BENSALEM, PA – A change in scenery and a six-month layoff were of no concern to Karl Watson, Michael Pegram, and Paul Weitman’s McKinzie on Saturday when the colt returned monstrously for the biggest win of his career in the Grade 1, $1,000,000 Pennsylvania Derby at Parx.
Breaking sharply from post 8 under Mike Smith as the 2/1 favorite in the nine-horse field, McKinzie vied for the lead with Trigger Warning before running wide through first turn and ceding command while getting settled down the backside. Trigger Warning then led through opening splits of :23.81 and :48.91 before McKinzie made his bid heading into the far turn. Emerging onto the top of the stretch with a slim lead, McKinzie repelled a challenge from a game Axelrod shortly thereafter, then drew off in the late stages while remaining under a strong hand ride. The Bob Baffert trainee crossed the wire 1 3/4 lengths ahead in a final time of 1:52.05 for the 1 1/8-mile event over the fast main track.
“If anything can be taken away from a sting of a Triple Crown horse retiring, it’s a horse like this,” Smith said. “He is an incredible horse. Really, really proud of him. Bob had him ready. To come off the bench at a mile and an eighth, Bob is just a tremendous trainer. I felt very confident that I could be aggressive early and move a little early.”
Though unable to keep pace with the winner, Axelrod was much the best of the rest, taking second by 7 1/2 lengths over Trigger Warning. Sent postward as the second choice at 5/2 odds, Hofburg trailed by over 8 lengths at one point and raced very wide through the far turn, then could only get up late to take fourth by a 1/2-length over Core Beliefs, with King Zachary another 1/2-length back in sixth. Bravazo challenged early but dropped off the map heading into the far turn and crossed a disappointing seventh, while Mr Freeze necked out eighth over a non-threatening Instilled Regard to complete the order of finish. First Mondays was scratched.
McKinzie’s win was his first since taking the Grade 3 Sham Stakes at Santa Anita back in January and improved his career record to 5-4-1-0 earnings of $906,000. The 3-year-old son of Street Sense has never crossed the wire second; his lone loss came after being disqualified from his victory in the Grade 2 San Felipe Stakes at Santa Anita in March, which was awarded to Bolt d’Oro.
“He had been training really well,” Baffert said. “I always felt like he was the best 3-year-old and then he got hurt and Justify picked it up. He has come back with the time off and has responded really well. It was good to see him get back in the game. It was a pretty tall order to go 1 1/8 miles off that kind of layoff. But you can do it with good horses. I thought we had him pretty tight. I thought we had him pretty tight I felt like he was the best horse. If you had asked me on January 1. I would have told you we were going to win the Kentucky Derby with that horse.”
McKinzie returned $6 to win, $4.20 to place, and $3.80 to show. Axelrod brought back $8.20 to place and $6.20 to show, while Trigger Warning paid $23.60 to show.