Taiba won the $750,000 Santa Anita Derby by 2 1/4 lengths on Saturday on the final weekend of the big prep races for the Kentucky Derby.
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Led by Hall of Famer Mike Smith, Taiba passed series leader Messier to take down West Coast’s top contenders on the first Saturday in May. Both foals are being trained by Tim Yaktin, who recently replaced Bob Baffert, a six-time Kentucky Derby winner who is serving a 90-day ban.
“Quite an exciting time,” Yaktin said in the winners’ circle, his brow sweating in the scorching sun. “Shocked is putting it mildly. »
At Keeneland, Zandon rallied from the end of the field to pass favorite Smile Happy on the stretch to win the $1 million Blue Grass by 2½ lengths. He ran 1 1/8 miles in 1:50.35 on a dirt track and paid $6.20 to win.
At Aqueduct, Moe Donegal rallied to win the $750,000 Wood Memorial for the cutout.
In California, Taiba earned only the second start of his career and his first in a betting race, completing the 1 1/8 mile in 1:48.67. Purchased for $1.7 million, he is the son of the 2017 Horse of the Year winner. He paid $10.60, $3.60 and $3.20 at 4 to 1 odds.
Messier returned $2.80 and $2.10. Happy Jack was still third by 10 lengths and paid $4.20 to perform. Armagnac, the peloton’s third colt, who came to Jaktin from Baffert’s barn, finished fourth.
Forbidden Kingdom, the equal favorite, was last in a group of six.
Taiba made his debut at Santa Anita on March 5, winning against Baffert by 7 1/2 lengths. Yaktin, once a longtime aide to Baffert, took over a few weeks later.
The main West Coast preparation for the Kentucky Derby was to be a showdown between Messier and the Forbidden Kingdom. But Taiba showed his initial speed and collided with two rivals from the starting gate.
“It’s hard to put into words what he just did,” Yaktin said. “You don’t see it at this level unless you’re exceptionally, exceptionally gifted. It is obvious that this horse has such a talent.
Taiba earned 100 qualifying points for the Kentucky Derby on 7 May. He moved from the bottom of the standings to eighth, placing him firmly in the 20-horse field for the Derby. Messier moved from last place to 18th with 40 points, completing his run in the Derby.
Taiba was not expected to face top tier talent like Messier and Forbidden Kingdom. But owner Amr Zedan canceled Yakteen.
“We told him about the challenges that could come with doing something like this, but he had complete faith in the world in this horse and wanted to give the Derby (Kentucky) another chance,” Yaktin said. “That’s why he’s in the game. He accepted the bet. It was a huge gamble and the horse paid off.
Zedan owned Medina Spirit, which was disqualified from winning the 2021 Kentucky Derby after a post-race drug test tested positive for a banned steroid in Kentucky on race day. Medina Spirit died after training Baffert at Santa Anita in December.
Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky banned Baffert’s horses from earning qualifying Derby points, so Messier’s win in the Robert Lewis Stakes and second place in Los Alamitos Futurity won him nothing. Baffert is suing Churchill Downs in federal court over his two-year ban.
Last week, the Kentucky Court of Appeals denied Baffert’s request for an emergency release from his 90-day suspension by the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission. His suspension is the result of medication irregularities in some of his horses, including Medina Spirit.
Last Monday, Baffert had to leave his barn in Santa Anita. He is prohibited from visiting all facilities approved by the California Board of Horse Racing during his suspension.
In Kentucky, Zandon followed a Blue Grass field as it approached the far corner before crashing into traffic at the top of the section. He and jockey Flavien Prat chased Emmanuel before flying over Smile Happy for his second career win in four starts on a cold overcast day.
Under Chad Brown, Zandon earned 100 qualifying points and moved into second place in the Derby standings with 114 points. Smile Happy, 9-5 favorite, finished second.
In New York, Joel Rosario ran Mo Donegal over 1 1/8 miles in 1:47.96. He paid $6.30 to win. Coach Todd Pletcher tied the Sunny’s Jim Fitzsimmons for Wood’s win count with seven.
Mo Donegal earned 100 qualifying points and moved up to fourth in the Derby standings.
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