McKinzie returns in just under a month from his last start for Saturday's Grade III Sham Stakes for three-year-olds at one mile, an uncharacteristically short interval for a Bob Baffert Triple Crown prospect, but the Hall of Fame trainer has an agenda in mind he hopes will lead to the $1 million Santa Anita Derby on April 7 and beyond that, the Kentucky Derby on May 5.
Named for Baffert's close friend and late long-time Los Alamitos executive Brad McKinzie, the son of 2007 Kentucky Derby winner Street Sense was moved from second to first via disqualification of stablemate Solomini in the Grade I Los Alamitos Futurity Dec. 9, won his first start by 5 ½ lengths, and thus is unbeaten going into the 16th edition of the Sham, which Baffert has won four times, with Wild and Wise in 2001; Bob and John in 2006; Midnight Hawk in 2014; and Collected in 2016.
“He's doing very well,” Baffert said of McKinzie, owned by Karl Watson, Mike Pegram and Paul Weitman. “If I didn't run in the Sham, I'd have to wait until February. I'm running him long and taking the blinkers off . . . the next two preps after this will be for the real big money.”
The field for the Sham, named for the 1973 Santa Anita Derby winner: My Boy Jack, Kent Desormeaux, 12-1; Here Is Happy, Joe Talamo, 20-1; All Out Blitz, Tyler Baze, 10-1; Mourinho, Drayden Van Dyke, 4-1; Shivermetimbers, Flavien Prat, 7-2; McKinzie, Mike Smith, 3-5; and City Plan, Tyler Conner, 20-1.
The Sham trophy will be presented by all-time great Laffit Pincay, Jr., who rode the Pancho Martin-trained Sham to victory in the Santa Anita Derby and throughout the 1973 Triple Crown classics.
Eoin Harty, winner of the 2008 Sham Stakes with Colonel John, who would go on to capture the Santa Anita Derby, hopes City Plan follows in those footsteps in this year's Sham.
“It's a tough spot but he's coming into the race well,” said Harty, a former assistant to Bob Baffert. “You've got to find out what you have. You can't duck and dive forever.”
City Plan, like Baffert trainee McKinzie a son of Street Sense, pulled a 24-1 shocker winning the restricted Gold Rush Stakes at Golden Gate Fields on Dec. 2 after finishing nearly 27 lengths behind Bolt d'Oro in the Grade I FrontRunner at Santa Anita last Sept. 30.
City Plan is owned and was bred by Godolphin Racing, a finalist for an Eclipse Award in 2017. “I have a lot of horses back east for them and a pretty good number here,” said Harty, who also has Streetwithnoname, owned by his wife Kathleen, entered in Sunday's Grade II Santa Ynez Stakes at seven furlongs.
“She was a fast-closing third behind Steph Being Steph in the Golden Gate Debutante (Nov. 24),” Harty pointed out. “Both my horses are longshots, but they're not without a shot.”
Asked why My Boy Jack is running on dirt after five straight grass races, including victory in the restricted Zuma Beach Stakes, trainer Keith Desormeaux answered rhetorically, “Is the (Kentucky) Derby on turf or dirt? It's as simple as that.
“Hopefully, his class will come through on the new surface. He's doing great.”
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