Last seen fighting out a tight finish in the GI TVG.com Haskell Invitational S. in neighboring New Jersey in mid-July, 'TDN Rising Star' Taiba (Gun Runner) and Cyberknife (Gun Runner) are the top two choices on the morning line for what appears a contentious renewal of the $1-million GI betPARX Pennsylvania Derby Saturday afternoon in suburban Philadelphia.
A veteran of just four starts, Taiba–a $1.7-million purchase by Zedan Racing Stables out of last year's Fasig-Tipton Gulfstream Sale–took the GI Runhappy Santa Anita Derby at second asking, but the GI Kentucky Derby was perhaps too much, too soon, as the chestnut could do no better than 12th. Freshened for the Haskell, he made what appeared to be a winning move down the center of the track, but the rail-rallying Cyberknife spoiled the party. Trainer Bob Baffert, who won this race three times between 2014 and 2018, says it's all systems go this weekend.
“He likes to be in the clear, so that is good. He doesn't like being on the inside,” Baffert said of Taiba, who drew the eight hole and is the 5-2 favorite on the morning line. “I would rather be the five or the six, but this will be OK. Cyberknife is a tough horse; they are all good horses in here. Million-dollar races are not easy; they are not supposed to be easy. As always, you have to break. We had a little bit of a rough trip in the last one [Haskell]. I know he is doing well and we are all set.”
Cyberknife pressed on to the GI Runhappy Travers S., finishing better than five lengths behind divisional leader Epicenter (Not This Time) and narrowly ahead of Zandon (Upstart). He is one of two in the race for Brad Cox, who will also tighten the girth around GIII Ohio Derby hero and GII Jim Dandy S. third Tawny Port (Pioneerof the Nile). The 3-1 morning-line second pick, Cyberknife has post five, while Tawny Port drew gate seven.
“We've pointed Tawny Port for this race since the Jim Dandy,” Cox said. “Everything is going great with him. Once again, he's got to step up to prove that he belongs at this level. With Cyberknife, it wasn't a whole lot of, coming out of the Travers and 'we're going to go to Parx' way of thinking. I thought we might go straight to the Breeders' Cup. He had a really good breeze last weekend. Time-wise it wasn't anything crazy fast, but it's how he's doing, how he looks, how he's acting. This is one last swing at a Grade I around two turns for straight 3-year-olds.”
The filly counterpart, the GI Cotillion S., drew a field of nine headed by GI Longines Kentucky Oaks heroine Secret Oath (Arrogate). The competition includes the progressive 'TDN Rising Star' stablemates Shahama (Munnings) and Green Up (Upstart) and the Baffert-trained GIII Las Virgenes S. romper Adare Manor (Uncle Mo).