Making the Grade, which will run through the 2018 Belmont Stakes, focuses on the winners or top performers of the key races, usually from the previous weekend, who could impact the Triple Crown. We’ll be taking a close look at impressive winners and evaluating their chances to win classic races based upon ability, running style, connections (owner, trainer, jockey) and pedigree.
McKinzie won the Grade 1 Los Alamitos Cash Call Futurity via a controversial disqualification on Dec. 9. Rather than re-litigate here whether the DQ was justified or not, let’s look forward and evaluate McKinzie’s long-range prospects as a Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve hopeful.
Ability: Longtime friends and partners Karl Watson, Mike Pegram, and Paul Weitman purchased McKinzie for $170,000 at the 2016 Keeneland September yearling sale. The bay colt by 2007 Kentucky Derby winner Street Sense won his debut impressively on Oct. 28 at Santa Anita Park, where he rallied from just off the pace and powered to a dominant 5 ½-length win going seven-eighths of a mile.
The debut win earned an eye-opening 116 Equibase Speed Figure.
Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert next tested McKinzie in the Grade 1 Los Alamitos Cash Call Futurity. He rated in fourth early behind a moderate pace after being carried wide on the first turn in his first try racing around two turns. McKinzie took the lead entering the stretch after a nice move on the second turn and then engaged in a battle with Instilled Regard and Sentient Jet Breeders’ Cup Juvenile runner-up Solomini. In the final 50 yards, the more seasoned Solomini, who also ran second in the Grade 1 FrontRunner Stakes, edged past McKinzie, who battled gamely to the finish line.
Solomini, a stablemate of McKinzie also trained by Baffert, subsequently was disqualified and place third for interfering with Instilled Regard in deep stretch, elevating McKinzie to victory.
“[McKinzie] had a rough trip around the first turn and he got a little tired at the end.
It's a long stretch and he hooked up with [Instilled Regard] early,” Baffert told BloodHorse. “[Jockey Flavien] Prat rode a great race [on Solomini] just sitting behind them. Unfortunately, [Solomini] will lay on horses in the lane and you have to be careful with him.”
McKinzie earned a 106 Equibase Speed Figure for the Cash Call Futurity, a step back from his debut but still a nice effort in his first attempt in a graded stakes and stretching out in distance. With only two starts to his credit, McKinzie could very easily show improved stamina in his second try going around two turns with additional foundation. Despite the fact that he did not cross the finish line first, he fought bravely even though Baffert thought he got tired in deep stretch.
Running style: In both of his starts, McKinzie raced just off the pace (within a few lengths) and showed enough speed to stay close to the lead while also displaying the willingness to respond to his rider. He looks like the classic stalker type who might be able to race a little bit farther back should the pace be especially fast early.
Connections: Arizona businessmen Karl Watson, Mike Pegram, and Paul Weitman have been longtime partners in the Thoroughbred industry. Their first horse together was Eclipse Award-winning sprinter Midnight Lute, a two-time winner of the Breeders’ Cup Sprint (2007, 2008). The trio also won a pair of Breeders’ Cup races with Secret Circle, the 2010 Preakness Stakes with Lookin At Lucky, and races multiple Grade 1 winner Hoppertunity.
Pegram also raced Hall of Famer Silverbulletday, Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Real Quiet, and Dubai World Cup winner Captain Steve.
Trainer Bob Baffert is a four-time Eclipse Award winner who trained 2015 Triple Crown winner American Pharoah and was inducted into the Racing Hall of Fame in 2009. He has 12 victories in Triple Crown races: four Kentucky Derbys, six Preakness wins, and two Belmont Stakes victories. He has won the Breeders’ Cup Classic three times among 14 Breeders’ Cup victories and also won the Dubai World Cup three times.
All of the above horses mentioned owned by Mike Pegram, alone and with partners, were/are trained by Baffert.
Hall of Famer Mike Smith is a two-time Eclipse Award winner who was inducted into the Racing Hall of Fame in 2003. The all-time leader with 26 Breeders’ Cup wins, Smith has amassed more than 5,400 career victories and his mounts have earned more than $305 million. Smith’s lone Kentucky Derby win to date came in 2005 aboard Giacomo. He also won the Preakness in 1993 with Prairie Bayou and the Belmont Stakes twice (Drosselmeyer, 2010; Palace Malice, 2013).
Pedigree: McKinzie is from the seventh crop of Street Sense, who in 2007 became the first racehorse ever to pull off a Breeders’ Cup Juvenile-Kentucky Derby double. The 2006 champion 2-year-old male also won the 2007 Travers Stakes and finished in the top three in 12 of 13 races. In addition to several Group 1 winners in Australia, Street Sense is the sire of multiple Grade 1 winners Wedding Toast and Sweet Reason among 54 stakes winners through Dec. 11.
McKinzie’s dam (mother) is multiple Grade 2 winner Runway Model, by Petionville, whose graded stakes wins both came at 1 1/16 miles. She also finished third in the 2004 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies and second in the Grade 1 Ashland Stakes in 2005. Out of the multiple stakes winner Ticket to Houston, Runway Model is a half-sister (same dam, different sire) to multiple Grade 2-placed stakes winner Mambo Train.
After a dazzling debut and with a terrific two-turn pedigree, it’s easy to see why McKinzie was favored in his graded stakes debut over his more accomplished stablemate Solomini. Even though he did not cross the finish line first, McKinzie has a ton of room to improve under the guidance of his Hall of Fame connections and should be considered a serious player on the 2018 Triple Crown trail.