McKinzie hadn’t raced in six months but Saturday afternoon at Parx Raceway near Philadelphia he established himself as one of the best 3-year-olds still racing by winning the $1-million Pennsylvania Derby.
The colt was at the top of trainer Bob Baffert’s barn until a late-developing horse named Justify came along. McKinzie got hurt and Justify went on to win the Triple Crown.
“Well, if anything can take away the sting of having a Triple Crown horse retiring, it’s a horse like this,” Mike Smith, who rode McKinzie on Saturday and was Justify’s regular rider, told NBC Sports. “He’s an incredible horse. Bob had him ready to come off the bench at a mile and an eighth.”
McKinzie broke alertly and stood off the pace set by Trigger Warning and Bravazo. On the backstretch, under slow fractions, McKinzie moved equal to Trigger Warning on the outside. By the time the horses hit the top of the stretch he was in front and was never contested and even pulled away as the finish line approached. The winning margin was two lengths.
McKinzie paid $6.00, $4.20 and $3.80. Axelrod finished second and Trigger Warning was third in the nine-horse field.
“He really responded,” Smith said. “He’s still learning although he’s raced a few times, but he had a lot of time off. He looked around and started gawking and looking at the track]. Today, I had his head really picked up but when I asked him to finish he really got underneath me and galloped out really well.”
McKinzie was headed to the Santa Anita Derby after the San Felipe at Santa Anita. He crossed the finish line first but was disqualified to second for interference. Shortly after that, an MRI scan showed some unusual patterns in one of his rear legs. Rather than wait until it got worse, Baffert pulled him from training and kept him in the barn with the idea that time would take care of the problems of this young colt.
There were a lot of questions on how good McKinzie would be since he was facing a strong field. He ran against Bravazo, second in the Preakness (who finished seventh), Hofburg, third in the Belmont Stakes (fourth) and Instilled Regard, fourth in the Kentucky Derby (ninth).
McKinzie could now be headed to the Breeders’ Cup, where he would be facing older horses. If he were in the Classic, he would face Accelerate, considered the best horse currently running. If he were in the Mile, he would go against Catalina Cruiser, a stablemate of Accelerate, whose potential has not yet been seen.
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