by Jon White
April 14, 2022
What Taiba did to win the Santa Anita Derby last Saturday, four weeks after a maiden triumph in his career debut, was nothing less than phenomenal.
“This will be quite an accomplishment if Taiba pulls it off,” I wrote last week regarding his audacious attempt to win the Grade I Santa Anita Derby at 1 1/8 miles in just his second career start. “Has a horse ever won the Santa Anita Derby with just one race under his belt? Maybe somebody has done this before, but I’m not aware of it.”
The day after the Santa Anita Derby, I was quoted as saying this in the track’s stable notes: For Taiba “to win the nine-furlong Sana Anita Derby with only one six-furlong race under his belt is without a doubt one of the greatest accomplishments that I have seen at Santa Anita since my first year here as a Daily Racing Form writer in 1981.”
When it comes to second career starts that I’ve seen at a Southern California track in the last four decades, only one other ranks right up there with Taiba’s Santa Anita Derby. That was Landaluce’s sensational victory in the Grade II Hollywood Lassie Stakes at six furlongs in 1982.
Just seven days after Landaluce’s won a six-furlong maiden race at Hollywood Park, the super-talented 2-year-old filly stepped way up in class and won the Grade II, six-furlong Hollywood Lassie by an astounding 21 lengths. It’s widely considered one of the most incredible performances in SoCal racing history. (A book written by Mary Perdue called “Landaluce: The Story of Seattle Slew’s First Champion” goes on sale July 2. It can be pre-ordered on the Amazon.com website. Full disclosure, I had the honor of writing the forward for this book.)
Taiba, a 1,175-pound Kentucky-bred Gun Runner colt, was hiked in class all the way up to the Grade I level in last Saturday’s Santa Anita Derby off his scintillating 7 1/2-length win at first asking. It was the owner’s call to do it.
Amr Zedan’s Zedan Racing Stable owns Taiba, who was bought for $1.7 million at public auction in Florida as a 2-year-old. Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert was chosen to train Taiba.
Medina Spirit, a $35,000 auction purchase at 2 owned by Zedan and trained by Baffert, finished first in the 2021 Kentucky Derby. Earlier this year on Feb. 21, the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission announced that the stewards overseeing the 2021 Kentucky Derby had issued a ruling stating that Medina Spirit had been “disqualified and all purse money forfeited.” Medina Spirit was DQ’d as a result of testing positive for traces of betamethasone, a medication that is legal to use but not on race day. Churchill Downs has banned Baffert from running horses in the Kentucky Derby in 2022 and 2023.
Horses trained by Baffert also are not eligible to earn qualifying points toward the 2022 and 2023 Kentucky Derbies. Tim Yakteen took over as Taiba’s trainer after the colt’s maiden victory owing to Baffert being handed a 90-day suspension that began on April 4, a penalty stemming from Medina Spirit’s medication violation.
After Taiba had been switched from Baffert to Yakteen, the colt became eligible to earn Kentucky Derby points in the Santa Anita Derby. Messier, with different ownership than Taiba, likewise became eligible to earn Kentucky Derby points in the Santa Anita Derby after being moved from Baffert to Yakteen.
What Justify did to win the 2018 Santa Anita Derby was extraordinary. He did it in his third career start. What Taiba did to win the 2022 Santa Anita Derby in just his second career start was even more extraordinary.
What’s next? Are we going to see someone win the Santa Anita Derby as a first-time starter? Geez, after Justify and Taiba, I’m beginning to wonder if that just might happen one of these days.
And now Taiba, much like Justify, is going to try and put an end to a so-called curse.
Justify broke the often referred to “curse of Apollo.” Justify was the first horse since Apollo in 1882 to win the Kentucky Derby without having raced as a 2-year-old.
Taibi seeks to break the “curse of Leonatus.”
Leonatus won the 1883 Kentucky Derby. He “is the last -- actually the only -- horse to have won the Derby in only his third career start,” according to Daily Racing Form’s Jay Privman.
As for Taiba and the Santa Anita Derby, that race originally was not on the docket for him. According to Gary Young, bloodstock manager for Zedan, the plan had been to run Taiba in Keeneland’s Grade III Lexington Stakes this Saturday. The 1 1/16-mile Lexington is the final race with Kentucky Derby points up for grabs. But unlike the Santa Anita Derby, in which the first four finishers were rewarded with 100-40-20-10 points, the Lexington offers only 20-8-4-2 points.
