July 8, 2020

McKinzie shortens up in Triple Bend

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

The last time McKinzie reverted to 7 furlongs after flopping in a major event, he rolled to one of his more impressive victories in the 2018 Malibu (G1) at Santa Anita. Bob Baffert takes the same page from the playbook for Sunday’s $200,000 Triple Bend (G2) over the Malibu track and trip.

McKinzie was last seen disappointing behind champions Maximum Security and Midnight Bisou in the $20 million Saudi Cup Feb. 29. His remote 11th-place finish was the second-worst of his career, eclipsed by his 12th in the 2018 Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1). McKinzie rebounded from that debacle in the Malibu.

In a thoroughly consistent 2019 campaign, McKinzie won the Whitney (G1) and Alysheba (G2) and completed the exacta in his other five starts. He arguably would have gone closer to Mitole in the Metropolitan H. (G1) but for a troubled trip, lost duels in the Santa Anita H. (G1) and San Pasqual (G2), and settled for second in the Awesome Again (G1) and Breeders’ Cup Classic.

That McKinzie was nowhere to be found in Saudi, where he ran without Lasix. The $3.3 million-earner looks to turn the page in the Triple Bend. Hall of Famer Mike Smith regains the mount for the first time since the Awesome Again, and the son of Street Sense projects a stalking trip from the outside post 5.

Stablemate Ax Man figures to show speed from post 2 with Abel Cedillo. A half-brother to champion Indian Blessing, and by fellow Baffert alum Misremembered, Ax Man comes off a mile allowance score May 16.

The John Sadler-trained Flagstaff, like McKinzie, brings a 2-for-2 record at the distance. In both the March 7 San Carlos (G2) and last fall’s Damascus, Flagstaff bested Baffert’s Roadster. The Speightstown gelding was most recently a hard-charging second in the Count Fleet H. (G3) at Oaklawn Park, where missing the break might have made the difference. Flagstaff, a half-brother to yet another Baffert in Game Winner, now rejoins Hall of Fame rider Victor Espinoza on the rail.

Cal-bred Fashionably Fast has compiled a six-race winning streak, the last four in restricted stakes company. The Dean Pederson trainee keeps Tiago Pereira aboard and promises to mix it up early.

Dark Vader, beaten just a neck in last summer’s Prairie Meadows Cornhusker (G3), returns from an 11-month layoff. The Peter Eurton trainee has yet to race at less than a mile, but his near-miss third in the 2018 Easy Goer around one turn at Belmont Park implies that this scenario could suit. Note that Flavien Prat was in the saddle that day, and reunites with him here.