Karl Watson, Mike Pegram and Paul Weitman's McKinzie has taken over the Classic division with a decisive win in Saturday's Grade 1 Whitney Stakes, earning an expenses-paid berth to the Breeders' Cup feature race in the process. The 4-year-old son of Street Sense battled for the lead but was able to settle just off the front-running Preservationist for Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith, then found himself in a four-way fight to the finish at the top of the lane. The Bob Baffert trainee kicked away in the final furlong, holding off the challenge of last year's Woodward winner Yoshida by 1 3/4 lengths on the wire. Sent to post as the 4-5 favorite, McKinzie completed nine furlongs over Saratoga's fast main track in 1:47.10.
“This win is very emotional for me,” Baffert said. “I was telling John [Hendrickson, husband of the late Marylou Whitney] this horse was named after a close friend of ours [Brad McKinzie] that passed away a few years ago. I got very emotional after he won. I was hoping that when I was thinking about running here, I'd never won this race and wanted to see her here so it's kind of sad. It's a great honor to win the Whitney. I've never won the Whitney, so this is a huge moment for me.”
Monongahela was the quickest off the blocks in the Whitney, but McKinzie was ready to roll and pushed for the lead as well. From the far outside post in the seven-horse field, Preservationist was hung four-wide in the clubhouse turn in about fourth position but Junior Alvarado sent him forward to challenge McKinzie before straightening into the backstretch. The first quarter was a sharp :23.77 as the trio wrestled for the lead.
Preservationist was determined and grabbed a one-length advantage over McKinzie, but Smith seemed unfazed and simply angled his mount off the rail to track the pace from second position. Vino Rosso traveled about three lengths behind him in third, alongside Monongahela, while Yoshida followed that pair.
McKinzie re-joined Preservationist in the far turn just as Vino Rosso and Yoshida were also trying to make their moves, and Monongahela poked his head into position along the rail. Preservationist, McKinzie and a three-wide Vino Rosso were on even terms at the head of the lane, with Yoshida rallying into contention on their outside.
“[Yoshida] came at me with a big run and Joel [Rosario, aboard Yoshida] is such a great rider,” relayed Smith. “He's so sharp. He knows not to come right next to me because this horse will take off. So, he kind of fooled us a little and went away from us. I put the whip to my left hand and I cocked his head out and once he saw him, I didn't even have to use it.”
The race to the wire was on, and McKinzie was moving best of all in the final furlong. He and Smith hit the wire 1 3/4 lengths ahead of the hard-trying Yoshida, while Vino Rosso settled for third. Preservationist was hardly disgraced in fourth after his tiring trip.
Thunder Snow, the two-time Dubai World Cup winner, was scratched early Saturday morning with a fever.
Bred in Kentucky by Jane Lyon's Summer Wind Farm, McKinzie was a $170,000 yearling purchase at the Keeneland September sale. The colt won the G1 Los Alamitos Futurity as a juvenile, but missed the Derby in 2018 due to injury. Returning to the track in time for the Pennsylvania Derby, McKinzie ran well to win at Parx but faded to finish 12th in the Breeders' Cup Classic. He rebounded in December to win the G1 Malibu over seven furlongs, and has not finished worse than second in 2019 from five starts. Most recently he was second in the G1 Met Mile. Overall, McKinzie's record stands at 7-4-0 from 12 starts for earnings of over $2.2 million.
“I've always thought he's the best horse in the country,” said Baffert. “That's why I was little frustrated with the Met Mile. I think he's getting better and better and as long as he's getting better that's the main thing. I'm glad that he got the right trip and Mike [Smith, jockey] said he's got him figured out now. He rode him with a lot of confidence. He can be on or off the lead. When they came to him, I got a little bit nervous. I started thinking maybe he doesn't want to go that far, but he's always shown us in his works that he's got more gears. Joe Talamo, who works him, couldn't believe that he got beat last time, but right now we've got him figured out.”
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