McKinzie’s run in the final furlong of the Grade 3, $100,000 Sham Stakes on Jan. 6 at Santa Anita Park looked more like a typical workout for trainer Bob Baffert than any kind of arduous test on the early Triple Crown trail.
Following a smooth, thee-wide move to take the lead on the final turn of the one-mile race on the main track, the Street Sense colt simply got a couple taps on the shoulder from jockey Mike Smith just to make sure he finished, and cruised to the wire for a 3 1/2-length victory for owners Karl Watson, Mike Pegram, and Paul Weitman.
“I smooched him just to keep him interested, but going past the wire he was well within himself and galloped out nicely,” Smith said.
With blinkers off for the first time Saturday, McKinzie broke best from post-position 5 in the Sham but settled almost immediately settled behind and to the outside of early leaders All Out Blitz and Shivermetimbers. All Out Blitz opened up an easy lead on the backstretch while My Boy Jack struggled to relax on the inside in third, as McKinzie dropped back into fourth.
“He was a bit too aggressive last time [in the Grade 1 Los Alamitos CashCall Futurity]," Smith said. “Today, he seemed to relax early, then jumped when I asked. So, taking the blinkers off today, I thought we might as well try it, and I think it was a great move.”
McKinzie began to make his move entering the final turn and easily put away Shivermetimbers and My Boy Jack soon after. All Out Blitz didn’t give in so easy after he set quarter-mile fractions of :23.69, :47.73, and 1:12.17 through six furlongs, but the game effort was not enough to hold off his classy, undefeated rival. Kaleem Shah’s All Out Blitz, in his first start around two turns, finished second, four lengths ahead of My Boy Jack.
“It was his first time going long today and we got beat by a racehorse,” said All Out Blitz’s jockey, Tyler Baze. “I ran second to the winner on another horse here in October and I knew then he was a really talented colt. My horse is going to improve. He’ll relax better next time, and I think he’s gonna be a real nice horse."
McKinzie, who was elevated to victory via a stewards disqualification of his stablemate Solomini in the Los Alamitos Futurity, finished off the mile in 1:36.58.
“He just broke, got into good position, [and] didn’t get rank with the blinkers off,” Baffert said. “He was good, and when horses come to him, he really gets into the bridle. He got a lot out of this. Last time [in the grade 1 Los Alamitos CashCall Futurity], he got a little tired at the end. It goes to show you the Los Alamitos Futurity was a good race. They were good horses.
“He came back to run like we hoped. I was happy. Everything went smooth. That’s what you want.”
Baffert indicated after the race that the Grade 2 San Felipe Stakes on March 10 at Santa Anita could be next for McKinzie, who has emerged as a top contender for the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve.
“I can’t say I was surprised, because we all [had] a lot of anticipation [and] expectations for today,” Watson said. “Bobby likes the horse and he’s a good horse, so we’re hopeful and we’re very pleased.
“I’ll leave it up to the chef to decide what’s next.”
Shivermetimbers finished a neck behind My Boy Jack, who was followed by City Plan, and Here Is Happy, to complete the order of finish.
McKinzie was bred in Kentucky by Summer Wind Farm out of the Petionville mare Runway Model. He is undefeated in three starts with $270,000 in earnings. McKinzie was a $170,000 purchase at the Keeneland September yearling sale in 2016.