate and pace-setter Illumination heading to the quarter pole, and then pulled away from the field.
“I talked to Victor before and I talked to all my riders and I told them, ‘Just ride your races,’” said Baffert, who had three fillies in the race. “When you are in the one hole, they usually don’t break as well, but I think Victor rode her with a lot of confidence. He’s been on enough good horses and he knows.
“This filly is just incredible and very talented. I don’t train her as hard and I run her into shape. You never know if they can go two turns until they do and it looks like that’s not going to be a problem.”
Princess Noor is now 3-for-3 (winning by a combined 17 ¼ lengths), while Baffert won the Chandelier for the 12th time.
Get Her Number ($18.20) made a smooth transition from turf to dirt, taking the American Pharoah by three-quarters of a length and earning a fees-paid spot in the field for the BC Juvenile (G1) at Keeneland on Nov. 6.
Trained by Peter Miller and ridden by Flavien Prat, Get Her Number covered the 1 1-16 miles in 1:44.92.
The 3-year-old colt sat in second and then took charge with 3 furlongs to go and was never seriously threatened the rest of the way. A son of Dialed In, Get Her Number made his first two starts on turf, breaking his maiden at first asking and finishing fourth in the Del Mar Juvenile Turf Stakes on Sept. 7.
The colt was purchased for $45,000 by Gary Barber in April. He has now earned $219,000. Rombauer was second, and even-money favorite Spielberg was third.
“We had a good trip; he broke well and he put me in the race. He reacted well on the backside and by that point I felt in control,’’ said Prat. “It is great, Breeders’ Cup is always something we all look forward to so it’s cool.”
Firenze Fire does well at Belmont, and added another win to his resume with a 2 ¾-length victory in the 81st running of the 6-furlong Vosburgh.
The 5-year-old son of Poseidon’s Warrior posted his fifth win in a row in eight starts over Big Sandy, among them the Champagne (G1) in 2017, the Dwyer (G3) in 2018, the 2019 Runhappy, and the True North (G2) on June 27. He came into this race off an 11th-place finish in the Forego (G1) at Saratoga.
Firenze Fire ($7.20), under Jose Lezcano, sat just off pace-setter Share the Ride. Beyond the quarter pole Firenze Fire pulled even and then took command with a winning time of 1:09.74. Funny Guy was second
This was Firenze Fire’s fifth start for trainer Kelly Breen, who took over as conditioner for Jason Servis earlier this year. The victory earned the horse fees-paid entry to the BC Sprint (G1) at Keeneland on Nov. 7.
“He ran a nice race. Jose took off the speed a little bit but he had plenty of horse,” said Breen. “I can say he doesn’t like the mud. You can put a line through his last race and he really performed today. He loves Belmont. We’ll have to get him as used to Keeneland as he is to Belmont. I’ll bring a couple of buckets from here and put it down the Keeneland stretch and bring our track to Keeneland. He’s doing great. He looked great today and we’re on to the Breeders’ Cup.”
Firenze Fire is 29-12-3-2 with earnings over more than $2 million.
Viadera ($13) ran down pacesetter and stablemate Blowout (2-1 favorite) in deep stretch and posted a neck victory to give trainer Chad Brown a 1-2 finish in the Noble Damsel for fillies and mares 3-years-old and up on turf.
Viadera, bred in England, won in her first graded stakes appearance and gave Brown his fifth straight victory in the Noble Damsel.
Off the turn, Blowout held a slim lead over Sweet Bye and Bye, with Joel Rosario urging Viadera up to challenging position before angling to the inside, where she picked off rivals and gained the lead just before the wire.
Winning time for the race was 1:32.06.
“I was in a good spot and there was a lot of speed,” said Rosario. “For a second, I thought they were going to get away from me, but I was comfortable where I was, and I just tried to ride her from there. When it was time to go, she kicked good.
“It looked like I might have to go between horses [in the stretch] but they came off the rail and I took a chance to go to the rail and hope not to get blocked inside,” he continued. “She kept coming and coming. She ran super.”
Added Brown: “They ran super. Viadera got a great setup saving all the ground and I’m really proud of her. Blowout ran probably the best race. For her to set those fractions and still battle on, I’m so proud of her. Both horses really ran terrific.”
Over the years while working at The Associated Press, Rich Rosenblatt became a familiar name to legions of the horse racing fans and industry insiders with his award-winning articles on horse racing and his stories from the backstretch.
In addition to being an astute observer of sports, Rosenblatt is the co-author of The All-American Chili Cookbook. His work has been seen in just about every publication in the world, including The New York Times, The Washington Post and Time Magazine.