Taiba Building Championship Case In Malibu

December 22, 2022

Taiba getting the jump on Messier by 2 1/4 lengths n the G1 Runhappy Santa Anita Derby April 9. (Benoit Photos)

• Grade I Winner Hit The Road To Return Next Week
• Racing Office Encouraged By Entries For Opening Day

Stable Notes By Victor Ryan

ARCADIA, Calif.—In 2020, Kentucky Derby and Breeders’ Cup Classic hero Authentic became the 10th 3-year-old male trained by Bob Baffert to win a divisional Eclipse Award. On a blockbuster opening day card at Santa Anita Monday, a potential 11th such champion could emerge for the Hall of Fame trainer in the Grade I, $300,000 Malibu.

There is a case to be made for the honor if the Baffert-trained Taiba were to prevail as expected in the seven-furlong feature for sophomores on opening day. A win would make Taiba the only 3-year-old male this season with three Grade I triumphs of the season, adding to his previous scores in the Santa Anita Derby and Pennsylvania Derby. Taiba also nearly bagged another Grade I this summer in the Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park when he came up just a head short to Cyberknife.s

Meanwhile, the presumed frontrunner in the division is Eastern-based Epicenter, who was injured in the Grade I Breeders’ Cup Classic Nov. 5 and subsequently retired. He had a single Grade I tally this season, which came in the historic Travers Stakes at Saratoga.

But helping to boost the case for Epicenter are wins in the Grade II Louisiana Derby and GII Risen Star at Fair Grounds, GII Jim Dandy at Saratoga, plus runner-up finishes in both the GI Kentucky Derby and GI Preakness Stakes.

On Wednesday at Clocker’s Corner, Baffert opted for diplomacy when it comes to a potential championship for Taiba.

“I don’t want to get into that discussion. I don’t have a vote, so I don’t know,” he said.

In the Malibu, Taiba will be sprinting for the first time since a six-furlong debut win at Santa Anita in March. He most recently was beaten just a half-length for second after a troubled start in the Breeders’ Cup Classic going 1 1/4 miles, which was won by undefeated superstar Flightline.

“He missed the break, sort of slipped leaving there and he lost position,” Baffert said of Taiba’s Classic run. “We wanted him like where Epicenter was (fifth after a quarter mile), but Epicenter beat us to the spot.”

Taiba would improve his position under Mike Smith in the Classic and while no match for Flightline, he was just edged for runner-up by the older horse Olympiad.

“We were hoping we would run second. I knew trying to beat Flightline would be difficult,” Baffert said.

A $1.7 million auction purchase last year, Taiba has worked four times at Santa Anita since the Breeders’ Cup and shows two bullet drills on the tab. He blazed a half mile in 46.6 seconds on Dec. 3 and came back with another bullet on Monday when completing five furlongs in 59.6 seconds.

Baffert indicated he was not overly concerned about the cutback to seven furlongs.
“When he broke his maiden, he went nine and change (officially 1:09.8). He’s a fast horse,” Baffert added.

Joining Taiba in the Malibu starting gate for Baffert will be Messier. Sidelined following a 15th-place finish in the Kentucky Derby, Messier returned in a Nov. 5 allowance at Keeneland where he dueled on the lead for a half mile and then faded. Baffert said the Empire Maker colt bled in that effort.

“(Jockey John Velazquez) pulled him up and he had a little bit (of blood) on the nose,” Baffert said. “I don’t know why as he had never done that before. But he’s come back and worked and hasn’t bled, so I’m not sure why it happened.”

Similar to that allowance race, Messier in the Malibu will race without the anti-bleeding medication Lasix as it is not permitted in California stakes races.

Hit the Road and jockey Umberto Rispoli win the Grade III, $100,000 Thunder Road Stakes, February 6, 2021 at Santa Anita. (Benoit Photo)

Grade I Winner Hit The Road To Return Next Week

Grade I winner Hit the Road, sidelined since January’s Grade I Pegasus World Cup Turf, will make his long-awaited return in next Saturday’s Grade II, $250,000 Joe Hernandez Stakes over the hillside turf course at about 6 ½ furlongs.

Hit the Road had been nominated to make his comeback in opening day’s Grade II San Gabriel Stakes, but trainer Dan Blacker was not too keen on the race’s 1 1/8-mile distance. In the Pegasus World Cup going the same nine-furlong trip, he never threatened and finished eighth. It was Hit the Road’s only time racing beyond a mile.

“I’m skeptical he can get that trip,” Blacker said. “I think his best distance is a mile and I just didn’t want to go that distance again, especially off a layoff.

Hit the Road’s lone Grade I win came in last year’s Frank E. Kilroe Mile at Santa Anita. The 5-year-old full horse by More than Ready has never run over the hillside turf course. His lone previous time sprinting came in his 2019 debut when going 4 1/2 furlongs on dirt.

“There were no races going a mile, so really the only race that made sense was the Joe Hernandez,” Blacker said. “And you know, going down the hill, you never know if they are going to run well over the distance until you try it. But typically, milers do well, so I think he has a good chance if there’s a strong pace.”

Hit the Road sports a record of 13-6-0-2 and earnings of $588,751. He has been breezing steadily at Santa Anita since late October.

“Coming out of the Pegasus, it was nothing major, but he had an accumulation of minor things, so we gave him four months off,” Blacker said. “He’s been training really well since he’s been back.”
The Joe Hernandez, named for the original voice of Santa Anita, will be drawn next Wednesday along with the remainder of the Dec. 31 card.

Racing Office Encouraged By Entries For Opening Day

A total of 102 horses, which includes four also-eligibles, were entered to compete in 11 races on opening day for an average field size of 8.9 starters per race before scratches.
“We really are pleased with how the opening day card came out,” said Chris Merz, Santa Anita Director of Racing. “We want to thank all the stakeholders, the owners and trainers, for their support. Everybody showed up. Opening day is the biggest day of the meet and we get to put on a great show for everybody the day after Christmas.”

Finish Lines

First post for Monday’s 11-race card is 11 a.m. Admission gates open at 9 a.m. …

Spectacular weather is forecast to greet the on-track crowd for opening day at The Great Race Place on Monday. The National Weather Service is calling for mostly sunny skies with a high of 80 degrees in Arcadia…

Track announcer Frank Mirahmadi will be the opening day guest on Quigley’s Corner, which can be viewed on the Santa Anita simulcast feed starting at 9:50 a.m…

Eastern invader Strava in the Malibu is owned in-part by two-time NCAA national champion and Hall of Fame basketball coach Denny Crum

Sad news from Los Alamitos Publicity staffer Mark Ratzky, who conveyed the news of the passing of his longtime press box colleague, Esther Hall, several days ago. Esther Hall, 70, worked for many years as Daily Racing Form Call Taker at all major Thoroughbred meets in Southern California and was a beloved member of the So Cal “Racing Team.”

@AmWager @jontahnstettin @GulfstreamPark And starts off the daywith a winner.

Ian Meyers @ihmeyers View testimonials