Taiba (Gun Runner) and jockey Mike Smith before the Haskell Invitational (Gr I) at Monmouth Park 7/23/22. Trainer: Bob Baffert. Owner: Zedan Racing Stables
Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert will bid to win the $1 million, Grade 1 betPARX Pennsylvania Derby for a record fourth time Saturday when Zedan Racing Stables’ Taiba leads a top field of 11 3-year-olds in the signature event of the season at Parx Racing in Bensalem, Pa.
The 1/18-mile Pennsylvania Derby is the 12th race on the 13-race card that also co-features the $1 million, Grade 1 Cotillion Stakes for 3-year-old fillies. The Pennsylvania Derby post time is 6:10 p.m. ET.
Taiba, a son of Gun Runner, was installed as the 5-2 morning-line favorite by Parx racing secretary David Osojnak. Taiba finished second in the $1 million, Grade 1 TVG.com Haskell Stakes at Monmouth Park, in which he was defeated by Gold Square’s Cyberknife, who is trained by Brad Cox and also entered in the Pennsylvania Derby.
Taiba, who will be ridden by Hall of Famer Mike Smith from post eight, has won two of four starts in his career, all of them this year. Included in his resume is a win in the Grade 1 Runhappy Santa Anita Derby. Baffert won the Pennsylvania Derby in 2014 (Bayern), 2017 (West Coast) and 2018 (McKinzie).
“He likes to be in the clear, so that is good,” Baffert said of the draw. “He doesn’t like being on the inside. I would rather be the five or 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 (Haskell). I know he is doing well and we are all set. Both horses (he also has Adare Manor in the $1 million Cotillion). I like the way they are training and we will be shipping tomorrow (Tuesday).”
Cyberknife won the Haskell by a head. He finished second last time out in the $1.25 million, Grade 1 Runhappy Travers Stakes at Saratoga. The son of Gun Runner is the 3-1 second choice on the morning line and the only member of the field with two Grade 1 wins. Cyberknife drew post five and will be ridden by Florent Geroux, while stablemate Tawny Port drew post seven and will get the services of Irad Ortiz, Jr.
“I’m happy with the draw for both horses,” Cox said. “We’ve pointed Tawny Port for this race since the Jim Dandy. Everything is going great with him. Once again, he’s got to step up to prove that he belongs at this level. He ran a great race last time, but we need to see some improvement to get him a Grade 1. Irad (Ortiz Jr.) likes him. He’s ridden him the last few starts and we’re excited to have him back on him. He’s doing well, so we’ll see how it goes. 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. 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 3-year-olds.”
Other Grade 1 winners in the field include Jeff Drown’s Zandon (Toyota Blue Grass) and C2 Racing Stable’s and La Milagrosa Stable’s White Abarrio (Curlin Florida Derby Presented by Hill ‘n’ Dale Farms at Xalapa).
Trained by Saffie Joseph, Jr., who won the 2019 Pennsylvania Derby with Math Wizard, will send out both White Abbario (post 11) and Skippylongstocking (post 4).
“Both posts are all right,” Joseph said. “Parx has a pretty good run to the first bend. I just hope we break; the draw we can’t control. White Abarrio will be forwardly placed. He will be on the lead or near the lead. That is the plan. Skippy is a horse that is improving. Both horses are in Saratoga and will ship on Wednesday.”
The full field, with jockeys and morning-line odds:
1. Zandon, Joel Rosario, 5-1;
2. Icy Stormy, Jeremy Laprida, 40-1;
3. B Dawk, Frankie Pennington, 20-1;
4. Skippylongstocking, Edwin Gonzalez, 10-1;
5. Cyberknife, Florent Geroux, 3-1;
6. We the People, Flavien Prat, 12-1;
7. Tawny Port, Irad Ortiz Jr., 6-1;
8. Taiba, Mike Smith, 5-2;
9. Simplification, Paco Lopez, 10-1;
10. Naval Aviator, Abner Adorno, 20-1;
11. White Abbario, Luis Saez, 8-1.