“There was an audible called,” Young explained Monday on the SiriusXM radio program “At the Races” hosted by Steve Byk. “We were originally planning on the Lexington.”
Yakteen and Young both advised Zedan against running Taiban in the Santa Anita Derby.
Zedan “was the only one pushing for” the Santa Anita Derby, Young said. “He’s the one who pays the bills. He’s with the Kentucky Derby like I am with Haagen-Dazs. He basically just said he didn’t want to go to the Lexington, the winner gets only 20 [Kentucky Derby] points. He said, ‘What am I going to do with 20 points?’ And so, here we were, going in the Santa Anita Derby.”
That was confirmed by Zedan in a Thoroughbred Daily News story Tuesday written by Bill Finley.
“They wanted to wait things out and then target the Lexington,” Zedan said. “I had to overrule everybody. I told them that our entire program was built around trying to win the Kentucky Derby. I did not want to go to bed at night knowing that we didn’t give it our best chance. I thought we had to give him a shot. Sometimes talent compensates for experience and he showed that.”
Taiba’s situation is far from the only time that it worked out when the owner said go despite the trainer saying no. Another case that comes to mind occurred in 1980.
Diane and Bert Firestone owned Catoctin Stud in Virginia. The fillies they raced did so in Diane’s name, while the males raced in Bert’s. They owned Genuine Risk, who was trained by LeRoy Jolley. After Genuine Risk finished third when racing against the boys in the Wood Memorial, Jolley did not want to run the filly in the Kentucky Derby. The Firestones insisted. Genuine Risk become only the second filly to win the Run for the Roses, joining the great Regret, who had done so 65 earlier. Genuine Risk, by the way, sold for considerably less than Taiba. Genuine Risk was a $32,000 yearling purchase.
But more often than not, when an owner wants to run a horse in a race despite the trainer not being on board, it doesn’t work out.
When Taiba trounced maidens in early March, he showed early zip. After vying for the early lead through fractions of :22.26 for the opening quarter and :45.69 for the half, he drew away and, as mentioned earlier, won by 7 1/2 lengths. His final time was 1:09.97.
In the Santa Anita Derby, most people envisioned the speedy Forbidden Kingdom setting the early pace. He did. Because both Messier and Taiba reside in the same barn, there were those who surmised that Taiba had been put in the race as a “rabbit,” i.e., someone to hound Forbidden Kingdom early. I didn’t see it that way. Why? Because asking a $1.7 million colt to be a rabbit generally is not done.
Indeed, it turned out that Messier, not Taiba, pressed Forbidden Kingdom and jockey Juan Hernandez through the initial six furlongs. The fractions through that portion of the race were :23.23, :46.66 and 1:10.93.
Turning for home, Messier and Hall of Fame rider John Velazquez took the lead. Taiba, with Hall of Famer Mike Smith aboard, now loomed menacingly while three wide. Forbidden Kingdom began to retreat and eventually ended up last.
Forbidden Kingdom emerged from the race with “an inflamed throat,” Hall of Fame trainer Richard Mandella said Sunday in a Daily Racing Form story written by Steve Andersen.
“We’ll take him on Monday and scope it and look under the epiglottis,” Mandella added. “He certainly has a sore throat.”
A possible epiglottis issue, eh? You may recall that the Mandella-trained Omaha Beach was the morning-line favorite for the 2019 Kentucky Derby, but the colt had to be scratched due to needing surgery for an entrapped epiglottis.
Messier sported a one-length advantage with a furlong to go. At that point, no doubt many thought he probably was on his way to a Santa Anita Derby victory. After all, which sophomore figured to do better in the final furlong, the more-experienced, multiple graded stakes-winning Messier, or the inexperienced stakes-debuting Taiba?
Well, as it turned out, Taiba was the one who came home with the most gusto. He took the lead just inside the sixteenth pole, then bounded clear with the smooth, efficient strides of a seasoned pro to win going away by 2 1/4 lengths.
