Making his first start in the U.S. this season, McKinzie broke from the outside stall and remained widest of all when coming from off the pace to win Sunday’s US$200,000 Triple Bend Stakes (G-2) at Santa Anita Park.
Reunited with Hall of Famer Mike Smith, McKinzie stalked fractions of :23.59 and :46.13 set by Ax Man as the heavy 1-2 favourite in the seven-furlong Triple Bend. McKinzie ranged up to the leaders entering the stretch and then drew off in the final 200 yards to post an open-lengths victory.
California-bred Fashionably Fast, who entered with a six-race winning streak, put up a fight in the stretch but was only second best, while Dark Vader and Flagstaff completed the superfecta. McKinzie finished the trip in 1:22.56.
“The wonderful thing about McKinzie is he had me in the game early and I mean he was ready to pounce at all times,” said Smith, who had ridden him in all 13 of his career starts prior to getting bounced leading into last year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic at Santa Anita. “He is not only extremely talented, he’s a thinker too and I just love riding him…He will be a different horse, sometimes he’ll be close to the lead, next time he may be way back, so you’re always trying to figure him out.”
Owned by Karl Watson, Mike Pegram and Paul Weitman, McKinzie was making his first start since an uncharacteristically dull effort in the rich Saudi Cup in Riyadh when checking in 11th on Feb. 29. Runner-up to Vino Rosso in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic, the son of Street Sense improved to 3-for-3 at the seven-furlong trip.
“He’s one of those throwbacks, them champions that could go from five-eighths of a mile to a mile and a quarter,” Smith said. “He just seems to be able to do it all. It’s just amazing that a horse can do something like that.”
Trainer Bob Baffert indicated prior to the Triple Bend the July 4 Met Mile (G1) at Belmont Park would likely be next for McKinzie provided a good effort on Sunday.
“This was a perfect out for him,” Baffert said. “He had a cozy post and he showed his class. It was workmanlike and this’ll really move him up for next time. Yes, this was a prep for the Met Mile.
“We’re happy he’s back after that fiasco (in Saudi Arabia). He’s been looking really good training and in all of his works. It’s great to have him back.”