After passing on the $9 million Pegasus World Cup (G1) with an eye to the future, Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert unleashes multiple Grade 1 star McKinzie in Saturday’s $200,000 San Pasqual (G2) at Santa Anita. The 1 1/8-mile test serves as his launching pad to bigger targets, with the March 9 Santa Anita H. (G1) and March 30 Dubai World Cup (G1) options currently on the table.
McKinzie will face seven rivals, including Battle of Midway, and a rainy forecast portending an off track. That’s a new wrinkle for the 4-5 morning-line favorite, who has yet to race in these conditions, but brings big hopes into his four-year-old campaign.
The son of 2007 Kentucky Derby (G1) winner Street Sense was a leading player on the 2018 Triple Crown trail until derailed by injury, and stablemate Justify famously jumped up to fill the void. The roles were reversed in the second half of the season following Justify’s midsummer retirement.
McKinzie captured the Pennsylvania Derby (G1) in his first start back, flopped in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1), but rebounded with a sensational swoop from off the pace in the December 26 Malibu (G1). Hall of Fame pilot Mike Smith is back aboard as the 124-pound highweight stretches back out.
Battle of Midway, who scored his marquee victory in the 2017 Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (G1), returned from a subfertile stint at stud last season. The Jerry Hollendorfer pupil raced himself into form, romping third off the shelf in the Comma to the Top S. at a mile and showing unflinching resolve in the 1 1/8-mile Native Diver (G3).
Considering that he was all out to prevail over McKinzie’s stablemate, Dabster, that day, Battle of Midway presumably has to find more versus the favorite here. And Battle of Midway and Dabster ran similarly when they were second and third, respectively, to Gift Box in the December 26 San Antonio (G2). Regular rider Flavien Prat will guide Battle of Midway from the far outside post 8, next to McKinzie.
Dabster will break from post 3 with Joe Talamo, and the son of Curlin is eligible to do a bit better than his third in the 1 1/16-mile San Antonio. A track record-setter in the 1 1/4-mile Los Alamitos Special, Dabster was a fine second in the Marathon (G2) on Breeders’ Cup Friday before just getting outdueled in the Native Diver.
Pavel, hit-or-miss for Doug O’Neill, was a troubled fourth in this race last year on the way to a creditable fourth in the Dubai World Cup. Since his high-water mark in last summer’s Stephen Foster (G1), the gray was best of the rest behind Accelerate in the Pacific Classic (G1) but disappointing in the Breeders’ Cup Classic and Champions Cup in Japan.
Multiple Grade 2 winner Giant Expectations is another capable on his day, but unplaced in the past two runnings of the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile and a question at the trip. Grade 3 veteran Dalmore has regained some spark with a close second in the Richard W. Small and tough-trip third in the Sunshine Millions Classic. His former stablemate from the Keith Desormeaux barn, Sonneteer, can move forward off a comeback fifth in the San Antonio.
Like Baffert with McKinzie and Dabster, Hollendorfer is also double-handed, although his second-stringer, Shivermetimbers, has less to recommend him. No match for McKinzie when fourth in the Sham (G3) a year ago, he has hit the board just once in four stakes tries, a distant third in the Shared Belief at Del Mar. Now he goes turf-to-dirt after a sixth in the Mathis Brothers Mile (G2).