Keep in mind, that was no bum Taiba charged past during the stretch run. Messier was coming off a 15-length win in Santa Anita’s Grade III Robert B. Lewis Stakes at 1 1/16 miles, an effort that produced a 103 Beyer Speed Figure.
The only other 3-year-old to record a Beyer as big as a 103 this year is none other than Taiba, who did so when he earned his maiden diploma.
According to the original Equibase chart, the fractions and final time for the Santa Anita Derby were :23.23, :46.66, 1:10.93, 1:35.97 and 1:48.67.
The chart subsequently was changed to :22.75, :46.70, 1:10.97, 1:35.86 and 1:48.46.
Taibi originally was given a 101 Beyer Speed Figure. Following the corrected times, the Beyer was upped to 102.
The 102 Beyer Speed Figure was the highest in the three 1 1/8-mile races offering Kentucky Derby points last Saturday.
Zandon, who rallied from last in a field of 11 to win Keeneland’s Grade I Blue Grass Stakes by 2 1/2 lengths, was credited with a 98 Beyer.
Mo Donegal, who rallied from last in field of eight to win Aqueduct’s Wood Memorial by a neck, received a 96 Beyer.
I actually think a case can be made that Taiba’s 102 Beyer might deserve to be a little bit bigger when compared to various past editions of the Santa Anita Derby. Check out these final times and Beyers in which the winner posted a SLOWER final time than Taiba on a fast track, yet received a BIGGER Beyer:
Year -- Final Time (Beyer) Santa Anita Derby Winner
2022 1:48.46 (102) Taiba
2018 1:49.72 (107) Justify
2015 1:48.73 (106) Dortmund
2013 1:48.76 (105) Goldencents
2004 1:49.24 (103) Castledale
2003 1:49.36 (104) Buddy Gil
2000 1:49.08 (109) The Deputy
1999 1:48.92 (108) General Challenge
1997 1:48.81 (104) Cavonnier
1990 1:49.00 (109) Mister Frisky
TAIBA TRAVELED FARTHER THAN MESSIER
Not only did Taiba win the Santa Anita Derby in his first start around two turns, he traveled 30 feet farther than the runner-up. Hence, while Taiba’s margin of victory was 2 1/4 lengths, he traveled approximately three lengths farther than Messier.
FORBIDDEN KINGDOM SENT AWAY AS FAVORITE
As I noted last week, it was “a very difficult decision” in terms of making either Messier or Forbidden Kingdom the favorite on the Santa Anita Derby morning line.
“I believe race-time favoritism between Messier and Forbidden Kingdom could go either way,” I wrote.
I made Messier the morning-line favorite at even money, with Forbidden Kingdom the 6-5 second choice.
In the actual betting, Forbidden Kingdom was 3-5 early. But favoritism eventually switched to Messier.
Shortly before the horses started being loaded into the starting gate, Messier was the favorite at even money, with Forbidden Kingdom at 6-5. But it flip-flopped right at the end, with Forbidden Kingdom going off as the favorite at even money, with Messier at 6-5.
Taiba was entered in the Santa Anita Derby completely out of the blue. He had not been mentioned anywhere by anyone as a possibility for the race.
Regarding the Santa Anita Derby morning line, I wrote last week that “I found it extremely difficult to try and forecast what Taiba’s odds will be at race time. He is a gigantic wild card.”
I settled on 4-1 for Taiba’s morning-line odds. He went off at 4-1. In all the years that I have been making morning lines, which goes all the way back into the 1970s, I have never been prouder of nailing a horse’s price.
MY KENTUCKY DERBY TOP 10
As I’ve explained before, my Kentucky Derby Top 10 is how I rank the horses in terms of who I think is the most likely winner of that race. As of right now, Taiba is my pick to win the 1 1/4-mile classic on the first Saturday in May. That’s why he debuts on the Top 10 this week at No. 1.
I will admit that when it comes to trying to predict who will win the Kentucky Derby, I have downgraded the Remsen form in recent years. This approach has worked well. Runners who did well in the Grade II Remsen at Aqueduct late in the year have not been going on to Kentucky Derby glory.
That’s why Mo Donegal and Zandon have not been in my Top 10. Mo Donegal won the Remsen by a nose (and should have been disqualified for causing interference, in my opinion). Zandon finished second.
