After putting on a show on the Jersey Shore earlier this summer, the Gun Runner-sired GI TVG.com Haskell S. exacta of Cyberknife and 'TDN Rising Star' Taiba co-headline a loaded renewal of the GI Pennsylvania Derby at Parx Saturday.
Was it a tale of two trips or did the best horse just win that day at Monmouth Park? You be the judge.
While subsequent GI Runhappy Travers S. runner-up Cyberknife awaited racing room leaving the quarter pole, the hard-ridden Taiba began to wind up beneath Mike Smith with a four-wide blitz. Florent Geroux, meanwhile, found a seam aboard the GI Arkansas Derby winner along the rail as favored 'Rising Star' Jack Christopher (Munnings) began to back out of it at the furlong marker. Cyberknife ran to daylight from there and outbattled the GI Runhappy Santa Anita Derby winner by a game head in a race that didn't deserve a loser.
“He's a Grade I horse and it's a Grade I race,” trainer Brad Cox said of Cyberknife and Saturday's $1-million affair. “And look, I'm excited about matching up with Taiba. He's a very good horse, a Grade I winner in his own right. There are some other very good horses in the race. It looks like a really good group of horses.”
That “really good group of horses” also includes the rail-drawn GISW Zandon (Upstart), who should appreciate the turnback to nine furlongs following a third-place finish in the Travers; the Cox-trained GIII Ohio Derby winner and GII Jim Dandy S. third Tawny Port (Pioneerof the Nile); the top three finishers of the GIII West Virginia Derby–Skippylongstocking (Exaggerator), 'Rising Star' We the People (Constitution) and Simplification (Not This Time); and GI Curlin Florida Derby winner and Ohio Derby runner-up White Abarrio (Race Day), who finished a puzzling seventh last out in the Haskell.
Saturday in the Parx…
The loaded 13-race program at Parx also features four other graded events, led by the GI Cotillion for 3-year-old fillies.
In addition to seeking a record fourth Pennsylvania Derby victory with 5-2 morning-line favorite Taiba, Hall of Famer Bob Baffert will also ship in Cotillion second-choice Adare Manor (Uncle Mo) from his Santa Anita base. The runaway GIII Las Virgenes S. heroine has been training lights out since finishing second as the favorite in the GII Black-Eyed Susan S. May 20.
“She is training really well,” Baffert said. “I could have run her in a softer spot. This will be a class check for her.”
After chasing home runaway division leader Nest (Curlin) in Saratoga's GI Coaching Club American Oaks and GI Alabama S., the classy Secret Oath (Arrogate) seeks her first win since capturing the GI Kentucky Oaks. She is the 2-1 morning-line favorite.
“She is only getting stronger,” Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas said. “She sure is filling out and getting better and holding a lot of weight. She is probably maturing into the filly that we wanted her to be.”
Todd Pletcher will be represented by a formidable trio in Alabama third Goddess of Fire (Mineshaft), streaking local Cathryn Sophia S. winner and 'Rising Star' Green Up (Upstart) and GIII Monmouth Oaks heroine and 'Rising Star' Shahama (Munnings).
The card also features wide-open renewals of the GII Gallant Bob S. and GIII Turf Monster S., while a field of nine marathoners will line up for the GIII Greenwood Cup.
The day's graded stakes action is rounded out by Saturday evening's GIII Dogwood S. at Churchill Downs, featuring the return of champion and 'Rising Star' Echo Zulu (Gun Runner), who was a vet scratch at the gate prior to Belmont's GI Acorn S. June 11; and Belmont at the Big A's GIII Athenia S.