Trainer Bob Baffert has liked McKinzie from the start, but a hind ankle injury forced the 3-year-old son of Street Sense to miss out on this year's Triple Crown challenge. Baffert, of course, sent out Justify for his history-making run, but now that the Triple Crown winner has been retired McKinzie stepped up to fill to void with a big two-length win over Axelrod in Saturday's Grade 1 Pennsylvania Derby. The colt, owned by Karl Watson, Mike Pegram, and Paul Weitman, covered nine furlongs over Parx's fast main track in 1:52 flat despite a six-month break away from the races. Mike Smith rode 2-1 favorite McKinzie to victory, becoming the first jockey to sweep the Cotillion-Penn. Derby double (Smith won the Cotillion, one race earlier, via disqualification on Midnight Bisou).
“If anything can be taken away from (the) sting (of) a Triple Crown horse retiring, (it) is a horse like this,” Smith said. “He is an incredible horse. Really, really proud of him. Bob (trainer Bob Baffert) had him ready. To come off the bench at a mile and an eighth, Bob is just a tremendous trainer and to get him ready. I felt very confident that I could be aggressive early and move a little early because I knew I had Bob ready.”
Baffert won the 2017 Pennsylvania Derby with champion West Coast, and he saddled the winner of the 2014 edition in Bayern.
With an even break for the 10-horse field, Smith had to hustle McKinzie early to keep clear of traffic heading into the first turn. Eventually Trigger Warning stepped out to lead the field, keeping well off the inside rail with a one-length advantage over Bravazo. McKinzie angled to the outside in third, earning a spot in the clear down the backstretch.
Trigger Warning set mild fractions of 23 4/5 seconds and 48 4/5 seconds, and Smith allowed McKinzie to creep up on the outside, drawing nearly even with the leader by the half-mile pole. Axelrod, meanwhile, was between horses in some traffic just behind the leaders.
Rounding the far turn, Smith gave McKinzie his cue and the colt responded with a strong surge to take command. He was never seriously threatened down the stretch, crossing the wire a dialed down two lengths ahead of Axelrod. Trigger Warning fought on to finish third, just ahead of the late-running Hofburg.
Bred in Kentucky by Summer Wind Farm, McKinzie was a $170,000 yearling purchase at the Keeneland September sale. Baffert helped to name the colt for the late Brad McKinzie, a long-time racing executive, and the colt realized that ambitious name with a precocious win in the G1 Los Alamitos Futurity in just his second career start. He crossed the wire first in the G2 San Felipe Stakes, but was disqualified for interfering with Bolt d'Oro in the stretch and later was found to have that hind ankle injury. The Pennsylvania Derby win improves McKinzie's record to four wins and a second from five starts, and earnings of $950,000.
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