But I am looking at both Zandon and Mo Dongel in a new light after their victories last Saturday. As mentioned earlier, Zandon won the Blue Grass, while Mo Donegal took the Wood Memorial.
Zandon and Mo Donegal are newcomers on my Top 10 this week. Zandon is No. 4. Mo Donegal is No. 6.
Dropping off my Top 10 this week are Emmanuel, who finished third in the Blue Grass, and Forbidden Kingdom.
My Kentucky Derby Top 10 for this week is below:
4. Zandon (new)
5. White Abarrio
6. Mo Donegal (new)
9. Smile Happy
10. Crown Pride
LEXINGTON STAKES SELECTIONS
My selections for Saturday’s Grade III Lexington Stakes at Keeneland are below:
1. In Due Time
2. Ethereal Road
3. Tawny Port
4. Major General
DERBY STRIKES UPDATE
After Taiba won the Santa Anita Derby, Charlie McCaul sent a text message to me. Veteran racing official McCaul, who is Santa Anita’s assistant clerk of scales, wanted to know how many strikes Taiba has in my Derby Strikes System (DSS).
I developed the DSS in 1999. It consists of eight key factors that attempt to ascertain the chances a horse has to win the Kentucky Derby from BOTH tactical and historical perspectives. When a horse does not qualify in one of the eight categories, the horse gets a strike.
A number of the categories in my DSS are tied to a Kentucky Derby being run on the first Saturday in May. As a result, when the race was switched from May 2 to Sept. 5 in 2020 due to COVID-19, it rendered my DSS unworkable for that particular year.
Only one horse has won the Kentucky Derby with more than two strikes. That was Mine that Bird, who had four strikes.
A horse with zero strikes or only one strike has a much better chance to win the Kentucky Derby than a horse with two strikes or more. According to the DSS as it’s now constituted and excluding the Kentucky Derby of 2020 when the race was run in September, 83% of the Kentucky Derby winners (40 out of 48) have had zero strikes or one strike going back to 1973.
The seven Kentucky Derby winners with two strikes were Cannonade (1974), Ferdinand (1986), Sea Hero (1993), Funny Cide (2003), Giacomo (2005), Justify (2018) and Country House (2019).
The answer to McCaul’s text is Taiba has two strikes. Ironically (or perhaps not), he has the same two strikes as did Justify. Their strikes came in Categories 1 and 7.
Category 1 is the “graded stakes category.” A horse needs to have run in a graded stakes race before March 31 to avoid getting a strike. If a horse gets a strike in this category, it points out that the horse has not faced tough competition until April, which is late in the game when it comes to preparing a horse for the Kentucky Derby.
Category 7 is the “raced as a 2-year-old category.” If a horse did not start as a 2-year-old, the horse gets a strike. As noted earlier, only Apollo in 1882 and Justify in 2018 have won the Kentucky Derby without having raced at 2. Moreover, going back to 1937, horses who didn’t race at 2 are a combined 1 for 67 in the Kentucky Derby through 2021.
Even though Justify had two strikes, I still picked him to win the Kentucky Derby. I did so because I felt that his considerable talent could overcome his two strikes. Not only did Justify get the job done in the Derby, he went on to sweep the Triple Crown, joining Seattle Slew as the only two horses to win the coveted series while undefeated.
Because two of the categories deal with graded stakes races, the DSS can’t go back any further than 1973. Stakes races in this country were not graded until 1973.
The eight categories in the DSS are listed toward the end of this column/blog/article.
After a 3-year-old makes his or her final start before the first Saturday in May, I then can determine their number of strikes.
It so happens that, overall, the candidates for the 2022 Kentucky Derby have done well by getting either zero strikes or one strike. I construe this as an indication that a large number of horses actually are capable of being draped in roses this year.
Considering so many horses have zero strikes or one strike, perhaps I should be fitted for one of those jackets with the sleeves in the back for making a horse with two strikes my top pick. Why go with Taiba? Because, as was the case with Justify in 2018, I believe the most talented horse running in this year’s Kentucky Derby is Taiba.
Tawny Port’s number of strikes can’t be determined yet because he is scheduled to run in Saturday’s Lexington Stakes.
