For Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert, McKinzie's victory in Saturday's Grade 1 Whitney was especially satisfying as it demonstrated the 4-year-old's full potential and also served as a tribute to his friend, the late racing executive Brad McKinzie.
“He got a proper Grade 1 race, as they say in England,” said Baffert. “The plan was to get the Met Mile, and maybe this. At least we got one of them. He showed us what he could do. [Jockey] Mike Smith rode him with a lot of confidence. He's got him figured out now.”
McKinzie won the Grade 1 Los Alamitos Cash Call Futurity and Grade 3 Sham early in his career but missed the Triple Crown series with a hind-leg injury. After making his return, the colt captured the Grade 1 Pennsylvania Derby, Grade 1 Malibu, and Grade 2 Alysheba, but for Baffert those victories do not compare to what he accomplished yesterday in the Whitney. It was Baffert's first Whitney win in two tries, having sent out Sarava to a fourth-place finish in 2004.
In the Grade 1 Runhappy Metropolitan Handicap, McKinzie finished three-quarters of a length behind Mitole in second following a troubled trip. His journey was less eventful in the Whitney, ceding the early lead to Preservationist, taking over at the top of the stretch, and spurting clear under mild urging.
“Mike realized you can just sit there and put him anywhere,” said Baffert. “He's got a kick. Usually, our horses, like Justify or [American] Pharoah, get out there and go. He's not that kind of horse. It's better when you don't have to worry about speed in the race. You can just place him. And he's quick enough to get out of trouble.”
Baffert and Pegram decided to name the colt McKinzie while attending the funeral for their friend Brad McKinzie, who had served in various capacities at Los Alamitos Race Course before his death in 2017 at age 62.
“We were sitting there and people were telling stories about Brad,” said Baffert. “Brad was a really funny guy. We were sitting there, they were telling stories. Mike Pegram, the owner with Karl Watson and Paul Weitman, said, 'You know what? We need to name a good horse after Brad.' I said, 'I think I've got one. I've got a Street Sense colt. I think he's pretty good. I've got good reports.'
“We didn't know if we were going to call him Big Brad or McKinzie. We thought 'McKinzie' has got a stronger name. I think Brad would have preferred 'McKinzie.' I actually think he got a little bit faster once we named him.”
Baffert said he wants to give McKinzie one more start before the Breeders' Cup in November at Santa Anita, but has yet to decide on a race.
“I would like to get maybe one run,” said Baffert. “I don't know where. [The Breeders' Cup] is a long ways off. I think I would run him one time.”
Baffert confirmed that 2018 Champion Two-Year-Old Male Game Winner, winner of the Grade 3 Los Alamitos Derby in his most recent start, remains on target for the Grade 1 Runhappy Travers on August 24.
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