Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert pulled off a Grade 1 double on opening day of the Santa Anita meet, nabbing the $302,000 Malibu S. (G1) with Taiba and the $301,000 La Brea S. (G1) with Fun to Dream.
On a stakes-packed afternoon attended by a crowd of 41,446, Taiba was the star attraction. Winner of the Santa Anita Derby (G1) and Pennsylvania Derby (G1) racing 1 1/8 miles earlier this year, Taiba successfully cut back to seven furlongs in the Malibu, tracking fractions of :22.18 and :44.38 set by Forbidden Kingdom before drawing off down the homestretch to dominate by 4 1/4 lengths in 1:21.75.
Forbidden Kingdom tenaciously held for second place over the rallying duo of Hoist the Gold and Nakatomi, followed by Strava, Apprehend, Straight No Chaser, Messier, and Perfect Flight.
An aggressive ride from jockey Mike Smith helped carry Taiba to victory. The chestnut colt was in danger of being outsprinted early on, but Smith urged Taiba to accelerate and continued urging his mount all the way around the turn, helping Taiba stay involved on the cutback in distance.
“That horse is like a bike, and you have to pedal. Going long you don’t have to do it as much, but I knew that going short it would be tough,” said Smith.
“Mike knows him really well, he just went for it and we knew Forbidden Kingdom was going to be on the lead and he’s a really good horse,” said Baffert. “I got a lot of respect for those horses in there. It was a tough Malibu, but turning for home he always looks like he’s empty, and he just finds new life. I don’t know where he gets it from. He just has more gears, and we saw an extra one today.”
The Malibu marked Taiba’s third Grade 1 of 2022. The son of Gun Runner also boasts placed efforts in the Haskell (G1) and Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) on his resume, placing Taiba squarely in the hunt to be voted champion three-year-old male at the Eclipse Awards.
In contrast to the decisive outcome of the Malibu, the seven-furlong La Brea produced an exciting homestretch battle. Fun to Dream was always prominent under jockey Juan Hernandez, tracking splits of :22.05 and :44.80 from third place, and she took command to lead by 1 1/2 lengths passing the eighth pole.
But Breeders’ Cup Distaff (G1) alumna Awake At Midnyte wasn’t ready to go down without a fight, charging hard from off the pace to challenge the leader. Fun to Dream had to dig deep in the final furlong to prevail by three-quarters of a length in 1:21.99, while Awake At Midnyte pulled 3 1/4 lengths clear of Kirstenbosch, Midnight Memories, Ganadora, Ain’t Easy, and Under the Stars. Hot Peppers scratched.
A California-bred daughter of Arrogate, Fun to Dream boasts a near-perfect 5-for-6 record. She entered the La Brea off a narrow triumph in the seven-furlong Betty Grable S. at Del Mar and looks like a talented female sprinter on the rise.
“This horse is getting really, really good,” said Hernandez. “She’s improving a lot, and she’s shown up in her last couple of starts. Today, she was traveling very smoothly on the back side, and she broke sharp. Then after that, I felt like I had a ton of control. Turning for home I asked her to switch leads and pick it up, and she did the rest.”
The Santa Anita meet continues on Friday with the $100,000 Eddie Logan S. and the $100,000 Blue Norther S. slated to serve as the feature events.