April 22, 2024

McKinzie back in business in Triple Bend

McKinzie and jockey Mike Smith win the Triple Bend at Santa Anita © BENOIT PHOTO

After turning the Santa Anita Derby (G1)/Oaks (G2) double on Saturday, Hall of Fame rider Mike Smith completed a weekend triple, fittingly enough in the $200,000 Triple Bend (G2), aboard McKinzie.

By far the class of the short field in Santa Anita’s Sunday feature, the 1-2 favorite was rebounding from an uncharacteristically poor display in the Feb. 29 Saudi Cup. McKinzie wasn’t as flashy as in his prior 7-furlong recovery mission in the 2018 Malibu (G1), but a measured performance met the objective.

Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert was using the Triple Bend as a tightener for the July 4 Metropolitan H. (G1) at Belmont Park. Going overboard in the Triple Bend might have been counterproductive, and definitely unnecessary.

Smith, who had lost the mount on McKinzie after his loss in the Sept. 28 Awesome Again (G1), was flawless as they renewed their old rapport here. Under confident handling, McKinzie broke from the outside post 5 and bided his time in the early stages.

Stablemate Ax Man led the way through a surprisingly tepid opening quarter in :23.59. Fashionably Fast wasn’t interested in ratcheting up the pressure until after the half in :46.13, when challenging on the far turn.

McKinzie, who had been creeping forward steadily, moved along with Fashionably Fast, and the duo left a tiring Ax Man behind down the lane. Cal-bred Fashionably Fast tried his utmost to make a race of it, but the favorite was firmly in control. Just kept to task with a hand ride, McKinzie edged away by 1 1/2 lengths while clocking 1:22.56.

Third-placer Dark Vader stayed on well in a pleasing comeback, only a neck off the game Fashionably Fast. Flagstaff faded to fourth after a middle move on the rail, and Ax Man dropped back to last of the quintet.

Campaigned by Karl Watson, Mike Pegram, and Paul Watson, McKinzie has bankrolled $3,438,560 from his 16-8-6-0 record.

“This was a perfect out for him,” Baffert told track publicity by phone. “He had a cozy post and he showed his class.

“It was workmanlike and this’ll really move him up for next time. Yes, this was a prep for the Met Mile.

“We’re happy he’s back after that fiasco (in the Saudi Cup). He’s been looking really good training and in all of his works. It’s great to have him back.”

Smith gave insights into McKinzie’s character.

“The wonderful thing about McKinzie is he had me in the game early and I mean he was ready to pounce at all times,” Smith said. “He is not only extremely talented, he’s a thinker too and I just love riding him…He will be a different horse, sometimes he’ll be close to the lead, next time he may be way back, so you’re always trying to figure him out…

“He’s one of those throwback champions. They could run five-eighths of a mile or a mile and a quarter. He just seems to be able to do it all. It is just amazing some horses can do something like that.”

On the Kentucky Derby (G1) trail early in his career, the son of 2007 Derby champ Street Sense was awarded the 2017 Los Alamitos Futurity (G1) via disqualification, won the 2018 Sham (G3) outright, but lost his hard-fought San Felipe (G2) in the stewards’ room. McKinzie ended up being sidelined through the Triple Crown.

A triumphant return in the 2018 Pennsylvania Derby (G1) suggested he could compete in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1), where he disappointed in a rare clunker. The cutback to 7 furlongs in the aforementioned Malibu got him back in business.

McKinzie won just twice in 2019, but the Whitney (G1) gave him the prestige of a Saratoga feature, and the Alysheba (G2) was an impressive conquest of Tom’s d’Etat at Churchill Downs. Otherwise he endured seconditis last season in the Breeders’ Cup Classic and Santa Anita H. (G1), their respective preps in the Awesome Again and San Pasqual (G2), and the Met Mile, in a troubled trip that did him no favors trying to catch champion sprinter Mitole.

While McKinzie won’t have to deal with Mitole, now a Spendthrift stallion, he might have to deal with Saturday’s smashing winners Vekoma or Code of Honor at Belmont Park. If so, the 2020 edition of the Met Mile promises to start the July 4 fireworks early.