On Saturday at Parx Racing, 11 talented 3-year-old Thoroughbreds will square off going 1 1/8 miles in the $1 million, Grade 1 Pennsylvania Derby.
The Pennsylvania Derby isn’t technically part of the Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series, but there’s no denying the Pennsylvania Derby ranks as a key steppingstone toward the Grade 1 Longines Breeders’ Cup Classic. Recent Pennsylvania Derby winners include Will Take Charge (2013), Bayern (2014), West Coast (2017), all of whom returned to win or place in the Breeders’ Cup Classic.
Three out of the last seven editions of the Pennsylvania Derby have been won by Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert, which bodes well for the chances of #8 Taiba. Remember the headlines Taiba made during the spring? After dominating his sprint debut at Santa Anita by 7 1/2 lengths, Taiba came back one month later to post an upset in the 1 1/8-mile Grade 1 Runhappy Santa Anita Derby on the Road to the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve, defeating graded stakes winner Messier by 2 1/4 lengths.
Taiba’s Santa Anita Derby triumph was massive. Not only did Taiba successfully handle a huge step up in class and distance, he ran fast while doing so, earning a 111 Brisnet Speed rating that tops the Pennsylvania Derby field.
Taiba hasn’t visited the winner’s circle since the Santa Anita Derby, but he’s only run two more times, and his recent form is better than it appears at first glance. True, he faltered to finish 12th in the Kentucky Derby one month after the Santa Anita Derby, but jumping into the run for the roses off of two starts was an ambitious task.
Given 2 1/2 months to recover from the Kentucky Derby, Taiba returned to action in the July 23 Grade 1 TVG.com Haskell Stakes and ran a giant race in defeat. Taiba looked like a winner while rallying wide down the homestretch, only to get outkicked by the ground-saving #5 Cyberknife. The latter had the benefit of a prep victory in the Grade 3 Matt Winn Stakes, so Taiba — entering after a layoff and losing ground around the final turn — ran admirably to finish second by a head.
Since the Haskell, Taiba has been training like a monster, cranking out one fast workout after another. Four furlongs in :48; four furlongs in :47.60; six furlongs in a blazing 1:10.80; six furlongs in 1:12; five furlongs in a terrific :58.20; seven furlongs in 1:24.40; and six furlongs in 1:13.20.
Taiba might have been a little rusty in the Haskell but he figures to be at peak fitness for the Pennsylvania Derby. Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith is named to ride, and it’s worth noting Smith previously teamed up with Baffert to win the Pennsylvania Derby with West Coast (2017) and McKinzie (2018). With this formidable team in Taiba’s corner, the chestnut colt is a deserving favorite to win the Pennsylvania Derby.
Who are the other key contenders? Obviously the above-mentioned Cyberknife warrants respect. A clear-cut winner of the Grade 1 Arkansas Derby during the spring, Cyberknife struggled when finishing 18th in the Kentucky Derby, but he bounced back with tenacious victories in the Matt Winn and Haskell.
Cyberknife could have seized division leadership in the Grade 1 Runhappy Travers Stakes at Saratoga last month. While he proved no match for runaway winner Epicenter, Cyberknife fought on gamely from a pacesetting position to hold second place by a nose over #1 Zandon. The Travers took place at 1 1/4 miles, so cutting back to 1 1/8 miles — the distance of Arkansas Derby and Haskell — should suit Cyberknife to perfection.
We also have to give Zandon a look. The third-place finisher from the Kentucky Derby has never finished out of the top three, even while competing in a bevy of important Grade 1 and Grade 2 stakes. He was an impressive stretch-running winner of the Grade 1 Toyota Blue Grass Stakes during the spring and nearly caught Cyberknife for second place in the Travers, so Zandon looms as the main danger from off the pace in the Pennsylvania Derby.
Taiba, Cyberknife, and Zandon appear to rank a cut above their remaining rivals in the Pennsylvania Derby, so we’ll take a simple and bold approach to betting the race. If you’re playing on a small budget (say, $10), we recommend betting Taiba over Cyberknife in the exacta. Bettors with more capital to spend (say, $30) can add a cold Taiba/Cyberknife/Zandon trifecta to the mix.
Wagering Strategy on a $10 Budget
$10 exacta: 8 with 5
What to say at the betting window: Parx Racing, Race 12, $10 exacta 8 with 5
Wagering Strategy on a $30 Budget
$20 exacta: 8 with 5
What to say at the betting window: Parx Racing, Race 12, $20 exacta 8 with 5
$10 trifecta: 8 with 5 with 1
What to say at the betting window: Parx Racing, Race 12, $10 trifecta 8 with 5 with 1
Good luck, and enjoy the race!