Until Saturday, Taiba had been a good 3-year-old colt with potential, but not one of the best yet. But when he hit the wire by a clear margin in the Grade 1 Pennsylvania Derby, he put together a race worthy of some of the hype behind him. This time, he took home a Grade 1 race in a full field away from home, rather than in a short field at Santa Anita.
Despite the win, a few of Taiba's quirks remain. He has been a different kind of Bob Baffert-trained star. In the mornings, this colt requires the jockey to work on him constantly like a bicycle to make sure he finishes strongly. In the afternoons, Taiba lacks the flashy speed of past Baffert runners who stood out as 3-year-olds.
Before the race, some handicappers thought Taiba would take the lead and wire the field, possibly in the same style as Bayern in 2014.
Taiba does not seem eager enough to vie for the lead. He naturally settles into a stalking position in his races, and he did not deviate from that role when he took up the pocket position at Parx Racing Saturday.
White Abarrio set a lively pace with initial fractions of 23.1 seconds and 47.21, with Simplification in second and We the People traveling wide in third.
As soon as We the People faded enough to create an opening on the far turn, jockey Mike Smith started to ask Taiba more aggressively and guided his mount to the outside for a clear run. Cyberknife began to move from behind too, but he did not seem like the same Cyberknife.
Smith continued to work on Taiba as they switched outside. In the early part of the stretch, Smith did use the crop a few times. But after Taiba went past Zandon, Smith put the crop away and hand-rode his mount.
Taiba won by three lengths over Zandon, with a lifeless Cyberknife 6 3/4 lengths behind Taiba in third. In the early part of the stretch, Cyberknife still had a shot to make it close, but he could only rally mildly to beat Simplification for third and complete the trifecta.
The son of Gun Runner completed the nine furlongs at Parx Racing in 1:48.67. As of this writing, the Beyer Speed Figure has not been posted.
Given that Taiba is still developing, he might find a monster such as Flightline in the Breeders’ Cup Classic too hard. But even though Flightline is training for the Breeders' Cup, he could always back out with a setback.
Hypothetically, if Taiba wins the Classic, he also can lock up the 3-year-old Eclipse Award and surpass Epicenter as the division leader. That is a big “if.” If not for the pressures of making the Breeders’ Cup, Taiba might benefit more by aiming for the Clark Stakes (G1) or Cigar Mile (G1) and tackling the Breeders’ Cup next year as a fully developed runner with a wealth of seasoning.
As for the betting lesson from Taiba’s win, sometimes horses develop into their potential over time, and the public latches onto them too soon. Taiba started in the Kentucky Derby at an underlaid 5-1 off his win in April over Messier in the Santa Anita Derby (G1), and he was likely underlaid yesterday at Parx Racing at 7-5, even if he did win and pay off.
With the Pennsylvania Derby win, Taiba now might deserve those low odds in a normal Grade 1 race. As for his fair Breeders’ Cup Classic odds, it depends on the field and whether Flightline shows up.
Now to discuss some of the also-rans.
At this point, it seems like Zandon will always run second or third in the big races. He probably won by 2 1/2 lengths over Smile Happy in the Blue Grass Stakes (G1) at Keeneland because that horse likely has distance limitations.
After setting a fast pace in the Travers Stakes (G1), Cyberknife lagged in eighth through the opening quarter and half-mile fractions. He did make a mild move on the far turn to get into contention. From a visual standpoint, he just did not resemble the colt who won the Haskell Stakes (G1).
Cyberknife might deserve another chance from bettors, although the Breeders’ Cup is a tough spot to bounce back, whether it is the Dirt Mile or Classic.
Skippylongstocking faded to ninth and confirmed that his big 126 TimeformUS Speed Figure for winning the West Virginia Derby (G3) was partially the result of the slop. His sire Exaggerator was a mud specialist.
Tawny Port faded to 10th after running in mid-pack early on. What happened there? Before this race, Tawny Port had never thrown a clunker.
Will Flightline show up to the Classic? If he does not, Taiba and Cyberknife become contenders to win. Either way, the future is bright for Taiba moving forward. If he runs as a 4-year-old colt, expect a big season for him.