December 4, 2022

Taiba favored in rematch with Cyberknife in Pennsylvania Derby

Cyberknife wins Haskell
Cyberknife edges Taiba in the Haskell Stakes at Monmouth Park (Photo By Nikki Sherman/Equi-Photo)

The respective top two from the July 23 Haskell (G1), Cyberknife and Taiba, renew rivalry in Saturday’s $1 million Pennsylvania Derby (G1) at Parx. But Taiba has been pegged as the slight 5-2 favorite on the morning line over the 3-1 Cyberknife.

Pennsylvania Derby – Race 12 (6:10 p.m. ET)

At Monmouth, lightly-raced Taiba appeared to be making the winning move on the outside, only to have the more streetwise Cyberknife thrust through on the rail in track-record time. The two sons of Gun Runner (who just missed in the 2016 Penn Derby) have gone their separate ways since.

Taiba has been freshened by Bob Baffert, a three-time Penn Derby winner. The $1.7 million juvenile purchase will be making just his fifth start here. Fast-tracked to the Kentucky Derby (G1) after taking the Santa Anita Derby (G1) in his stakes and two-turn debut, Taiba understandably found the “Run for the Roses” a bit too much at that stage and finished 12th. But he’s back in business now, and regular rider Mike Smith will guide the talented chestnut from post 8 in an 11-horse field.

“He likes to be in the clear, so that is good,” Baffert said. “He doesn’t like being on the inside. I would rather be the five of the six, but this will be OK. Cyberknife is a tough horse; they are all good horses in here. Million-dollar races are not easy; they are not supposed to be easy. As always, you have to break. We had a little bit of a rough trip in the last one (the Haskell). I know he is doing well, and we are all set.”

Cyberknife advanced from the Haskell to the Aug. 27 Travers (G1), where circumstances demanded that he play the pacesetting role. Although the Brad Cox trainee was overwhelmed by division leader Epicenter, he gamely stayed on to hold second from Zandon. Cyberknife, always highly regarded, took time to adapt to the mental side of the game. Breaking through in the Arkansas Derby (G1), he regressed to 18th after chasing the wicked Kentucky Derby pace, but rebounded in the Matt Winn (G3) and Haskell. Cyberknife figures to revert to stalking tactics from post 5 with familiar pilot Florent Geroux.

Cox is double-handed with Tawny Port, most recently third to Epicenter and Zandon in the July 30 Jim Dandy (G2). The 6-1 chance, who bookended his Kentucky Derby seventh with scores in the Lexington (G3) and Ohio Derby (G3), keeps Irad Ortiz Jr. aboard.

While Tawny Port was earmarked for this spot all along, the Cyberknife decision is more like an audible.

“With Cyberknife, it wasn’t a whole lot of, coming out of the Travers and ‘we’re going to go to Parx’ way of thinking,” Cox said. “I thought we might go straight to the Breeders’ Cup. He had a really good breeze last weekend. Time-wise it wasn’t anything crazy fast, but it’s how he’s doing, how he looks, how he’s acting. This is one last swing at a Grade 1 around two turns for straight three-year-olds.”

Zandon looked like the next big thing in a resounding Blue Grass (G1), graduating from a near-miss in the Remsen (G2) and a sneaky third in the Risen Star (G2). Yet the Chad Brown pupil has come up short in his ensuing starts. Outstayed by Rich Strike and Epicenter when third in the Kentucky Derby, Zandon was runner-up in the Jim Dandy and third in the Travers. Getting away from Epicenter could help the 5-1 shot, who will break from the rail. Joel Rosario has the riding assignment for the first time since Zandon’s debut win.

Saffie Joseph Jr. has two chances in White Abarrio and Skippylongstocking. White Abarrio was the more forward of the two earlier in the season, capturing the Florida Derby (G1) and Holy Bull (G3), but he’s gone off the boil. Since his 16th in the Kentucky Derby, he was second to Tawny Port in Ohio and a disappointing seventh in the Haskell. Luis Saez picks up the mount on White Abarrio, parked in the far outside post 11. Joseph said that the plan is to be “on the lead or near the lead.”

In contrast, Skippylongstocking has improved over the course of the campaign, following up his third in the Belmont (G1) with a first stakes laurel in the West Virginia Derby (G3). Edwin Gonzalez renews the successful partnership.

We the People has been beaten by Skippylongstocking in his last pair. Stamina was an issue when he tired to fourth in the Belmont, but he was also run down late as the West Virginia Derby favorite. The Rodolphe Brisset colt is capable on his day, as evidenced by his 10-length Peter Pan (G3) romp, and Flavien Prat will try to nurse him along.

“He doesn’t have to be on the lead,” Brisset said, “but the fact he has that high-cruising speed that, if he breaks clean, he usually knows how to put himself in the right position to win the race. It’s just if he’s good enough now.”    

Simplification could improve from his third in the West Virginia Derby, his first start back from the Triple Crown trail. The Fountain of Youth (G2) hero was third in the Florida Derby and fourth in the Kentucky Derby before a weary-looking sixth in the Preakness (G1). Paco Lopez gets the call.

B Dawk, second in the Sir Barton S. in his only prior stakes attempt, stretches out from a seven-furlong allowance score at Ellis Park for Doug O’Neill. Naval Aviator, claimed from Cox in May, was runner-up to older Grade 2 veteran Keepmeinmind at Saratoga. Reformed claimer Icy Storm has class concerns, but he is by Rich Strike’s sire Keen Ice.