As for the others among the 21 leading Kentucky Derby point earners as listed by Churchill Downs when the leaderboard was updated on April 10, their number of strikes are below:
ZERO STRIKES OR ONE STRIKE
Crown Pride (0 strikes)
Cyberknife (0 strikes)
Early Voting (1 strike, Category 4)
Epicenter (0 strikes)
Messier (1 strike, Category 4)
Morello (1 strike, Category 5)
Simplification (1 strike, Category 4)
Slow Down Andy (1 strike, Category 6)
Smile Happy (1 strike, Category 4)
Tiz the Bomb (0 strikes)
White Abarrio (0 strikes)
Zandon (0 strikes)
Barber Road (Categories 2 and 3)
Pioneer of Medina (Categories 2 and 4)
Un Ojo (Categories 3 and 7)
Summer Is Tomorrow (Categories 2 and 4)
Taiba (Categories 1 and 7)
Zozos (Categories 2 and 7)
THREE OR MORE STRIKES
Charge It (Categories 1, 2 and 7)
Happy Jack (Categories 2, 3, 6 and 7)
WINNER’S STRIKES GOING BACK TO 1973
Maximum Security finished first in the 2019 Kentucky Derby. He had zero strikes. But the stewards disqualified Maximum Security and placed him 17th for committing a foul when he veered out sharply nearing the five-sixteenths marker to cause interference to War of Will, Bodexpress and Long Range Toddy. Country House was declared the winner of the 2019 Kentucky Derby.
Medina Spirit finished first in the 2021 Kentucky Derby. He had zero strikes. But in terms of the 2021 Kentucky Derby, Mandaloun is now recognized as the winner following Medina Spirit’s disqualification.
The strikes for each Kentucky Derby winner going back to 1973 are below:
2021 Mandaloun (1 strike) Category 4*
2020 race run in September
2019 Country House (2 strikes) Categories 2 and 3**
2018 Justify (2 strikes) Categories 1 and 7
2017 Always Dreaming (1 strike) Category 1
2016 Nyquist (0 strikes)
2015 American Pharoah (0 strikes)
2014 California Chrome (0 strikes)
2013 Orb (0 strikes)
2012 I’ll Have Another (0 strikes)
2011 Animal Kingdom (0 strikes)
2010 Super Saver (1 strike) Category 4
2009 Mine That Bird (4 strikes) Categories 1, 4, 5 and 9
2008 Big Brown (0 strikes)
2007 Street Sense (0 strikes)
2006 Barbaro (0 strikes)
2005 Giacomo (2 strikes) Categories 2 and 5
2004 Smarty Jones (0 strikes)
2003 Funny Cide (2 strikes) Categories 2 and 8
2002 War Emblem (0 strikes)
2001 Monarchos (0 strikes)
2000 Fusaichi Pegasus (1 strike) Category 6
1999 Charismatic (1 strike) Category 5
1998 Real Quiet (0 strikes)
1997 Silver Charm (1 strike) Category 4
1996 Grindstone (0 strikes)
1995 Thunder Gulch (0 strikes)
1994 Go for Gin (0 strikes)
1993 Sea Hero (2 strikes) Categories 3 and 5
1992 Lil E. Tee (0 strikes)
1991 Strike the Gold (0 strikes)
1990 Unbridled (1 strike) Category 3
1989 Sunday Silence (0 strikes)
1988 Winning Colors (0 strikes)
1987 Alysheba (1 strike) Category 2
1986 Ferdinand (2 strikes) Categories 2 and 4
1985 Spend a Buck (0 strikes)
1984 Swale (0 strikes)
1983 Sunny’s Halo (1 strike) Category 1
1982 Gato Del Sol (1 strike) Category 3
1981 Genuine Risk (1 strike) Category 1
1980 Pleasant Colony (0 strikes)
1979 Spectacular Bid (0 strikes)
1978 Affirmed (0 strikes)
1977 Seattle Slew (0 strikes)
1976 Bold Forbes (0 strikes)
1975 Foolish Pleasure (0 strikes)
1974 Cannonade (2 strikes) Categories 3 and 4
1973 Secretariat (0 strikes)
*Medina Spirit (0 strikes) finished first but was disqualified and all purse money forfeited
**Maximum Security (0 strikes) finished first but was disqualified and placed 17th
MY DERBY STRIKES SYSTEM’S CATEGORIES
What are the eight categories in my Derby Strikes System? They are listed below:
1. THE GRADED STAKES CATEGORY. (The horse ran in a graded stakes race before March 31.) This points out horses who have competed against tough competition prior to March 31 rather than at the last minute in April, enabling the horse to be properly battle-tested. (Exceptions: Going back to the introduction of graded stakes races in the U.S. in 1973, only Genuine Risk in 1980, Sunny’s Halo in 1983, Mine That Bird in 2009 and Always Dreaming in 2017 have won the Kentucky Derby without running in a graded stakes race at 2 or early at 3 before March 31.)
