McKinzie bounced back in a big way from a disappointing effort in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) by routing 13 rivals in the $303,105 Malibu (G1) on Wednesday, opening day of the 2018-19 winter/spring meet at Santa Anita.
Under Mike Smith, the 6-5 favorite raced outside down the backside, improved position when four wide on the turn, took aim at long-time leader and 99-1 chance Calexman at the eighth pole, and drew away to win by 4 3/4 lengths.
“He was loaded from the word ‘go’,” Smith sad. “I think the only anxious moment was leaving the gate when he kind of stumbled but after that he got up and he was loaded from that point on.”
Owned by Mike Pegram, Karl Watson, and Paul Weitman, the Bob Baffert-trained McKinzie paid $4.40 after completing seven furlongs on a fast track in 1:22.48.
There was a blanket finish for second, with Identity Politics edging Still Having Fun by a head. It was a neck back to Axelrod, who had a head on on Bobby’s Wicked One for fourth. The order of finish was completed by Calexman, Nero, Kanthaka, Solomini, Majestic Dunhill, Copper Bullet, Ax Man, Greyvitos, and Seven Trumpets.
This was the third top-level win for McKinzie, who was elevated to first in the 2017 Los Alamitos Futurity (G1) and captured the Pennsylvania Derby (G1) in September prior to his 12th in the Breeders’ Cup Classic.
“After the Breeders’ Cup he came back here and I told Mike he was doing really well and Mike worked him a couple times for me,” Baffert said. “Because after the Breeders’ Cup Mike was like, ‘is he okay? He just quit.’ And I told him, ‘Don’t worry about it, it was my fault.'”
McKinzie was sidelined prior to the Triple Crown after capturing the Sham (G3) and a demotion from first to second in the San Felipe (G2). He’s bankrolled $1,086,000 from a record of 7-5-1-0.
Bred in Kentucky by Summer Wind Farm, McKinzie was a $170,000 Keeneland September yearling. He’s by Street Sense and out of the multiple Grade 2-winning Petionville mare Runway Model.
A newcomer to the Southern California circuit, Gift Box made an auspicious impression in his first spin around Santa Anita with a mild upset of the $301,380 San Antonio (G2).
Privately acquired by Kosta Hronis and trainer John Sadler earlier in the year, the gray son of Twirling Candy made a three wide bid turning for home, edged ahead of the dueling pair of Battle of Midway and Dabster in upper stretch, and held on by a half-length in the 1 1/16-mile test.
Ridden by Joel Rosario, Gift Box returned $15 after covering the distance in 1:43.88. Battle of Midway, the 3-2 favorite, fended Dabster for second by three parts of a length.
Previously campaigned by Will Farish and trained by Chad Brown, Gift Box was last seen dominating second-level allowances rivals at Aqueduct on March 24, that after finishing second four straight times. In four prior stakes attempts, his best finishes were a second in the 2016 Curlin at Saratoga and a third in the 2015 Remsen (G2) at Aqueduct.
“I was following him before the sale happened,” Sadler said. “He went back to the farm and the previous owners indicated that they’d like to move him along so I went back there before the September yearling sale and took a look at him, and liked him.
“He had some interesting races back east, some highly rated allowance races. He was fourth to Arrogate in the Travers (G1), and he was second in another stakes race at Saratoga, so there are a lot of nice running lines in there.
“Hopefully this horse will be in the handicap division this year and we’re not opposed to going to Dubai with him.”
Hronis indicated he would not send Gift Box to the Pegasus World Cup (G1), leaving that prize to stable star and presumptive champion older male Accelerate.
“He won’t run in the Pegasus. He’ll stay here and run in the Santa Anita stakes races” Hronis said. “We’ll let Accelerate do his thing at the Pegasus all by himself.”
Bred in Kentucky by Machmer Hall, Carrie Brogden, and Craig Brogden, Gift Box was produced by Special Me, by Unbridled’s Song, making him a half-brother to multiple Grade 2 winner Stonetastic. Gift Box’s record now stands at 14-4-5-2, $544,160.
Attendance at Santa Anita on Wednesday was 41,323.