SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY – On a special day honoring one of the sport’s greatest humans, a special horse put forth a special performance in the biggest race when the magnificent McKinzie mastered Saturday’s $1 million Whitney Stakes (G1) at Saratoga.
The Whitney is a Breeders’ Cup “Win and You’re In” event, with McKinzie receiving an automatic berth in the Classic at Santa Anita Park this November.
Sent from gate 6 under Mike Smith as the 4/5 favorite in the field of seven, McKinzie wasn’t fast enough to hold the lead going into the clubhouse turn, as that honor went to the rail-breaking Imperative. The fight for first soon became a four-way scramble midway through the turn, and Preservationist emerged onto the backstretch leading McKinzie, with Monongahela and Imperative falling behind.
Preservationist tried to separate himself, posting fractions of 23.77 and :47.48 while Smith pulled McKinzie back slightly in order to angle to the leader’s outside. Heading into the far turn, McKinzie was almost 2 lengths behind while Vino Rosso, Monongahela, and the rallying Yoshida drew close. Near the corner’s exit, the field splayed out five across in front, with Monongahela on the rail, Preservationist sitting one lane off, followed by McKinzie, Vino Rosso, and Yoshida.
At the top of the stretch, McKinzie and Preservationist began to pull away, with the early pace-setter soon giving way. After a few taps in mid-stretch, Smith confidently piloted McKinzie through to the wire under a hand ride. The Bob Baffert trainee completed the 1 1/8-mile event over the fast main track in a final time of 1:47.10.
“That was incredible,” Smith said. “He ran big. There were some good horses in there, so he had to run, but he ran. That’s the important thing. He had to work at it, but he got away from them, and the best part of it was at the end of the race. That gives me confidence going a mile and 1/4 down the road. The break was huge. Today, he felt better than he ever had. I knew he was going to jump well today.”
Yoshida’s usual rally from the rear was not strong enough to catch the winner and he had to settle for second, beaten 1 3/4 lengths. Vino Rosso faded in the stretch but still finished third over a weakened Preservationist. Forewarned, Monongahela, and Imperative completed the order of finish. Two-time Dubai World Cup (G1) champion Thunder Snow was a day-of scratch after coming down with a fever.
McKinzie’s win, his second of the year following the Alysheba Stakes (G2), was his fourth at the Grade 1 level and improved his career record to 12-7-4-0. The 4-year-old son of Street Sense, whose lone off-the-board finish was a disappointing 12th in last fall’s Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1), has now earned $2,238,560 for co-owners Karl Watson, Mike Pegram, and Paul Weitman.
“This win is very emotional for me,” Baffert said. “I was telling John (Hendrickson, husband of the late Marylou Whitney, who passed recently and whose family name crests the race), this horse was named after a close friend of ours (Brad McKinzie) that passed away a few years ago. I got very emotional after he won. I was hoping that when I was thinking about running here, I’d never won this race and wanted to see (Marylou) here, so it’s kind of sad. It’s a great honor to win the Whitney. I’ve never won the Whitney, so this is a huge moment for me.”
McKinzie returned $3.70 to win, $2.70 to place, and $2.10 to show. Yoshida brought back $5.20 to place and $3.60 to show, while Vino Rosso paid $2.90 to show.