Justify (2018) and California Chrome (2014) are the two most recent horses who parlayed a win in the Santa Anita Derby (Grade I) into a Kentucky Derby victory. That was about the only similarity that these two horses had. The modestly bred California Chrome entered the Kentucky Derby with ten lifetime starts, which included brilliant wins and dull losses. He went on to race- and win and lose- until the age of six for Kentucky Derby History.
The blue-blooded Justify, on the other hand, raced only six times in his entire career, all at the age of three: a maiden race, an allowance race, the Santa Anita Derby, and the Triple Crown. He won all six starts, becoming the first Triple Crown winner to retire undefeated as well as the first Derby winner since 1882 not to have raced at age two.
The as-yet undefeated Taiba looks to do Justify one better by entering the Kentucky Derby with one fewer lifetime start. The son of Gun Runner dominated his maiden race by over seven lengths before racing wide to run down stablemate Messier in the Santa Anita Derby. Many are wondering if Taiba’s talent will be able to overcome his lack of preparation. Let’s take a look at some of the upsides and downsides of this brilliant colt.
Remember, you can find in this website all the contenders for the Kentucky Derby 2022: https://www.twinspires.com/kentuckyderby/contenders
Inexperience- Kentucky Derby History
This is the most obvious knock against Taiba. Although prep schedules for top Kentucky Derby contenders have become lighter over the last decade, entering the Derby with only two lifetime starts is unprecedented in modern times. Tackling the Kentucky Derby distance of 1 ¼ miles for the first time is a huge ask for a young horse, and requires careful training and preparation to ensure that the horse is fit enough to compete.
Lack Of Competition
Another serious concern is the lack of competitors Taiba has faced in his career. In his two lifetime starts, Taiba has only competed against eleven other horses. It is likely that he will face nearly double that amount in the Kentucky Derby alone, which regularly has twenty entries. In contrast, the other most prominent Derby prep winners have faced 31 (Zandon), 34 (Mo Donegal), 38 (White Abarrio), 41 (Epicenter), and 49 (Cyberknife). They have faced, and bested, more top competition, especially when one considers that Forbidden Kingdom flipped his palate during the Santa Anita Derby.
In addition to the greater number of different competitors, these horses have faced, on average, much larger fields than Taiba. Although the Kentucky Derby does not, thankfully, have a history of catastrophic accidents, the sheer number of horses in the race can be intimidating as well as difficult to navigate for a horse who is not mentally prepared.
In the Santa Anita Derby, Taiba was piloted by “Big Money” Mike Smith. The idea of riding a talented but inexperienced undefeated colt in the Santa Anita and Kentucky Derbies may feel quite familiar to the champion jockey, as he was the regular rider for the aforementioned Justify.
Smith earned his nickname by winning some of America’s richest races, in particular becoming the all-time winningest rider in the Breeder’s Cup races. Taiba May lack experience, but “Big Money” Mike certainly does not.
Taiba’s sire is Gun Runner, whose victories as a racehorse include the Pegasus Invitational and the Breeder’s Cup Classic (both Grade I), as well as a second in the Grade I Dubai World Cup. The Kentucky Derby distance was no problem for Gun Runner, and so it will likely be feasible for Taiba.
Gun Runner’s oldest offspring are three-year-olds, but his crop so far are amazingly talented and accomplished. In addition to Taiba, Gun Runner has sired Derby hopefuls in Cyberknife, Early Voting, and Pappacap, and last year’s undefeated champion two-year-old filly, Echo Zulu.
Speed figures are a way to judge the overall speed and quality of a race while making allowances for different track surfaces and conditions. At this stage in their careers, the top-level Derby contenders should aim for speed figures in the high 90s to low 100s. Both of Taiba’s races have netted him speed figures of 102, suggesting that his overall ability level is as high or higher than that of his more experienced peers.
Ultimately, the one undeniable fact about Taiba is that while he is inexperienced, his ability proves he deserves a shot at Derby glory.