October 3, 2023

McKinzie favored against stellar cast in Whitney

McKinzie and jockey Mike Smith win the Malibu Stakes (G1) on December 26, 2018, at Santa Anita Park © BENOIT PHOTO

A leader among the country’s leading older dirt horses could belatedly emerge Saturday in the $1 million Whitney (G1) at Saratoga, a “Win & You’re In” Breeders’ Cup Challenge prep for the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1).

McKinzie may have lost three of his four starts this term heading into the 1 1/8-mile Whitney, but was installed the 7-5 morning line favorite when post positions were drawn early Tuesday evening. The Bob Baffert trainee has only a victory in the Alysheba (G2) to show for his efforts so far, but narrow losses in the San Pasqual (G2), Santa Anita H. (G1), and Metropolitan H. (G1) mark him as the most consistent of the Whitney entrants.

“We’re excited and really looking forward to running in this race,” Baffert said. “He’s trained forwardly since the Met Mile and he’s come out of that race really well. It’s unfortunate we didn’t get the trip we really wanted there, but now going a mile and eighth hopefully will give him a little more time to work out a better trip.”

Dual Dubai World Cup (G1) winner Thunder Snow finished third in the Met Mile over a distance arguably shorter than his best. The Godolphin-owned horse is still in search of his first North American victory after placing in the Jockey Club Gold Cup (G1) and Breeders’ Cup Classic last fall.

Vino Rosso enters off a victory in the Gold Cup at Santa Anita (G1) over Gift Box, who had previously defeated McKinzie in the Big ‘Cap, while Preservationist comes in off an impressive stakes debut score in the 1 1/4-mile Suburban (G2) at Belmont Park.

Yoshida captured the track-and-distance Woodward (G1) last fall, but has not placed in four subusequent outings. He’s occupied sixth place in the Pegasus World Cup (G1), Dubai World Cup, and Stephen Foster (G2) this season.

Longshots Monongahela, Forewarned, and Imperative complete the eight-horse lineup.