The smaller Gunny is pictured between the fillies, with Flatter Her Again on the right.
On sale day, as the colt strutted around the back ring with an air of absolute authority, he caught the eye of a particularly astute judge – Dean De Renzo. Half of the renowned duo of Hartley/De Renzo Thoroughbreds, who have sold an array of champions including 1997 Kentucky Derby star Silver Charm, he immediately sensed that this yearling was something special.
“It’s a gut feeling, kind of like an artist painting a picture,” De Renzo said of his intuition as a veteran horseman.
“I’m the horse. Buy me.”
So compelling was the colt that De Renzo did something he ordinarily wouldn’t do – buy, without having the youngster vetted first. Since he’d never seen him until right before the sales ring, there was no time for in-depth inspection.
Aside from the yearling’s desirability, it was consignor Madden’s forthrightness that sealed the deal. De Renzo’s on-the-spot discussion with Madden underscores the crucial importance that trust plays in the industry. Precisely because of his comfort level with Madden, De Renzo took the plunge.
“I felt so comfortable with the consignor, that I put up my hand to buy.”
TAIBA is a two-time #FasigGrad & a very special one for @BucklandSales, who consigned today's Santa Anita Derby (G1) victor as a yearling... TAIBA is their first G1 winner consigned! Congratulations to all involved!— Fasig-Tipton (@FasigTiptonCo) April 9, 2022
Watch TAIBA sell at the KY October Yearlings sale pic.twitter.com/zGf1m2TAJQ
After selling to De Renzo for $140,000, the colt was X-rayed, and all looked great. He’d prove well bought once he got down to his early training in Florida. The stage was set for a phenomenal return on investment as a “pinhook” – a youngster purchased with the goal of resale at a later stage of development.
“We never got to the bottom of him, just a great-training horse,” De Renzo said.
But beyond his raw ability, the colt has a gutsy attitude, the kind of heart that can’t be taught. He just wants it more.
“When you put him in company, he’s a different horse. He always wants to win. Even just galloping, he has to have his head in front. By himself, it’s like a walk in the park for him. When he has a little company, he grows 10 feet tall.”
Entered in Fasig-Tipton’s Gulfstream Sale of two-year-olds in training, the colt blitzed one furlong in :10 1/5 at the under tack show. He wasn’t done yet, since he then tacked on a monster gallop-out.
“He went out as fast as any horse went at the sale,” De Renzo noted. “He has that big kick…a lot of oxygen.
“He hits a whole ‘nother gear, and takes a breath, and keeps going.”
Accordingly, the juvenile drew plenty of interest, and found himself led out of his stall repeatedly for would-be buyers to examine. But just as he did on the farm in Ohio, he knew how to manage himself amid frenetic activity. This time, he’d just put his head down, use his hay bag as a pillow, close his eyes, and take cat-naps.
Gunny was one of the last horses to go under the hammer, as Hip No. 181, and fireworks ensued. Gary Young, as agent for Amr Zedan’s Zedan Racing Stables, ultimately prevailed in the bidding war – to the tune of $1.7 million, the second-highest price of the sale.
Young, a clocker as well as bloodstock agent, had bought other high-profile runners for Zedan, from future Grade 1 winner Princess Noor (for $1.35 million) to ill-fated Medina Spirit (for $35,000), the first-past-the-post before disqualification in the 2021 Kentucky Derby.
Like them, the new recruit was to be trained by Bob Baffert, who was so enthused that he uncharacteristically high-tailed it back to the Gulfstream barn with Zedan, just to hang out with their big buy. And Baffert called his wife, Jill, to share the news that they just got an “amazing colt.”
“If everything went well, he was a freak,” was how De Renzo summed up connections’ thoughts at the Gulfstream Sale.
Also like Medina Spirit, the juvenile would be given a name redolent of Zedan’s Saudi homeland – Taiba. Zedan remained bullish on his Derby prospects, despite the fact that the colt still hadn’t made it to the races, not only as a two-year-old, but through the first two months of his sophomore season.
Even Justify, who rewrote the record book by winning the 2018 Triple Crown after going unraced at two, debuted on Feb. 18. That gave him just enough time to win a two-turn allowance as his stepping stone to the Santa Anita Derby (G1).
Taiba didn’t have that luxury. Unveiled in a six-furlong maiden at Santa Anita on March 5, he was expected to win as the 1-2 favorite. Fans might have felt a bit concerned, though, as he had a battle on his hands through the early going, and rounding the far turn, he was being asked to find more. But just as he did during his Florida training days, Taiba got his second wind. He repelled every challenge and drew off by an imperious 7 1/2 lengths.;
Zedan’s brain trust, including Young, advised him to wait for the April 16 Lexington (G3) at Keeneland as a suitable spot to stretch out and race against winners for the first time. Zedan overruled them, intent on pursuing the Santa Anita Derby as his only realistic chance of making it to the Run for the Roses. By that point, Taiba was transferred from Baffert, who had been suspended, to trainer Tim Yakteen. Now he would be eligible to score Derby points.
The Santa Anita gambit appeared like one of those owners’ calls that are too ambitious to pan out. In Taiba’s case, however, the owner’s faith was vindicated.
Working out an ideal stalking trip with Hall of Famer Mike Smith, Taiba once again saved his best for last. His dam, Needmore Flattery, used to pack a late punch herself. Taiba swept past his accomplished stablemate Messier to win going away by 2 1/4 lengths. Not only did he handle the abrupt climb to a 1 1/8-mile Grade 1, but he posted a gaudy 111 Brisnet Speed rating – the joint-highest in the Kentucky Derby field.
“A pretty mind-blowing performance,” was how Young described the Santa Anita Derby on Steve Byk’s “At the Races” radio program.
If Taiba can make history on the first Saturday in May, celebrations will ring from the Ohio Valley out across the Atlantic. For Needmore Flattery was subsequently exported to Europe.
Offered back in foal to Uncle Mo at the 2019 Keeneland November Sale, she was sold for $195,000 to Yeguada Centurion, the nom de course of Leopoldo Fernandez Pujals. Her Uncle Mo foal, now a two-year-old filly, was born in Ireland. According to France Galop, Needmore Flattery last year produced a colt by Waldgeist, who famously denied Enable’s three-peat in the 2019 Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (G1).
Needmore Flattery’s heart and determination have carried her a long way from her Ohio roots. Maybe the same qualities can carry Taiba a long way into the Derby record book.
Foal photos courtesy of Bruce and Mary Ryan
Yearling photo by Matt Goins
Two-year-old photo courtesy of Dean De Renzo