2. THE WIN IN A GRADED STAKES CATEGORY. (The horse has won a graded stakes race.) This points out horses who have shown they have the class to win a graded stakes race. (Exceptions: Ferdinand in 1986, Alysheba in 1987, Funny Cide in 2003 and Giacomo in 2005 are the only exceptions going back to the introduction of U.S. graded stakes races in 1973; Alysheba in 1987 did finish first in the Blue Grass, only to be disqualified and placed third.)
3. THE EIGHTH POLE CATEGORY. (In either of his or her last two starts before the Kentucky Derby, the horse was either first or second with a furlong to go.) This points out horses who were running strongly at the eighth pole, usually in races at 1 1/16 or 1 1/8 miles. By running strongly at the same point in the Kentucky Derby, a horse would be in a prime position to win the roses. Keep in mind that 53 of the last 56 Kentucky Derby winners through 2021 have been first or second with a furlong to run. Since Decidedly won the Derby in 1962 when he was third with a furlong to go, the only three Kentucky Derby winners who were not first or second with a furlong to run were Animal Kingdom, third with a furlong remaining in 2011 when only a half-length from being second; Giacomo, sixth with a furlong to go in 2005; and Grindstone, fourth with a furlong to run in 1996. (Exceptions: Going back to 1955, the Kentucky Derby winners who weren’t either first or second a furlong from the finish in his or her last two starts have been Tim Tam in 1958, Carry Back in 1961, Cannonade in 1974, Gato Del Sol in 1982, Unbridled in 1990 and Sea Hero in 1993, with Canonero II in 1971 unknown.)
4. THE GAMENESS CATEGORY. (The horse’s finish position in both of his or her last two races before the Kentucky Derby was no worse than his or her running position at the eighth pole.) This points out horses who don’t like to get passed in the final furlong. (Exceptions: Going back to 1955, the exceptions have been Venetian Way in 1960, Cannonade in 1974, Foolish Pleasure in 1975, Ferdinand in 1986, Silver Charm in 1997, Mine That Bird in 2009, Super Saver in 2010 and Mandaloun in 2021, with Canonero II in 1971 unknown.)
5. THE DISTANCE FOUNDATION CATEGORY. (The horse has finished at least third in a 1 1/8-mile race or longer before the Kentucky Derby.) This points out horses who have the proper foundation and/or stamina for the Kentucky Derby distance. (Exceptions: Going back to 1955, the only exceptions have been Kauai King in 1966, Sea Hero in 1993, Charismatic in 1999, Giacomo in 2005 and Mine That Bird in 2009.)
6. THE NO ADDING OR REMOVING BLINKERS CATEGORY. (The horse has not added blinkers or had blinkers removed in his or her final start at 3 before the Kentucky Derby.) This seems to point out that, if a horse is good enough to win the Kentucky Derby, the trainer is not searching for answers so late in the game. (Going back to 1973, no horse has added blinkers or had blinkers removed in his or her last start at 3 before winning the Kentucky Derby.)
7. THE RACED AS A 2-YEAR-OLD CATEGORY. (The horse made at least one start as a 2-year-old.) (Exceptions: Apollo in 1882 and Justify in 2018. Going back to 1937, horses unraced as a 2-year-old now are a combined 1 for 67 in the Kentucky Derby through 2021. During this period, the only horses to finish second or third in the Kentucky Derby without having raced at 2 were Hampden, who finished third in 1946; Coaltown, second in 1948; Agitate, third in 1974; Reinvested, third in 1982; Strodes Creek, second in 1994; Curlin, third in 2007; Bodemeister, second in 2012; and Battle of Midway, third in 2017.)
