Taiba Top Soph Campaign Solidified in Malibu Victory

December 26, 2022

Benoit Photo

Baffert Wins Five Out Of The First 10 Races Including Three Stakes On Opening Day

Mike Willman/Santa Anita Press Box

ARCADIA, Calif.—With an Eclipse Award for top 3-year-old perhaps in the balance, Bob Baffert’s Taiba made on last emphatic appeal for votes as he dominated Santa Anita’s traditional opening day feature, the Grade I, $300,000 Runhappy Malibu Stakes by 4 ¼ lengths, thus becoming North America’s lone sophomore to annex three Grade I races in 2022.

Handled by regular rider Mike Smith, Taiba, winner of this year’s Grade I Runhappy Santa Anita Derby and Grade I Pennsylvania Derby, got seven furlongs in 1:21.75.

As for Baffert, his reign of dominance would appear to have no end in sight, as he posted his third graded stakes win, second Grade I victory and his fifth overall win on Santa Anita’s Classic Meet opener, which also attracted a tremendous on-track crowd of 41,446 which helped produce an all-time opening day record all-sources pari-mutuel handle of more than $26 million. 

With Richard Mandella’s Forbidden Kingdom setting the pace from his rail post to the quarter pole, Taiba, under confident handling was in the middle of a three-horse spread that had Straight No Chaser to his immediate outside.  Turning for home, Taiba, under a hand ride, opened up quickly and the Malibu outcome was assured three sixteenths of a mile out.

“That horse is like a bike, and you have to pedal. Going long you don’t have to do it as much, but I knew that going short it would be tough. Last time he didn’t break very well in the Breeders’ Cup; he stumbled. I thought, ‘If I break through it, I can get in front of the two next to me outside and at least gain third. Right?’ said Smith.

“Well, I didn’t see the outside horse, and I decided not to take a chance and see what he was going to do. Normally, I have to get aggressive with him at that point like I did in Philadelphia, but today that horse actually helped me.”

A 3-year-old colt by Gun Runner out of the Flatter mare Needmore Flattery, Taiba was purchased for $1.7 million out of a 2-year-old in training sale in March of last year.  Sprinting for the first time since a runaway first-out maiden win here on March 5, Taiba is now 7-4-1-1.  With today’s winner’s share of $180,000, he ran his earnings to $1,956,200.

“It just shows you the clientele that we have. It is unbelievable, they let us buy these horses and I have a great team and staff. Everyone works hard, and when you are given these horses, you’re lucky if you know what to do with them and sometimes you don’t. Just watching this little horse, he is tough to train. Working in the mornings what he is going to give you depends on who he is working with,” Baffert said.

“Today, Mike kept him up there and just said I’m going to empty him out, but there’s no bottom to this horse. He’s getting better and better.” Bob said. “He looked a little heavy in the Paddock but that’s him. I think he is a lot like his sire, Gun Runner, getting better with age and he needs to go further, it is a little short for him. He has turned in to quite a horse.

“Mike knows him really well; he just went for it and we knew Forbidden Kingdom was going to be on the lead and he’s a really good horse. I got a lot of respect for those horses in there.  It was a tough Malibu but turning for home he always looks like he’s empty, and he just finds new life. I don’t know where he gets it from. He just has more gears and we saw an extra one today.”

Off as the 2-5 favorite in a field of nine, Taiba, who is owned by Zedan Racing Stables, Inc., returned $2.80, $2.20 and $2.10.

Forbidden Kingdom, who was ridden by Juan Hernandez, cleared his rivals heading out of the seven-furlong chute and had a 1 ½ length edge on the winner at the half mile pole.  Although it looked as though he might split the field at the top of the lane, he re-rallied late to finish second, three quarters of a length over longshot Hoist the Gold in a big effort.

“I think he got rattled when he left the gate tardy today. It unsettled him. He came on really good at the end. The winner is a very good horse,” said Forbidden Kingdom’s trainer Richard Mandella.

The second choice at 6-1, Forbidden Kingdom paid $4.40 and $3.60.

Hoist the Gold, off at 29-1 with Joe Bravo, paid $5.60 to show while finishing a neck better than Nakatomi.

Fractions on the Malibu were 22.18, 44.38 and 1:08.91.

“I just want to thank all the fans who showed up today (41,446), it is beautiful when you win with this many people here. Santa Anita is the Great Race Place,” Bob Baffert said humbly.

“I’m Umberto Rispoli and I read Past the Wire” Umberto Rispoli, Champion Jockey

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