As the field of 14 stampeded around the turn for home in the Grade 1, $300,000 Malibu Stakes Dec. 26 at Santa Anita Park, one horse stood out.
Some were tiring and some were running well, but only one had that look – both cruising and moving fast at the same time.
At the top of the lane the picture became even clearer, as the silks of Karl Watson, Mike Pegram, and Paul Weitman burst to the front, and their colt McKinzie powered away from an overmatched field to win by 4 ¾ lengths under jockey Mike Smith.
The Bob Baffert-trained son of Street Sense never felt the crack of the whip, was unchallenged through the stretch, and finished off the seven-furlong distance in 1:22.48 for his third Grade 1 win. He entered the Malibu off of the worst performance of his career, when he finished 12th, beaten by 31 lengths, in the Breeders' Cup Classic on Nov. 3.
"After the Breeders' Cup he came back here and I told (Smith) he was doing really well, and Mike worked him a couple times for me," Baffert said. "Because after the Breeders' Cup, Mike was like, 'Is he okay? He just quit.' I told him, 'Don't worry about it. It was my fault.'"
Identity Politics closed from 11th to nab second in a blanket finish, a head in front of Still Having Fun. Another neck back was Axelrod, who edged Bobby's Wicked One for fourth.
Sent off at odds of 6-5, McKinzie stumbled slightly at the start but got out of the gate well enough, then settled near the back of the pack early, as Calexman went to the lead and set fractions of :22.30, and :44.92 through a half-mile. McKinzie moved up as he entered the turn without any asking from Smith and traveled four wide in the bend to set up his stretch run.
"This horse really has something in store," Smith said. "You're really better off running him like this, because you don't take too much out of yourself. Bob brought him back here, gave him a little break, and his energy came back up, and he was ready to run today. He was loaded from the word 'go.' I think the only anxious moment was leaving the gate, when he kind of stumbled, but after that he got up, and he was loaded from that point on."
McKinzie wrapped up an abbreviated 3-year-old season with three graded stakes wins – the Malibu, Pennsylvania Derby, and Sham Stakes – and was disqualified from a fourth victory, the San Felipe Stakes, for interference. He was taken off the Triple Crown trail in March after he sustained a hind-leg injury, then returned to racing seven months later in the Pennsylvania Derby.
McKinzie pushed his earnings past a $1 million with the Malibu victory, and his record sits at 5-1-0 from seven starts.