8. THE NOT A GELDING CATEGORY. (The horse is not a gelding.) (Exceptions: Funny Cide in 2003 and Mine That Bird in 2009 are the only geldings to win the Kentucky Derby since Clyde Van Dusen in 1929.)
EPICENTER FAVORED IN FUTURE WAGER
Bettors participating in Pool 5 of Churchill Downs’ Kentucky Derby Wager (KDFW) backed Epicenter down to 9-2 favoritism. The pool closed last Saturday before the Wood Memorial, Blue Grass Stakes and Santa Anita Derby had been run.
Inasmuch as Taiba was not one of the individual horses listed in KDFW Pool 5, he was included in the “All Other 3-Year-Olds” option.
This was the final Kentucky Derby Future Wager offered by Churchill this year.
Below are the final odds for KDFW Pool 5:
9-1 Smile Happy
9-1 Forbidden Kingdom
12-1 White Abarrio
16-1 Charge It
18-1 “All Other 3-Year-Olds”
22-1 Tiz the Bomb
24-1 Crown Pride
24-1 Mo Donegal
28-1 Barber Road
29-1 Early Voting
40-1 Ethereal Road
50-1 Slow Down Andy
66-1 Summer Is Tomorrow
95-1 In Due Time
114-1 Tawny Port
123-1 Pioneer of Medina
RACING MOURNS DEATHS OF TODD, FITTERER AND PARKER
Glen Todd, a giant in horse racing in the Canadian province of British Columbia, passed away on March 26. He was 75.
Todd, whose parents met at Hastings Racecourse [nee Exhibition Park] in Vancouver in 1939, was “involved in the sport for more than 50 years in multiple roles, often at the same time,” Daily Racing Form’s Matt Hegarty wrote. “He owned and trained hundreds of horses while simultaneously providing guidance to the British Columbia racing and breeding industries.”
A prime example of Todd’s immense impact on Thoroughbred racing in British Columbia is he “provided a $1 million interest-free loan to the horsemen at Hastings last year during a time when strict COVID-19 restrictions in the province had brought live racing to a standstill,” Hegarty wrote.
One of Todd’s biggest wins as an owner came with Taylor Said. Todd, racing as North American Thoroughbred Horse Company, took the Grade III Longacres Mile in 2012 at Emerald Downs near Seattle. The Longacres Mile is the richest race in the Pacific Northwest.
Troy Taylor was Taylor Said’s trainer at his Hastings base. Taylor Said was sent to fellow trainer Mike Puhich at Emerald Downs for the Longacres Mile. Winning this race was a dream come true for Puhich.
The first Longacres Mile that Puhich ever attended was in 1970. At that time, his father, Nick Puhich, was jockey Larry Pierce’s agent. Pierce rode the 6-5 Longacres Mile favorite, Turbulator, who two weeks earlier had broken the world record for 6 1/2 furlongs by two-fifths of a second.
In the most famous defeat in the history of racing in that part of the country, Turbulator finished fifth in the 1970 Longacres Mile. Turbulator lost by 2 1/2 lengths, but it was a miracle that he even completed the race after Pierce’s left stirrup broke at the start.
“Turbulator was my favorite horse growing up,” Puhich once told me. “I know Secretariat inspired a lot of people to get involved in racing. For me, it was Turbulator. That’s who really got me hooked on racing. Turbulator is the only reason I became a trainer.”
According to Joe Withee, who was inducted into the Washington Racing Hall of Fame last year for lifetime achievement, a dispersal sale will be held for Todd’s horses.
“Mike Puhich is handling the details for the dispersal,” said Withee, a broadcaster and publicist at Emerald Downs. “It was in Glen Todd’s will that Puhich would handle any dispersal.”
Meanwhile, it was with much sadness that I read in the latest Washington Thoroughbred Breeders & Owners Association (WTBOA) newsletter that Phil Fitterer had died at the age of 79 following a short battle with cancer.
I got to know Fitterer quite well from the time that I was first hired by the Daily Racing Form in 1974 at Playfair Race Course in Spokane, Wash. That was the start of my 24 years with the DRF.
