Santa Anita opens with Taiba favored in Malibu Stakes

ARCADIA — Taiba will be favored when a field of nine enters the starting gate for Monday’s Malibu Stakes on opening day of Santa Anita’s 47-day Classic Meet.

The $300,000 Malibu is one of three Grade I races, along with the La Brea and the American Oaks, on the 11-race card that begins at 11 a.m. There are also three Grade II events scheduled, highlighted by the $200,000 San Antonio Stakes.

But many eyes will be on Taiba, the 6-5 morning-line Malibu favorite who could take a step toward top 3-year-old male honors of 2022 by winning the 7-furlong race.

It won’t be easy, with other top sophomores like Forbidden Kingdom and Messier in the race.

Forbidden Kingdom, a son of 2015 Triple Crown winner American Pharoah, is still looking for his first Grade I victory after winning a pair of the Grade II stakes — the San Felipe and San Vicente — last spring at Santa Anita. Since then he finished sixth in the Santa Anita Derby as the even-money favorite, fifth in the Santa Anita Sprint Championship and third in a Del Mar allowance won by Grade I Cigar Mile runner-up Get Her Number.

The colt’s trainer, Richard Mandella, believes Forbidden Kingdom, the 3-1 second choice, is ready to regain his early 2022 form.

“He ran well (at Del Mar), that was a good horse in that race,” the Hall of Fame conditioner told Santa Anita publicity. “I think he’s actually moved up a notch and is even better right now.”

Then there’s Messier, an Empire Maker colt who also is a two-time graded-stakes winner. He won the Grade III Bob Hope Stakes at Del Mar as a 2-year-old and the Grade III Robert B. Lewis by 15 lengths last spring at Santa Anita before running second behind Taiba in the Santa Anita Derby, 15th in the Kentucky Derby and 11th and last in a Keeneland allowance race when he bled.

Messier’s jockey, John Velazquez, is expecting a big effort in the Malibu from the 6-1 third choice.

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“We think a lot of him,” Velazquez said. “We’ve always thought he’s definitely a very good horse. If we can control that (bleeding) and fix the problem, I think we’ll have a very good chance.”

The eight sophomore fillies for the $300,000 La Brea are headed by the Bob Baffert-trained Midnight Memories, the 5-2 morning-line favorite. A winner of four of five lifetime, the daughter of Mastery goes into the race off victories in the Grade III Torrey Pines at Del Mar and the Grade II Zenyatta Stakes at Santa Anita.

The $300,000 American Oaks, a 1 1/4-mile turf race for 3-year-old fillies, appears wide open on paper. Salimah is the tepid 7-2 morning-line choice, but Bellstreet Bridie, Miss En Scene, Skims and Pizza Bianca figure to attract much attention in the wagering.

Along with the San Antonio, the two other Grade II stakes are the San Gabriel and Mathis Mile.

Country Grammer, the 7-5 morning-line favorite, could contribute to a big day for trainer Bob Baffert in the San Antonio as his connections prepare him for a possible return to Dubai in an effort to defend his World Cup victory last spring.


Monday: Opening day of Santa Anita’s 86th winter-spring meet, 11 a.m., FanDuel TV

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