OCEANPORT, N.J. – Taiba may not have won Saturday’s Grade 1 TVG.com Haskell Stakes at Monmouth Park, but the performance of the Zedan Racing Stables color bearer in the $1 million race gave his connections plenty to be excited about, nevertheless.
“He ran a really gallant race, and we were happy with the way he ran. We would have loved to have won it, but he ran a great race and he came out of it really well,” Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert said Sunday morning about his colt’s loss by a head to Cyberknife.
Hall of Famer Mike Smith, who rode Taiba, said after the race that when they were down on the inside in the field of eight, he couldn’t get the son of 2017 Horse of the Year Gun Runner running and had to swing him to the outside. From that point Taiba picked it up and rallied, got his head in front at the eighth pole, and battled with Cyberknife, who was charging up the rail under Florent Geroux, to the wire.
“I thought I was going to win,” Smith said.
Baffert, who was watching the race from Southern California, concurred.
“I thought he was going to win. It was tough to come up short because I really thought when he made that move and put his little head down, he was going to get there. He’s all racehorse,” said Baffert. “He’s a gutsy little guy. I think he just didn’t see that horse (Cyberknife) down there. It was great ride by Florent. Flo stayed back there and cut the corner.
“Mike had him in a spot to win and we just came up short. Cyberknife got a great trip. He was stuck down there, and he was not happy being stuck behind horses. I was really worried at about the three-eighths pole. Mike said that when he got him out in the clear he just kicked in.”
Baffert was looking to extend his record to 10 wins in the Haskell with Taiba.
Cyberknife, the Grade 1 Arkansas Derby, added a second top-level triumph to his resume with the Haskell win in track and stakes record time of 1:46.24 for the 1 1/8 miles. He had post position 1 with Taiba in post 2. Baffert thought Taiba’s chances might have been compromised by the draw.
“I think the post position, if he had been outside and a little bit in the clear, it might have made a difference. Maybe not. Those are three top horses,” Baffert said of Cyberknife, Taiba, and dual Grade 1 winner Jack Christopher, who finished third as the 7-10 favorite.
What also may have been to Taiba’s detriment is his relative inexperience. He won the Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby in just his second start and next was no factor in the Kentucky Derby 20-horse field while Baffert was serving a 90-day suspension and Tim Yatkeen had taken over the training. Taiba didn’t come back into Baffert’s care until earlier this month.
“The Kentucky Derby was a complete toss out. He’s lightly raced. We’re still learning more about this horse. Because I was just getting back, I could have used maybe one more breeze into him,” said Baffert. “He ran his race. I think he’s maturing. He’s just going to get better and better. He has a big heart. He’s all racehorse.”
The $6 million Longines Breeders’ Cup Classic remains the goal for Taiba, who will depart Monmouth to be flown back and reunite with Baffert on Tuesday. At this stage Baffert hasn’t mapped out the schedule.
“The mile and a quarter (Breeders’ Cup distance) isn’t going to be any problem for him. We haven’t really figured out a plan yet. It’s too early to tell. We’ll get him back here to Del Mar and he’ll tell me when he’s ready to roll,” said Baffert.
Cyberknife, meanwhile, now a two-time Grade 1 winner and the only 3-year-old other than third-place finisher Jack Christopher in the division to have won multiple Grade 1s, was no worse for wear and departed the Monmouth Park backstretch at 5 a.m. Sunday morning to rejoin trainer Brad Cox’s Saratoga division.
Cyberknife qualified for his guaranteed spot in the Breeders’ Cup Classic with his Haskell win, and if all goes well for both colts, a rematch with Taiba at Keeneland on Nov. 5 is looming.
“We’ve got to get there. I don’t want to get too far ahead. We’ll let him enjoy the Saratoga weather, like everyone else and hopefully, we’ll march forward,” said Cox. “We do feel like he’s a horse that can continue on and I do feel he’s a horse that’s capable of getting a mile and a quarter.”
Cyberknife is under consideration for the Grade 1 Runhappy Travers at Saratoga on Aug. 27 and could give Cox back-to-back wins in the “Mid-Summer Derby” as he won the 2021 edition with Essential Quality. His 2022 Haskell win with Cyberknife was his second straight as he won the 2021 edition with Mandaloun.
By Lynne Snierson of the Monmouth Park publicity staff
Main Photo: Taiba gives a game challenge to Cyberknife to place in the TVG.com Haskell. Photo By Bill Denver/EQUI-PHOTO