The last set of prep races for the Kentucky Derby held a few surprises — both good and bad — which will help shape the final field for the big race.
Santa Anita Derby
In less than two minutes on Saturday, Taiba (Tay-bah) went from a debut maiden sprint winner with zero Kentucky Derby (G1) qualifying points to a Grade 1 winner with 100, becoming a major player in pursuit of a Kentucky Derby victory on May 7. Can a horse successfully compete in the Kentucky Derby after only two starts? Conventional wisdom says not, but only owner Amr Zedan (who also owned Medina Spirit) thought he had a chance in the Santa Anita Derby.
Taiba put down a dramatic 2 ¼-length victory over his stablemate and odds-on favorite Messier in the Runhappy Santa Anita Derby (G1), a performance that earned him a 101 Beyer Speed Figure. Until recently trained by Bob Baffert (whose suspension started on April 4th), Taiba is trained by Tim Yakteen, one Baffert’s former assistant trainers. Some people have taken to calling the trainer “Yaffert” suggesting that while Bob Baffert might be banned, he’s still playing a major role in the horses’ training.
“Amr was just over the moon,” Yakteen said in describing the owner’s feelings after Taiba’s triumph. “All the credit obviously has to go to him (for running the horse), because in my professional opinion, I advised him to take a different route in Taiba’s next start.
“But Amr made an educated decision, based on the information that was given him, and it resulted in a big pay day ($450,000 to the winner). All the credit goes to him on this.”
Yakteen now has to contenders –Taiba and Messier — entered in the Derby. Nineteen horses who ran in the Santa Anita Derby went on to win the Kentucky Derby.
Forbidden Freedom has been taken off the Kentucky Derby trail after fading to last in Santa Anita Derby after leading the field until the final turn. Trainer Richard Mandella is investigating whether epiglottic entrapment caused an airway issue during the race.
Mo Donegal’s win in the Wood Memorial puts trainer Todd Pletcher in the position to win his third Kentucky Derby win after crossing the finish line a neck ahead of Early Voting. Going into Saturday, Mo Donegal was 26th on the Kentucky Derby Leaderboard with only 12 points. Ridden by with Joel Rosario, the colt rallied up the rail through the final turn before angling outside of previously undefeated Early Voting.
With Saturday’s win, he’s now in fourth place with 112 points. Mo Donegal will try to be the first Wood Memorial winner to win the Kentucky Derby since Fusaichi Pegasus in 2000
“I thought he was on wings,” said Jerry Crawford of Donegal Racing. “I think the performance he gave today was even better than it looked to the naked eye. I’ve been here all day yesterday and today and not one horse has closed on the dirt in two days and he came from far back. So, he had to be not just the best today, he had to be much-the-best to prevail. You never celebrate ahead of time, but I was confident for the last 100 yards at least. I love that we won today, not for me, but for my partners.”
Blue Grass Stakes
Zandon showed his mettle in the Blue Grass Stakes, coming from behind, weaving through traffic and then motoring on to run down Smile Happy. Zandon started the race second to last, went into the first turn in a tightly packed group of horses. His ratability and determination should stand him in good stead in the crowded Derby field.
Ridden by Flavien Prat and trained by Chad Brown, Zandon went into the first turn among a tightly packed group of horses, mid-pack, three paths wide, in traffic. He got shuffled back to 10th of 11 heading down the backstretch, and headed into the far turn behind a wall of horses, with no opportunity to move in or out. With only three furlongs to go he began to gain ground on his rivals while three wide, passed Smile Happy before the sixteenth pole, and drew away.
Zandon was previously beaten by a nose by Mo Donegal after a stretch duel in the Remsen last December. It will be interesting to see the colts run against each other again in the Derby.
Updated Kentucky Derby Leaderboard
To see the current standings in the Kentucky Derby Leaderboard, click here.
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