Keying Surprise Entrant McKinzie in the Sham Stakes

Profile Picture: J. Keeler Johnson

January 4th, 2018

Talk about a last-minute surprise! When entries were taken for Saturday’s $100,000 Sham Stakes (gr. III) at Santa Anita, a small but competitive field was expected for the one-mile Kentucky Derby prep race.

Then trainer Bob Baffert entered his up-and-coming Grade 1 winner #6 McKinzie and the complexion of the race changed entirely.

On paper, McKinzie looms as a standout in the Sham Stakes. The son of Street Sense won his debut going seven furlongs at Santa Anita by 5 ½ lengths, with his Sham rival #5 Shivermetimbers finishing third. Six weeks later, McKinzie made his stakes and two-turn debut in the 8.5-furlong Los Alamitos CashCall Futurity (gr. I), and despite enduring a tricky trip racing wide and making an early move to challenge for the lead, McKinzie ran well to cross the wire in second place, less than a length behind the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (gr. I) runner-up Solomini. McKinzie was subsequently placed first via disqualification.

Since that effort, Baffert has kept McKinzie active in the mornings, sending him out to post three sharp workouts, including five furlongs in :59 1/5 on December 27th. In that particular breeze, McKinzie worked well with the promising Ax Man, who came back to break his maiden impressively on January 1st at Santa Anita.

Notably, McKinzie will race without blinkers in the Sham, which could allow him to settle better and avoid making the same early move that he made in the Los Alamitos Futurity. The Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith retains the mount, and I’m expecting an improved run from McKinzie. Considering that he’s already posted a pair of 100 BRIS speed figures, that would make him tough to beat.

Baffert will also send out #4 Mourinho, runner-up behind future Remington Springboard Mile Stakes winner Greyvitos in the seven-furlong Bob Hope Stakes (gr. III) at Del Mar two months ago. Mourinho has plenty of early speed and should be involved in the pace from the start, but also has the look of a quality sprinter and might find the distance of the Sham to be a bit beyond his best. I’m tempted to try to beat Mourinho out of the top two in the trifecta and superfecta with #5 Shivermetimbers, who beat the next-out maiden winner Peace while winning a one-mile maiden race Del Mar in November, and #3 All Out Blitz, a well-bred son of Smart Strike that broke his maiden going six furlongs in a fast time at Los Alamitos last month.

$6 trifecta: 6 with 3,5 with 3,5 ($12) $3 trifecta: 6 with 3,5 with 4 ($6) $3 trifecta: 6 with 4 with 3,5 ($6) $3 superfecta: 6 with 5 with 3,4 with 3,4 ($6) Total cost: $30

Good luck!