June 23, 2024

The last time Taiba  competed at Santa Anita Park, he won the Runhappy Santa Anita Derby (G1) in only his second lifetime start. He returns in the Dec. 26 Runhappy Malibu Stakes (G1) more seasoned, and while he is no longer undefeated, Taiba could keep his Santa Anita record perfect.

For 3-year-olds on Santa Anita’s traditional opening day, the seven-furlong Malibu often serves as an unofficial start to a 4-year-old’s season. Flightline   won the 2021 Malibu before putting together a 2022 campaign that will likely earn him Horse of the Year honors.

Bob Baffert, Taiba’s trainer, also has Messier  in the race. Baffert is going for his fifth Malibu victory, following The Factor   in 2011, Shakin It Up   in 2013, McKinzie   in 2018, and Charlatan   in 2020.

Taiba and Messier finished one-two in the 1 1/8-mile Santa Anita Derby when trained by Tim Yakteen, who took over not long before Baffert began serving a suspension stemming from Medina Spirit ‘s positive test after the 2021 Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve (G1). The two colts finished unplaced in the Kentucky Derby, and Baffert later resumed training them.

Zedan Racing Stables owned Medina Spirit and campaigns Taiba, a Kentucky-bred son of Gun Runner   who cost $1.7 million when purchased out of Fasig-Tipton’s 2021 The Gulfstream Sale, its select 2-years-old in training sale. In his three starts since the Kentucky Derby, he ran second in the TVG.com Haskell Stakes (G1), won the Pennsylvania Derby (G1), and finished third to Flightline and Olympiad   in the Longines Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1), the latter his first attempt against older rivals.

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“He slipped leaving the gate and lost a little bit, but he ran a tremendous race,” Baffert said of Taiba’s Breeders’ Cup Classic effort. “He has so much heart. You watch him work in the morning you’d never think he’s that good. But when he gets in the gate, he’s a different horse.”

Mike Smith piloted Taiba in the Breeders’ Cup and has been aboard the colt in five of his six starts. Smith returns for the Malibu, and Taiba drew post 6. Though he hasn’t competed around only one turn since his debut, in that six-furlong race Taiba scored by 7 1/2 lengths.

Messier has started once since the Kentucky Derby. He led early in a 6 1/2-furlong allowance optional claiming event at Keeneland Nov. 5, but bled and finished last behind winner Nakatomi . A $470,000 yearling and an Ontario-bred son of Empire Maker , Messier is owned by a nine-member partnership headed by SF Racing, Starlight Racing, and Madaket Stables.

John Velazquez has ridden Messier since partnering with the colt for a 15-length win in the 1 1/16-mile Robert B. Lewis Stakes (G3) at Santa Anita Feb. 6 and returns to ride from post 2. As a 2-year-old in 2021, Messier won the seven-furlong Bob Hope Stakes (G2) at Del Mar and finished second in the 1 1/16-mile Los Alamitos Futurity (G2).

Forbidden Kingdom and jockey Juan Hernandez win the G2, $400,000 San Felipe Stakes, Saturday, March 5, 2022 at Santa Anita Park, Arcadia CA.
Photo: Benoit Photo

Forbidden Kingdom takes the San Felipe Stakes at Santa Anita Park

Forbidden Kingdom , who likes to set the pace, ran second in the Bob Hope for trainer Richard Mandella. The Kentucky-bred son of American Pharoah   then captured the seven-furlong San Vicente Stakes (G2) and 1 1/16-mile San Felipe Stakes (G2) at Santa Anita. Forbidden Kingdom subsequently finished sixth in the Santa Anita Derby, fifth in the six-furlong Santa Anita Sprint Championship (G2), and third in a six-furlong allowance optional claimer. Juan Hernandez will ride him from the rail.

Trainer Wesley Ward has entered Nakatomi in the Malibu, the sprinter’s first start in California and first at seven furlongs. The Kentucky-bred son of Firing Line   has won two of his three starts in 2022 and captured the 2021 Bowman Mill Stakes over six furlongs at Keeneland. Tyler Gaffalione, who rode him in both 2022 wins and the Bowman Mill, is named on Nakatomi from post 4.

Nakatomi wins race 2, an allowance optional claiming, for Tyler Gaffalione and Wesley Ward at Keeneland on Breeder's Cup Saturday, 11/5
Photo: Heather Jackson

Nakatomi wins an allowance optional claiming race on the Breeders’ Cup undercard at Keeneland

The Malibu has attracted two other runners from out of state who will make their California debuts: Hoist the Gold  and Strava . Dallas Stewart trains them and named Joel Rosario on Hoist the Gold from post 5 and Flavien Prat on Strava from post 8.

Hoist the Gold, a Kentucky-bred son of Mineshaft  , ran second in the Oct. 22 Perryville Stakes at Keeneland and third in the July 3 Maxfield Overnight Stakes at Churchill Downs, both at seven furlongs. Except for one unplaced effort at a mile, Hoist the Gold has competed solely at sprint distances.

A Kentucky-bred son of Into Mischief  , Strava has done some of his best racing at a mile, winning two allowance optional claiming races by daylight and running third in the Aug. 14 Ellis Park Derby. He broke his maiden in a six-furlong race at Keeneland and also ran third in the seven-furlong Harrods Creek Stakes at Churchill after bobbling slightly at the start.

Completing the field are Zia Park Derby first and second Perfect Flight  (Ricardo Santana Jr., post 7) and Apprehend  (Ramon Vazquez, post 3), both trained by Peter Miller, and Straight No Chaser  (Edwin Maldonado, post 9), trained by Dan Blacker.

Entries: RUNHAPPY Malibu S. (G1)

Santa Anita Park, Monday, December 26, 2022, Race 10

  • Grade I
  • 7f
  • Dirt
  • $300,000
  • 3 yo
  • 3:39 PM (local)