Taiba, who fared best of the three-year-olds in last month’s Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) after capturing the Pennsylvania Derby (G1) and Santa Anita Derby (G1) earlier this season, will attempt to sway a few extra Eclipse Award votes his way Monday if he can win the $300,000 Malibu (G1) at Santa Anita.
Trained by Bob Baffert, Taiba finished a distant third in the Classic to Flightline, who won by 8 3/4 lengths over fellow older rival Olympiad. Pulled up in the Classic was Epicenter, the presumptive favorite for the three-year-old male Eclipse, who suffered a career-ending injury down the Keeneland backside. Taiba and Epicenter had met once before, in the Kentucky Derby (G1), in which Epicenter finished second and Taiba 12th.
Taiba figures to be an overwhelming favorite in the seven-furlong Malibu, especially since two of his name opponents have been relatively off form for some time. Forbidden Kingdom, who won the San Felipe (G2) and San Vicente (G2) last winter, was favored to beat Taiba in the Santa Anita Derby but wound up trailing the field of six. He’s yet to return to the winner’s circle in two outings since returning from an extended layoff, finishing fifth in the Santa Anita Sprint Championship (G2) and third in a Del Mar allowance.
Messier, a stablemate to Taiba, powered to a 15-length win in the Robert B. Lewis (G3) in February before finishing second to Taiba in the Santa Anita Derby. Messier subsequently finished 15th in the Kentucky Derby and was walked off after bleeding during a Nov. 5 allowance at Keeneland for which he started as the odds-on choice.
The winner of that aforementioned Keeneland allowance, Nakatomi, seeks his first graded win in the Malibu. Others looking to upset while stepping up include Straight No Chaser and the Peter Miller-trained pair of Perfect Flight and Apprehend, the one-two finishers in last month’s Zia Park Derby.
Baffert also has the horse to beat in the corresponding seven-furlong feature for three-year-old fillies, the $300,000 La Brea (G1). Midnight Memories brings a 4-for-5 record into the La Brea, including back-to-back wins in the Torrey Pines (G3) and Zenyatta (G2), the latter against older fillies.
In addition to Midnight Memories, Baffert will also send out Grade 2 winner Under the Stars, recently second to champion Ce Ce in the Chillingworth (G3); Ganadora, who captured the Dark Mirage S. at Los Alamitos last time; and Fun to Dream, recent winner of the Betty Grable S. at Del Mar for California-breds.
The La Brea field also includes East Coast shipper Hot Peppers, who won the Victory Ride (G3) and finished second in the Test (G1) over the summer. Cutting back in distance from troubled trip in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff (G1) as a big longshot is Awake At Midnyte, second in the Zenyatta two back.