Barring something unforeseen, they are both headed to Louisville in a month's time, but Saturday's GI Runhappy Santa Anita Derby will make either Messier (Empire Maker) or Forbidden Kingdom (American Pharoah) the left coast's best chance at GI Kentucky Derby glory when they go head-to-head for the second time Saturday afternoon.
Named a 'TDN Rising Star' when graduating by a space at second asking over a six-furlong trip that was always bound to be sharp, Messier easily handled Forbidden Kingdom in Del Mar's GIII Bob Hope S. over seven furlongs in November, but was upset by Slow Down Andy (Nyquist) in the GII Los Alamitos Futurity Dec. 11. In his lone start since, the $470,000 Fasig-Tipton Selected Yearling Showcase purchase romped by 15 in the GIII Robert B. Lewis S. Feb. 6, and with a switch to the barn of Tim Yakteen, would likely secure a Derby berth with a win or runner-up effort.
For his part, Forbidden Kingdom has already earned his way into the race, as he is perfect in two starts at three. The chestnut son of the good sprinter Just Louise (Five Star Day) caused something of an upset when beating subsequent G3 Saudi Derby hero Pinehurst (Twirling Candy) by 2 1/4 lengths in the seven-furlong GII San Vicente S. and proved he could stay a distance of ground when thrashing his six opponents by 5 3/4 lengths in the GII San Felipe S. Mar. 5.
If someone is to crash the party, 'TDN Rising Star' Taiba (Gun Runner) would appear to be the likeliest candidate. A $140,000 Fasig-Tipton October yearling turned $1.7-million Fasig-Tipton Florida breezer, the chestnut graduated by 7 1/2 lengths on his Mar. 5 debut for Bob Baffert, earning a 103 Beyer Speed Figure that equals Messier's Lewis victory. Yakteen is also the trainer of record for Taiba and Amr Zedan's Zedan Racing Stables.
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