After I worked as a call-taker at Playfair in 1974, my first DRF assignment as a chart-caller (aka trackman) came when I replaced Fitterer at Yakima Meadows in Yakima, Wash., the following spring.
I was thrilled to get that assignment. And Fitterer, in turn, let me know that he was thrilled to turn over those chart-calling duties to me. He much preferred working as the associate editor to Clio Hogan in the DRF’s Seattle office rather than having to make the roundtrip from his home in Puyallup, Wash., to Yakima via picturesque Snoqualmie Pass over the Cascade Mountains.
It was a pleasure to deal with Fitterer in the DRF’s Seattle office while I was a chart-caller and writer at Playfair, Yakima Meadows and Longacres from 1975 to 1980.
As noted in the WTBOA newsletter, Fitterer spent many years as the general manager of the DRF’s Seattle office until he retired in 2004. Replacing him as general manager was Mike Pfliger, who began his DRF career as my call-taker at Playfair in the 1970s.
I had gotten to known Pfliger before I went to work for the DRF when we were both racing fans hanging out in the crowd at Playfair. I recruited Pfliger to go to work for the DRF because I was aware that he knew a lot about racing. It was not a tough sell on my part. Pfliger was working at Silver Lanes Bowling Alley in Spokane at the time. Just like me a few years earlier, Pfliger jumped at the chance to go to work for the DRF at Playfair. Who knew at the time that Pfliger eventually would take the reins from Fitterer as the GM of the DRF’s Seattle office (which no longer exists).
There was additional sad news last week with the announcement that turf writer and racing editor Ellen Parker had passed away in Lexington, Ky.
I first met Ellen in the early 1980s when she and her late husband, Ron Parker (also a turf writer as well as a handicapper), were visitors in the press box at Hollywood Park.
It did not take long for me to learn that Ellen quite probably was Round Table’s biggest fan. A respected pedigree analyst, Parker was a longtime member of the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters Association. She wrote for such publications as American Turf Monthly, California Thoroughbred and Washington Thoroughbred.
NTRA TOP THROUGHBRED POLL
There are no newcomers in the Top 10 of this week’s NTRA Top Thoroughbred Poll:
Rank Points Horse (First-Place Votes)
1. 324 Country Grammer (23)
2. 276 Life is Good (3)
3. 260 Letruska (4)
4. 238 Hot Rod Charlie
5. 192 Speaker’s Corner
6. 177 Express Train (4)
7. 124 Flightline (1)
8. 90 Olympiad (1)
9. 81 Ce Ce
10. 58 Golden Pal
NTRA TOP THREE-YEAR-OLD POLL
Blue Grass Stakes winner Zandon (No. 2), Wood Memorial winner Mo Donegal (No. 3) and Santa Anita Derby winner Taiba (No. 5) all are new on the Top 10 in this week’s NTRA Top Three-Year-Old Poll. Also new on the Top 10 this week is Wood Memorial runner-up Early Voting (No. 10).
The Top 10 in this week’s NTRA Top Three-Year-Old Poll is below:
Rank Points Horse (First-Place Votes)
1. 348 Epicenter (26)
2. 284 Zandon (4)
3. 241 Mo Donegal (1)
4. 234 White Abbario
5. 219 Taiba (3)
6. 171 Cyberknife (3)
7. 148 Messier
8. 103 Smile Happy
9. 46 Simplification
10. 39 Early Voting
Justify received much more respect from NTRA voters after his win in the Santa Anita Derby than Taiba following his victory in this year’s renewal of that race.
The Top 10 in the NTRA Top Three-Year-Old Poll after the 2018 Santa Anita Derby is below:
Rank Points Horse (First-Place Votes)
1. 392 Justify (21)
2. 324 Magnum Moon (3)
3. 323 Audible (7)
4. 287 Good Magic (2)
5. 279 Bolt d’Oro
5. 279 Mendelssohn (10)
7. 133 Vino Rosso
8. 119 Noble Indy
9. 60 Enticed
10. 44 My Boy Jack
In the NTRA Top Thoroughbred Poll that same week in 2018, Taiba’s sire, Gun Runner, ranked No. 7. West Coast was No. 1, followed by City of Light, Mind Your Biscuits, Accelerate, Unique Bella and Army Mule.