The 3-year-old championship may not be on the line in the $1 million Pennsylvania Derby (G1), but if the TVG.com Haskell Stakes (G1) is any indication of what’s to come Sept. 24 at Parx Racingit should be a thriller.
About two months ago, Cyberknife and Taiba staged an epic final-furlong duel in the July 23 Haskell, with Cyberknife prevailing by a head, and they will meet again Saturday when they top a field of 11 in the rich 1 1/8-mile test for 3-year-olds.
“My guess is that Epicenter has the 3-year-old title wrapped up, but I’m looking forward to Saturday,” said Al Gold, who owns the multiple grade 1-winning Cyberknife.
Though the star of the division may not be there, the presence of four grade 1 winners among the field of 11 illustrates the depth and talent of the field.
“It’s a quality field and it should be a fun race for the fans to watch,” said trainer Saffie Joseph Jr., who will send out the duo of Skippylongstocking and White Abarrio . “I’m sure some trainers would want a smaller field but you have to run your horse when he’s ready. That’s what racing is all about.”
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Cyberknife (post 5, 3-1 morning line) and Taiba (8, 5-2 favorite), both from the first crop of the record-breaking stallion Gun Runner first met in the May 7 Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve (G1), though neither played much of a role in the outcome as Taiba finished 12th and Cyberknife 18th.
The Haskell was a much different story as Cyberknife reverted to the form that carried him to victory in the Arkansas Derby (G1), while Taiba also rebounded with a big effort about three weeks into re-introducing himself to original trainer Bob Baffert after Baffert’s 90 -day suspension ended July 3.
Since their clash at Monmouth ParkCyberknife finished a distant second to the aforementioned Epicenter in the Runhappy Travers Stakes (G1) for trainer Brad Cox while Taiba, the Runhappy Santa Anita Derby (G1) winner, has trained up to the Pennsylvania Derby with Baffert in California.
“Baffert said at the time of the Haskell that he wished he had another week to train Taiba, so he should be set to go Saturday,” said Gold, who races Cyberknife under the Gold Square banner and is uncertain if the colt will run in the Longines Classic (G1) or the Big Ass Fans Dirt Mile (G1) at the Breeders’ Cup. “Cyberknife has been working well and we needed to do something before the Breeders’ Cup. Hopefully we’ll be ready and we should have a really good matchup again.”
Bred by Ken and Sarah Ramsey out of the Flower Alley mare Awesome Flower, Cyberknife was bought for $400,000 by Joe Hardoon on behalf of Gold at the 2020 Fasig-Tipton Selected Yearlings Showcase. He’s earned $1,826,530 for Cox and Gold with a slate of 5 wins and 3 seconds in 10 starts that also includes a victory in the Matt Winn Stakes (G3).
Zedan Racing Stables’ Taiba arrived at Baffert’s barn with high expectations after he was bought by Gary Young, agent, for $1,700,000 from the Hartley/De Renzo Thoroughbreds consignment at The Gulfstream Sale, Fasig-Tipton’s Florida Select 2-Year-Olds in Training Sale .
The Gun Runner colt, bred by Bruce Ryan out of the Flatter mare Needmore Flattery, lived up to expectations in his belated debut for Baffert with a 7 1/2-length victory in a March 5 maiden race at Santa Anita Park. But when Baffert’s suspension from the disqualification of Zedan’s Medina Spirt went into effect in early April, Taiba was sent to trainer Tim Yakteen and promptly won the April 9 Santa Anita Derby to earn a spot in the field for the Run for the Roses.
Returned to Baffert’s barn after the suspension ended July 3, Taiba has prepped for his trip to the Keystone State with bullets in four of his last five works.
Baffert will be seeking his fourth Pennsylvania Derby win.
Jeff Drown’s Zandon has been a model of consistency with trainer Chad Brown, never finishing worse than third in seven career starts.
The Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (G1) winner was third in the Kentucky Derby, a little less than a length behind runner-up Epicenter, and after finishing second to that rival in the Jim Dandy Stakes (G2), he was third in the Aug . 27 Travers, a nose behind Cyberknife and 5 1/4 lengths behind the victorious Epicenter.
“He bounced out of the Travers in good shape. He’s been a very durable horse,” Brown, winner of the 2016 Pennsylvania Derby with Connect said about the son of Upstart who drew the rail for Saturday’s race and was pegged as the 5-1 third choice. “It’s a tough race but the horse is doing fine and a mile-and-an-eighth may be a perfect distance for him. We’ll see what happens.”
Brown said the Pennsylvania Derby will likely be the last race of the year for Zandon, who is expected to race at 4.
“He raced and traveled and trained a lot. It’s been a tough campaign,” Brown said about the $170,000 purchase by Mike Ryan at the Keeneland September Yearling Sale from the consignment of breeder Brereton Jones and Airdrie Stud. “I think he has a bright future ahead of him next year and he can use the time off to fill out. “
Joseph will send out the fourth grade 1 winner in C2 Racing Stable and La Milagrosa Stable’s White Abarrio. The son of Race Day won the Curlin Florida Derby Presented by Hill ‘n’ Dale Farms at Xalapa (G1), but has struggled since then. The $40,000 purchase by Carlos Perez from the Nice and Easy Thoroughbreds consignment at the OBS March Sale of 2-Year-Olds in Training was 16th in the Kentucky Derby. Then, after finishing second to Penn Derby starter Tawny Port in the Ohio Derby (G3), he was a dull seventh in the Haskell, finishing 34 1/4 lengths behind.
White Abarrio landed post 11 and was listed at a morning-line price of 8-1.
“I’m not worried about the post because there’s a nice run-up to the bend at Parx and he should be forwardly placed,” Joseph said. “We were disappointed with the Haskell. Maybe it was one race too many with all the traveling. But we took him up to Saratoga to freshen him up and each work has been better and better. He sold us on the race, showing us he’s ready to run.”
Daniel Alonso’s Skippylongstocking (4, 10-1) posted his first graded stakes win last time, taking the West Virginia Derby (G3) when he chased in second and collared the pacesetting We The People (who will likely set the early fractions once again in the Penn Derby) and registered a 1 1/2-length victory.
Prior to that the son of Exaggerator was third in both the Belmont Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets (G1) and the Wood Memorial Stakes Presented by Resorts World Casino (G2) and fifth in the Preakness Stakes (G1).
“He was a notch below these horses but he’s getting better and better. He’s facing better horses here but he’s training forwardly and deserves a chance,” said Joseph, who won the 2019 Pennsylvania Derby with Math Wizard . “With We The People in there, he should have plenty of pace to chase again.”
Entries: Pennsylvania Derby (G1)
Parx Racing, Saturday, September 24, 2022, Race 12
- Grade I
- 1 1/8m
- 3 yo
- 6:10pm (local)