Taiba scores in Pennsylvania Derby

Nearly five months after the Kentucky Derby, six Derby starters vied for the last Grade 1 stakes for the sophomore set Saturday in the Pennsylvania Derby at Parx Racing. Absent any of the Triple Crown classic winners and Travers winner Epicenter, the deep field of eleven were looking to make some noise in a division that does not seem 100% sewn up quite yet. 

Once again, Cyberknife and Taiba made their bid for staying in the conversation, but only one could come away with the victory.

In a short career where he has raced just five times, Taiba parlayed his surprise victory in April’s Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby into a tough trip behind a hot pace in the Kentucky Derby. After some time off and a return to trainer Bob Baffert’s barn, he tried again in the Grade 1 Haskell at Monmouth, only to be caught in the waning strides by Cyberknife. Wary of that trip again today, jockey Mike Smith was more aggressive today against the Haskell winner and a field of nine other three-year-olds, including fellow Derby starters Simplification, Zandon, and White Abarrio.

Breaking from the eight post, Smith hustled Taiba from the gate, but Luis Saez on White Abarrio beat him to the punch, taking the lead inside the first furlong. With a one-length lead entering the first turn, White Abarrio moved to the rail as Simplification and Taiba fell into second and third behind him. 

Logging fractions of 23.27 seconds for the first quarter and 47.21 for the half-mile, White Abarrio maintained his advantage over Simplification and We the People, who had moved into third as Smith and Taiba bided their time in fourth.

Entering the far turn, White Abarrio’s advantage shrank as Simplification and then Taiba started their moves, with Cyberknife and Zandon gearing up for their late bids. Smith took Taiba away from the rail and went four wide into the stretch, with White Abarrio, Simplification, and Zandon to his inside. 

Zandon put in his customary closing move in the last furlong, but Taiba was too much for him. Running down the center of the track, Smith had Taiba and victory in hand, hitting the wire three lengths in front, with Zandon second. Cyberknife was able to get up late for third. 

Taiba won the Grade 1 Pennsylvania Derby. Photo by Allison Janezic.

“He saved ground and everything, came home strong, but just wasn’t the winner today,” said Joel Rosario, who rode Zandon. “It looked like for a second we were going to go get him, but it always looked like the winner would be a little bit better at the end.”

The final time for the 1⅛ miles over a fast track was 1:48.67. Favored Taiba paid $4.80, $3.00, and $2.60. Zandon paid $3.80 and $2.60. Cyberknife paid $3.00 to show. The exacta, with the top two wagering selections finishing one-two, paid $19.80 on a two-dollar wager.

“That was exciting. He did it. He ran his race. He is getting better and better. He is a horse that has been slowly improving,” said trainer Bob Baffert after the race. “He had a little bit of a rough trip in the Haskell, but we had some time to get him ready for this one. He proved today he is a good horse.”

Bloodstock agent Gary Young was on hand for owner Amr Zedan, added, “We thought an effort like this was going to be what we got. He was much more comfortable down inside horses today than he was in the Haskell. Once he got him outside coming to the top of the stretch the race was over. He has a really good turn of foot, he was good in the paddock, good in the post parade, kind of what we expected. we always said that this horse has a lot of room for improvement and we think next year he will be even better than he is next year and he is pretty damn good this year.”

Owned by Zedan Racing Stables, Taiba is a three-year-old colt by Gun Runner out of the Flatter mare Needmore Flattery. Bred in Kentucky by Bruce C. Ryan, Taiba’s record is now 5-3-1-0, with career earnings of $1,236,200. 

Baffert said he is looking toward the Breeders’ Cup Classic for Taiba’s next start. There he may face the likes of Life is Good and Flightline, as well as Epicenter, while Brad Cox is eyeing the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile for Cyberknife.