September 26, 2023

McKinzie wins Pennsylvania Derby in comeback

McKinzie with Mike Smith riding, wins the Pennsylvania Derby (G1) at Parx Racing on September 22, 2018 (c) Joe Labozzetta/EQUI-PHOTO

by Teresa Genaro

A $1 million, Grade 1 race might be a lofty spot for a horse making a first start off a six-month layoff, but McKinzie shrugged off the rust as easily as he did his eight rivals in the Pennsylvania Derby, winning by 1 3/4 lengths as the narrow 2-1 favorite.

Earlier considered one of the favorites for this year’s Kentucky Derby (G1), McKinzie was sidelined by injury after hitting the wire first, then being placed second via disqualification, in the San Felipe (G2) at Santa Anita Park in March. He had won his previous three starts, one by disqualification, and his pedigree, connections and performance shot him to the top of a number of Kentucky Derby lists.

In the Pennsylvania Derby, he raced out in the middle of the track under jockey Mike Smith around the first turn. All of the jockeys avoided a rail that had been dead all day, with 81-1 longshot Trigger Warning claiming the lead under Irwin Rosendo. McKinzie didn’t let him get too far away, staying with him through early fractions of :23.31 and :48.91, kept company by Bravazo and Mr Freeze.

Those two dropped back, and McKinzie easily took the lead heading into the far turn, opening up at the eighth-pole and hitting the wire unchallenged, his comeback complete in his first start back.

“We were expecting a good performance because Bobby told us he was training well,” said co-owner Paul Weitman, referring to trainer Bob Baffert. “But you never know. There were a lot of good horses in this race.”

Weitman owns McKinzie in partnership with Michael Pegram and Karl Watson. The trio purchased him as a yearling at Keeneland in the name of Three Amigos, paying $170,000 for the son of Street Sense. He’s out of the Petionville mare Runway Model and was bred in Kentucky by Summer Wind Farm.

In 2004, his dam won the Alcibiades Stakes (G2) and Golden Rod Stakes (G2), and was third in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (G1).

“It’s good to have him back,” Watson said. “He was our (Kentucky) Derby horse.”

A bit ruefully, he added, “We finally got to the Derby.”

Acknowledging that seeing his horse do so well was bittersweet, given the time he had to miss, Weitman was non-committal about a start in the Breeders’ Cup.

“We don’t know,” he said. “It depends on how he’s doing. It’s tougher when you go against older horses. Bob will take good care of him. He’ll do the right thing.”

He did say that there’s a “good chance” McKinzie will race as a four-year-old.

“He’s better” now than he was in the spring, said Smith. “He’s bigger, he’s stronger. He’s huge.”

The trip to Parx Racing was the first for Weitman and Watson, the latter of whom is enthusiastic about returning.

“I want to come back,” he said. “We flew in yesterday late, we had dinner, we looked out over the city, and then we got us a Grade 1.”