Gun Runner got his second Grade 1 winner in as many weeks on Saturday when Taiba bested the more experienced Messier to win the $750,000 Santa Anita Derby (G1) by 2 ¼-lengths.
The victory assured the chestnut colt a spot in the May 7 Kentucky Derby (G1), where he’ll like face Gun Runner’s Arkansas Derby (G1) winner Cyberknife, and possibly a third Gun Runner sophomore in Early Voting, who was a gallant second in Saturday’s Wood Memorial (G2).
It is a remarkable feat for any sire to have three Derby runners in a single year, and even more rare for a first-year sire to do so. Gun Runner also has the favorite for this year’s Kentucky Oaks (G1) with the undefeated champion Echo Zulu. Gun Runner now has eight lifetime graded stakes winners, with five of them Grade 1 winners.
Taiba came into the Santa Anita Derby off a March 5 maiden debut he won by 7 ½-lengths, earning a gaudy 103 Beyer Speed Figure. Breaking from the outside in the field of six, Taiba came out decently, then was hustled up to vie for the early lead with Forbidden Kingdom. When that one went wide into the first turn, Taiba settled back into third as Messier made his way to challenge for the top spot.
The top three held their positions until they reached the quarter pole, when Messier passed a fading Forbidden Kingdom. Taiba came three-wide into the stretch and wore down Messier, passing him in the final sixteenth of a mile and stopping the timer in 1:48.67 for the nine furlongs on a fast track.
“I’m just absolutely thrilled, floored with the effort that Taiba put forth. That was a sensational race, he’s just a super horse,” said trainer Tim Yakteen, who recently took over Taiba’s training from Bob Baffert.
“When one comes along like that, he showed he was really good,” added jockey Mike Smith. “He didn’t really get away very well. In the first turn, I didn’t want to get in the way. I wasn’t in any hurry. I felt the others would do the dirty work for me and it set up just fine. He showed just how special he is. He belongs with anyone. The sky’s the limit.”
Taiba is owned by the Zedan Racing Stables, Inc. and has won $490,200 in his two lifetime starts. He is the second foal out of Needmore Flattery, who won 14 stakes on the Ohio circuit. Taiba is Gun Runner’s priciest offspring to date, selling to Zedan for $1.7 million at the 2021 Fasig-Tipton March 2-year-old sale.