HALLANDALE BEACH, FL, April 10, 2022 – There was no shortage of hyperbole in the lead-up to Saturday’s prep triad, and there certainly be no dearth of conversation in the wake of three major victories at racetracks in California, Kentucky, and New York.
None were won by the betting favorite but all results were profound, including the outcome of the Santa Anita Derby which gave birth to racing’s newest handicapping angle, bet “the longer Yakteen.”
More properly, of course, it was the longer ex-Baffert, the Santa Anita Derby exacta saddled and now trained by former Baffert assistant Tim Yakteen.
Taiba pulled off the upset under perfect handling from ‘Money Mike’ Smith.
The result was far from obvious at headstretch when it appeared that Messier, who took command with a well-timed Johnny Velazquez move, appeared home free. But the 77-day layup got to him inside the final sixteenth as his stablemate, owned by Amr Zedan, wore him down in the final strides.
Zedan, of course, had his horse demoted in the 2021 Kentucky Derby when Medina Spirit tested positive for a banned substance. But that was only the sad beginning. Medina Spirit collapsed and died following morning exercise at Santa Anita the morning of December 6.
Should Taiba make his third lifetime start in this year’s Derby, after earning 100 qualifying points in the Santa Anita Derby, and win, it would make for the greatest redemption story in modern Thoroughbred history.
And why not run, considering that Taiba is playing with 100-qualifying points of house money? Empirically, especially since 18 Santa Anita Derby winners went on to repeat in Louisville, the feat is no more implausible than a debut 6-furlong wire score translating into a Grade 1, 9-furlong, two-turn victory.
Like so many things in this game, the impossible often morphs into mind-boggling reality.
Thanks to the 40 points earned for his runnerup finish, and with tie-breaking money earnings, Messier ran himself into the Kentucky Derby field.
Like him or not, rooting for him or not, know that Messier should move forward returning in four weeks. The race was timed in a respectable 1:48.67, the final three furlongs in 37.74 seconds.
[ED NOTE: Official final time later corrected to 1:48.46 per Jay Privman, Daily Racing Form]
Like the Wood Memorial, the Remsen Stakes and, for that matter, the Demoiselle, for juveniles going 1-1/8 miles at Aqueduct late in the year, have developed a reputation as negative key races. That could change this year.
On Friday’s opener at Keeneland, Demoiselle winner Nest announced herself, launching into the category three-year-old filly elites. She is more than capable of winning the Run for the Lilies, aka Kentucky Oaks.
Meanwhile, he heads-apart exacta finishers in last year’s Remsen returned yesterday to win the day’s other major 100-point-fests: Mo Donegal stormed home to win the Wood Memorial in a brilliant 1:47.96. with
Remsen runnerup Zandon did likewise in the mud at Keeneland, taking the Blue Grass with a furious rally from a shuffled-back last to first in 1:50.35, a clocking that does not reflect the enormity of the feat.
One would have to split a hairs straight down the middle to decide which effort was the more impressive. We’re calling it a heater.
In New York, the table was set slowly by the second favorite, Withers-winning Early Voting back on FEB 5. At first HRI was disappointed that he couldn’t reverse the neck defeat after setting the moderate tempo.
Then how can one disparage a pacesetting narrow loss, however moderating three-quarters in 1:11.59 was, considering the final three furlongs was run in an eye-blinking 36.37 seconds.
Early Voting didn’t stop, he got got–by a quality surface lover who never left the 2-path and cut the corner to boot, a terrific run by two very good colts. They, too, earned their elite status, especially the strong-rally winner.
Some of the HRI Faithful may remember our glowing description of Zandon after we groused extensively about the Remsen non-demotion, taking the worst of the trip in close quarters while his rider was vision- compromised by an elbow shoved into his face.
In candor, I never expected that Zandon had that kind of ability to overcome yesterday’s trip. He jumped OK from the gate, then raced in the 2-3 path throughout. But he was always among horses and Flavien Prat, breaking his Zandon maiden, tried hard to get his partner into space.
By the time the team reached the half-mile pole they were last. On the turn, Zandon rallied 3-4 wide, needed to split horses leaving headstretch, bumped with a rival before shaking loose, then unleashed a powerful rally for the win.
Zandon went from no-chance to a 2-1/2 length victory, passing a good-tripping Smile Happy who ran very well in his second start of the year, looming a winner just prior to the Zandon explosion. Smile Happy separated himself by 3-3/4 lengths from pacesetting Emmanuel, who ran a good race, as did the fourth finisher, Golden Glider.
But the exacta finishers dominated Blue Grass, the best prep race we’ve seen this year. Only Epicenter’s effort in the Louisiana Derby is on that level, perhaps even better. It’s all coming together now.