February 18, 2019

Justify may fill in for McKinzie in Santa Anita Derby; Bolt d’Oro works

Justify brings a lofty reputation to the Santa Anita Derby ©Benoit Photo

Top Kentucky Derby (G1) contenders Bolt d’Oro and McKinzie, who turned in an epic duel in the San Felipe (G2), won’t get a rematch in Saturday’s $1 million Santa Anita Derby (G1) after McKinzie was ruled out this weekend by a setback. As a result, McKinzie’s trainer Bob Baffert is entertaining the idea of switching unbeaten Justify to Santa Anita instead of his original plan of the Arkansas Derby (G1).

News of McKinzie’s status broke on Saturday in Dubai, where the Hall of Famer was on hand for West Coast’s runner-up effort in the World Cup (G1). Baffert told reporters on the scene, Daily Racing Form’s Marcus Hersh and Blood-Horse’s Jeremy Balan, that the colt came up with a hind leg issue after last Monday’s bullet move. The son of 2007 Kentucky Derby champion Street Sense drilled five-eighths in a bullet :59.40, but exited the work a bit off.

McKinzie underwent diagnostic tests that so far haven’t pinpointed the precise problem. Although the X-rays were negative, a nuclear scan indicated something potentially brewing high up on a hind leg. But in the meantime, he’s been sound at a jog, and Baffert prefers to be “very cautious” for the time being.

Stay tuned for what this could portend about his chances of making the Kentucky Derby. McKinzie has 40 points, sitting 13th on the leaderboard as of April 1, but the three major preps next Saturday will alter the picture.

In McKinzie’s absence, Justify, winner of his two starts at Santa Anita by a combined margin of 16 lengths, might now stay home to pursue the all-important Derby points. Both the Santa Anita Derby and Arkansas Derby offer the same points structure of 100-40-20-10 to the respective top four.

Seeking to defy the “Apollo curse” plaguing unraced two-year-olds who’ve tried the Kentucky Derby since Apollo in 1882, Justify is scheduled to work Monday. That move will help to finalize Baffert’s decision between making a stakes debut at Santa Anita on Saturday versus Oaklawn Park on April 14.

Meanwhile, Bolt d’Oro completed his serious Santa Anita Derby preparations on Easter Sunday. Under former jockey Agapito Delgadillo, the Mick Ruis colt negotiated five-eighths in 1:01.20 in company with Midnight Harbor (1:01.60).

“Good,” was how Ruis summed up the exercise to Santa Anita notes maven Ed Golden.

Private clocker Toby Turrell was more descriptive.

“He did everything he needed to do,” Turrell said. “He finished up real well and was under no real pressure at all. He was right on point.”

Ruis’ other Santa Anita Derby hopeful, Orbit Rain, covered the same ground in 1:01.80. The thrice-raced maiden had regular rider Brice Blanc aboard.

The Victor Garcia-trained Pepe Tono, a distant third in Justify’s two-turn allowance score March 11, clocked 1:01.20 ahead of a possible Santa Anita Derby bid.