McKinzie Shows Improvement in the Sham Stakes

Profile Picture: J. Keeler Johnson

January 7th, 2018

In a move that caught everyone by surprise, trainer Bob Baffert elected to run his Grade 1 winner McKinzie in the $100,000 Sham Stakes (gr. III) at Santa Anita on January 6th, the first Kentucky Derby prep race of 2018.

The move was unexpected since McKinzie had won the Los Alamitos Futurity (gr. I) just four weeks earlier, and Baffert tends to give his Futurity winners more of a winter break before returning them to the races. But with the benefit of hindsight, it appears that Baffert’s surprise decision was the right one, as McKinzie delivered a sharp run in the Sham that should set him up well for a very productive Derby prep season.

With Mike Smith in the saddle, McKinzie actually broke quickest of all in a field of six and appeared poised to go to the lead, but the strategy for the Sham was to take McKinzie off the pace and let him settle before making his run, so Smith let a few other horses go on and positioned McKinzie in fourth place, just 1 ½ lengths off the lead while racing wide. Unlike in his first two starts, McKinzie was racing without blinkers, and the equipment change seemed to make a difference as McKinzie relaxed nicely until the far turn, when Smith asked the colt to advance.

The front-running All Out Blitz had something left in the tank after setting modest fractions of :23.69 and :47.73 and tried to make a race of it, but once McKinzie got going the race was over. The Baffert runner took command turning for home and threw down a seventh furlong in about :12 flat before cruising through the final furlong in :12.36 while under a light hand ride, reaching the wire 3 ½ lengths in front of All Out Blitz while stopping the clock in 1:36.58. His final time was good for a 104 BRIS speed figure, his third triple-digit number from three starts, and the victory gave him another 10 Kentucky Derby qualification points, bringing his total to 20.

All Out Blitz finished four lengths clear of My Boy Jack, who squeezed past the well-regarded Shivermetimbers to grab third place. But all eyes were on McKinzie, whose powerful finish was a noteworthy improvement from the Los Alamitos Futurity, in which he moved too soon and got leg-weary while making his debut around two turns.

Following the race, Baffert told Santa Anita publicity that McKinzie would likely run twice more before the Kentucky Derby, and with the benefit of a solid run in the Sham, his next race could be the San Felipe Stakes (gr. II) on March 10th.

If you liked McKinzie coming into the Sham Stakes, you have to be pleased with how he performed on Saturday.