With an Eclipse Award for top 3-year-old perhaps in the balance, Bob Baffert’s Taiba made on last emphatic appeal for votes as he dominated Santa Anita’s traditional opening day feature, the Grade I, $300,000 Runhappy Malibu Stakes by 4 ¼ lengths, thus becoming North America’s lone sophomore to annex three Grade I races in 2022.
Handled by regular rider Mike Smith, Taiba, winner of this year’s Grade I Runhappy Santa Anita Derby and Grade I Pennsylvania Derby, got seven furlongs in 1:21.75.
As for Baffert, his reign of dominance would appear to have no end in sight, as he posted his third graded stakes win, second Grade I victory and his fifth overall win on Santa Anita’s Classic Meet opener, which also attracted a tremendous on-track crowd of 41,446 which helped produce an all-time opening day record all-sources pari-mutuel handle of more than $26 million.
With Richard Mandella’s Forbidden Kingdom setting the pace from his rail post to the quarter pole, Taiba, under confident handling was in the middle of a three-horse spread that had Straight No Chaser to his immediate outside. Turning for home, Taiba, under a hand ride, opened up quickly and the Malibu outcome was assured three sixteenths of a mile out.
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A 3-year-old colt by Gun Runner out of the Flatter mare Needmore Flattery, Taiba was purchased for $1.7 million out of a 2-year-old in training sale in March of last year. Sprinting for the first time since a runaway first-out maiden win here on March 5, Taiba is now 7-4-1-1. With today’s winner’s share of $180,000, he ran his earnings to $1,956,200.
Off as the 2-5 favorite in a field of nine, Taiba, who is owned by Zedan Racing Stables, Inc., returned $2.80, $2.20 and $2.10.
Forbidden Kingdom, who was ridden by Juan Hernandez, cleared his rivals heading out of the seven furlong chute and had a 1 ½ length edge on the winner at the half mile pole. Although it looked as though he might split the field at the top of the lane, he re-rallied late to finish second, three quarters of a length over longshot Hoist the Gold in a big effort.
The second choice at 6-1, Forbidden Kingdom paid $4.40 and $3.60.
Hoist the Gold, off at 29-1 with Joe Bravo, paid $5.60 to show while finishing a neck better than Nakatomi.
Fractions on the Malibu were 22.18, 44.38 and 1:08.91.
2022 Malibu Replay
Fun to Dream Takes La Brea
A California bred daughter of 2016 Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Arrogate, Bob Baffert’s Fun to Dream, in her first graded stakes assignment, demonstrated her immense talent on Monday at Santa Anita, as she rallied to take the Grade I, $300,000 La Brea Stakes under Juan Hernandez, giving Baffert his fourth overall win on the day and a homebred victory in North America’s final Grade I test for 3-year-old fillies. Out of the Maria’s Mon mare Lutess, Fun to Dream got seven furlongs in 1:21.99 and provided both Hernandez (who notched his third overall win) and Baffert with two stakes wins each on the day with a pair of Grade I events, the Runhappy Malibu and the American Oaks remaining on the opening day card.
Breaking sharply from her number five post position, Fun to Dream was just a half length off dueling leaders Ganadora and Ain’t Easy three furlongs from home. With stablemate Ganadora dropping back at the rail leaving the quarter pole, Fun to Dream loomed three-deep turning for home, opened up about two lengths leaving the eighth pole and was fully extended to prevail late over a hard-trying Awake At Midnyte.
2022 La Brea Replay
Bred and owned in California by Bob Baffert and Connie Pageler, Fun to Dream, who came off a head victory in the statebred Betty Grable Stakes going the same distance at Del Mar Nov. 13, had won two races in a row coming into the La Brea and was off as the second choice at 5-2 in a field of six and paid $7.40, $4.00 and $3.40.
With the La Brea winner’s share of $180,000, Fun to Dream increased her earnings to $426,590 as she secured her fifth win from six career starts.
Ridden patiently by Mario Gutierrez, Awake At Midnyte, fourth at the half mile, leveled late in a big effort to finish second, 3 ¼ lengths in front of longshot Kirtenbosch. Off at 7-1, Awake At Midnyte paid $6.60 and $4.40.
Ridden by 2019 Eclipse Champion Apprentice Kazushi Kamura, Kirstenbosch was the biggest price in the field at 31-1 and returned $9.20 to show.
Fractions on the race were 22.05, 44.80 and 1:09.27.
American Oaks Goes to Rhea Moon
Well positioned for a third consecutive Classic Meet training title but quiet through the first 10 races on opening day, Phil D’Amato made plenty of noise in the 11th and final event, the Grade I, $300,000 American Oaks, as his Irish-bred Rhea Moon rallied from off the pace to score by a head under Juan Hernandez, who not only registered his second Grade I victory of the day, but his third stakes win and fourth overall as he seeks to defend his leading rider title from 2021-22.
Idle since taking the Grade III Autumn Miss Stakes at one mile on turf Oct. 29, Rhea Moon, who had broken her maiden going a mile and one eighth on grass four starts back, got the mile and one quarter Oaks in 2:00.75.
Unhurried while a joint eighth, about five lengths off the lead turning up the backside, Rhea Moon saved ground at the rail under a snug hold to the top of the land, split horses three deep and gradually overhauled stablemate School Dance to annex her first Grade I win.
A first condition allowance winner at one mile on turf two starts back at Del Mar Aug. 21, Rhea Moon was off at 6-1 in a field of 11 sophomore fillies and paid $15.60, $7.60 and $5.20.
Owned by Rockingham Ranch and Talla Racing, LLC, Rhea Moon, who was winless in a pair of Irish starts at age two, is now 9-4-3-2 overall. With today’s winnings of $180,000, she increased her earnings to $371,831.
The D’Amato exacta completed by School Dance, who was making her stakes debut with Ramon Vazquez up. Off at 11-1, School Dance paid $10.80 and $7.60 while finishing three quarters of a length in front of Sparkle Blue.
Ridden by Joe Bravo for Graham Motion, Sparkle Blue was off at 8-1 and paid $6.80 to show.
Irish-bred Salimah, who shipped in from New York for Chad Brown and was the 5-2 favorite, showed the way to the quarter pole but tired to finish seventh under Flavien Prat.
Fractions on the race were 23.88, 48.31, 1:12.45 and 1:36.97.
An on-track crowd of 46,446 contributed to an all-time Santa Anita opening day record all-sources handle of $26,315,016. Racing will resume on Friday, with first post time through Monday, Jan. 2 at 12 noon.