Kentucky-breds continued their dominance of this year’s Kentucky Derby (G1) prep races on Saturday, April 9, with sensational coast-to-coast victories from Taiba in the $750,000 Santa Anita Derby (G1), Zandon in the Blue Grass S. (G1), and Mo Donegal in the $750,000 Wood Memorial S. (G2).
Zedan Racing Stables’ Taiba made short work of a compact field in the 1 1/8-mile Santa Anita Derby, becoming a Grade 1 winner in just his second career start. Ridden by Mike Smith, Taiba collared pacesetter Messier into the stretch and rolled to a clear-cut 2 ¼-length score for trainer Tim Yakteen. The chestnut son of Gun Runner stopped the timer in 1:48.46.
“When one comes along like that, he showed he was really good,” said Mike Smith. “He didn’t really get away very well. He belongs with anyone. He just recovers really well. As I get older, I have felt that something special is going to happen. This just may lead to that. The sky’s the limit.”
Bred in Kentucky by Bruce Ryan, Taiba was a $1.7 million graduate of last year’s Fasig-Tipton Florida Sale where he was bought out of the Hartley/De Renzo consignment by Gary Young, agent. The colt broke his maiden at first asking in March, crushing his maiden special weight foes by 7 ½ lengths.
“He broke just OK,” said Flavien Prat. “Then I got myself covered up, so I was there with nothing I could do about it. The pace was a bit slow, so I was wandering down the backside. But I was traveling super. It was just a matter of finding a gap and getting a clean run down the lane.”
Jeff Drown’s Zandon ran down race favorite Smile Happy approaching the sixteenth pole and drew off late to win the 98th running of the Blue Grass S. (G1) at Keeneland. With Flavien Prat aboard, Zandon was last while racing between horses early. At the top of the stretch, Smile Happy surged to the front with Zandon in hot pursuit. Smile Happy maintained his advantage passing the eighth pole but could not fend off Zandon in the late stages. The son of Upstart drew away late to win by 2 ½ lengths in a final time of 1:50.35 for the 1 1/8-mile test.
A Keeneland sales graduate, Zandon was bred by Brereton C. Jones and is conditioned by Chad Brown. Produced from the Creative Cause mare Memories Prevail, Zandon was sent off as the second choice in the field of 11.
Donegal Racing’s Mo Donegal got up in the final strides to take down top prize in the Wood Memorial (G2) at Aqueduct. The win in the nine-furlong fixture provided Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher with a record-tying seventh win in the Wood Memorial joining fellow Hall of Famer “Sunny Jim” Fitzsimmons. Ridden by Joel Rosario, Mo Donegal trailed the field early. He rallied strongly into the final furlong and defeated pacesetter Early Voting by a neck at the finish, stopping the clock in 1:47.96.
“I thought he was on wings,” said Donegal Racing’s Jerry Crawford. “I think the performance he gave today was even better than it looked to the naked eye. I’ve been here all day yesterday and today and not one horse has closed on the dirt in two days, and he came from far back. He had to be much the best to prevail. You never celebrate ahead of time, but I was confident for the last 100 yards at least. I love that we won today, not for me, but for my partners.”
Mo Donegal, a son of Uncle Mo, was bred in the Bluegrass by Ashview Farm and Colts Neck Stables.