(Taiba / Benoit Photo & Courtesy of Santa Anita)

From the Santa Anita Media Team:

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.

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.