The Ontario-bred 3-year-old MESSIER (Empire Maker – Checkered Past by Smart Strike) was passed in late stretch by his fancy stablemate TAIBA (Gun Runner-Needmore Flattery by Flatter) in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby, but trainer Tim Yakteen, subbing for Bob Baffert, is pumped about both colts in the Kentucky Derby (G1).

Taiba scored a miraculous win at 4-to-1 in the 1 1/8 mile Santa Anita Derby, earning a 102 Beyer Speed Figure from Daily Racing Form for a time of 1:48.46. It was the colt’s second career race, having won a six furlong maiden race on March 5 in 1:09.97 with a 103 Beyer Figure.

The colt was a $1.7 million purchase at the 2021 March Juvenile sale at Gulfstream Park by Amir Zedan, owner of the late Medina Spirit, who was recently disqualified from the 2021 Derby.

Despite just one sprint maiden race, Taiba sat third behind hot favourites Forbidden Kingdom and Messier and then pounced on a clear Messier in the stretch run.

Messier, bred by Sam-Son Farms and owned a large group of owners from the US, was making his first start since he won the Robert Lewis Stakes on Feb. 6 by 15 lengths.

“Messier is on target. He’ll move up from yesterday’s race since he had quite a bit of time between starts (two months from his 15-length win in the Robert B. Lewis Stakes on Feb. 6).

“This sets him up perfect for the Derby, and if you look back in history, there were many second-place finishers that ended up winning the Kentucky Derby (the Zedan-owned Medina Spirit, Authentic and Real Quiet come to mind).

“Messier ran huge and he’ll be able to benefit with this race underneath him.”

Messier is also the early favourite for the Queen’s Plate at Woodbine on the Tapeta surface on August 21.