2022 Kentucky Derby Contender Profile – Taiba

HOW HE GOT HERE

A $1.7 million two-year old in training sale grad, Taiba debuted in March of this year going 6 1/2 furlongs at Santa Anita. After breaking with the field, rider John Velazquez had to subtly urge Taiba to stay engaged with the first flight. The colt responded well to it, established himself on the lead midway down the backstretch, took a clear advantage around the turn, and drew clear to a dominant seven and a half length victory. In addition to the visually impressive performance, he earned a crop-leading 103 Beyer Speed Figure. Taiba made his second career start in the Santa Anita Derby (G1) on April 9th. On that day, with new jockey Mike Smith aboard, he sat an excellent trip behind the two favorites while traveling comfortably throughout. Coming in to the stretch, he drew even with graded stakes winner Messier before wearing him down in the final 100 yards. While his Beyer did drop to a 102, it still towers over this year’s final Derby prep winners.

Undefeated in two career starts now, Taiba will be the first horse in 22 years to compete in the Kentucky Derby with only two previous outings and will seek to become the first winner with that distinction since 1883. On top of those historical barriers, Taiba could make history as the first horse to make their debut just two months before their Kentucky Derby start. Going off of Churchill Downs records (which are only complete through 1937), there may have horses in the 1940’s and earlier who debuted even later than that, but certainly by modern standards this quick ascent of Taiba’s is an anomaly.

 

HOW HE FITS HERE

In this year’s Kentucky Derby, no horse will have this question asked of them more than Taiba. He will have to overcome a lot with a large lack of seasoning. He has put together two incredible performances and his jump from a 6 furlong maiden win to a premier Grade 1 around two turns is nothing short of remarkable. But how good is he actually? How will he be able to handle the elements of the Kentucky Derby?

In terms of his talent, he has it. However, the quality that he’s beaten leaves me needing another step forward come Kentucky Derby time. From his maiden score, seven of those he’s beaten have made another start, and none of them have won. Even the two runners that finished second in their respective next races were well beaten and didn’t improve at all on Beyers. On top of that, we do have to question the quality of the Southern California sophomores. As much hype as Forbidden Kingdom and Messier had heading into the Santa Anita Derby (G1), there is no doubt the horses they had been beating were far from Derby quality. As it relates to the Derby elements, Taiba has never faced a reasonably sized field of winners, nor has he been punched in the mouth in his two wins. He endured fairly straightforward and beneficial trips. That could all change with 20 horses and many jostling for the same early positioning that Taiba will want. For us as handicappers, we have to weigh all of those factors and see where he fits in our minds from there.

CONNECTIONS AND PEDIGREE

Of course, one of the biggest stories surrounding Taiba will be his former affiliation with Bob Baffert. This colt, in addition to Messier, will be the first Kentucky Derby starters for trainer Tim Yakteen. Yakteen has experience as an assistant for Baffert from 20+ years ago, so it’s not his first venture to Churchill Downs for the big race, but given these circumstances it is considered an unknown. I’m most interested to see how this horse adapts in his first full month with Yakteen at the helm. Taiba only had one week under Yakteen’s care leading into the Santa Anita Derby, so there wasn’t much work to be done. How he is maintained heading into the Derby itself will be intriguing to see. Mike Smith will ride back in Louisville, and of course his quality experience in the Run for the Roses will compensate a fair amount for Taiba’s lack thereof.

Taiba is by Gun Runner, the hottest stallion in America, who will have three runners in the Derby if all goes to plan. He is the first foal to race out of the Flatter mare Needmore Flattery, a stakes winner in Ohio on quite a few occasions. Given he handled the 1 1/8 miles of the Santa Anita Derby (G1) so easily, I have a good feeling 1 1/4 miles won’t be a hinderance in a few weeks time.

 

OVERALL CHANCE

There is no telling what the chances of Taiba are in the Kentucky Derby. Raw talent vs. the factors of a 20-horse field in front of a Kentucky Derby crowd – that’s what we have to weigh with Taiba. In my opinion, if he had one or two more starts, he would be close to a sure-thing in here. But, with such little experience under him and such a fast rise to the Derby starting gate, it would feel foolish to not ask a million questions of Taiba. If he can answer all of your questions, he’s a serious player, and if he can’t, he’s a hard pass.

There have been a lot of comparisons to Justify as it relates to Taiba, which I find to be valid. However, don’t forget that for every Justify that has ran in the Kentucky Derby, there have been dozens of Rock Your World’s, Verrazano’s, and Materiality’s. Either way, there hasn’t been, is not, and probably will never be a Derby contender as polarizing and divisive as Taiba.

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