Race Previews

San Felipe Stakes Preview: McKinzie Primed to Become Top Derby Contender

McKinzie Winning The Grade 3, $100,000 Sham Stakes at Santa Anita Park - © BENOIT PHOTO

It’s showdown time Saturday at Santa Anita, as top Kentucky Derby prospects McKinzie and Bolt d’Oro head a field of eight sophomores in the Grade 2, $400,000 San Felipe Stakes at 1 1/16 miles. The final major steppingstone to the Grade 1, $1 million Santa Anita Derby on April 7, the San Felipe will award 85 all-important Kentucky Derby qualifying points, with 50 to the winner and 20, 10, and five points to second, third, and fourth.

McKinzie, a rousing 5 1/2-length first-out maiden winner while going 7 furlongs here on October 28, was subsequently second, beaten 3/4 of a length in the Grade 1 Los Alamitos Futurity while going 1 1/16 miles on December 9, but he was awarded the win when his stablemate, Solomini, was disqualified for interference in deep stretch. A Kentucky-bred colt by Street Sense, he’s trained in an exceptional manner for Bob Baffert since his Futurity victory and merits top billing.

Owned and trained by Mick Ruis, Bolt d’Oro was undefeated in three starts, including a pair of Grade 1 wins, going into the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile on November 4, but he was compromised by an outside draw and finished third, beaten 5 1/4 lengths by the eventual Eclipse Champion 2-Year-Old Good Magic.

Big 'Cap Wagering Guide

Sidelined by what was described as a muscle pull following the Juvenile, Bolt d’Oro recorded his first work here on January 27 and has trained forwardly, with his most recent drill a snappy 1/2-mile in :46.40 Monday morning with Victor Espinoza aboard.

“He looked terrific,” said Gary Young, a highly-respected longtime private clocker, following Bolt’s training on Monday. “No one could knock the way he worked today, it was perfect. It looks like the stage is set for Saturday. McKinzie worked great yesterday (Sunday, 7 furlongs in 1:23.80), so the two favorites come into this race really good.”

However, there’s a chance this showdown may not even happen. Trainer Mick Ruis has stated that his colt will not run at Santa Anita on Saturday if the track comes up sloppy. Instead, the horse will ship to Oaklawn Park a week later to run in the Grade 2 Rebel Stakes. The moves seems risky, considering Oaklawn Park has had just one day since February 9 when they haven’t had an off track. Hopefully, the rain holds off and we get to witness this showdown, but as of now, it looks like forecasters are calling for a 70% chance of rain on Saturday.

Top Choices

#4 McKinzie – For months now, this horse has been hyped as Baffert’s best Kentucky Derby prospect. He’s an undefeated three-for-three coming into this race, including a multiple-length win in the Grade 3 Sham Stakes last time out. He’ll look to make it four straight here while also becoming the top-ranked Kentucky Derby prospect. Baffert has been quoted as saying “rain, sleet, or snow” – he is running, no matter what. That just goes to show you how confident Baffert is in his colt’s ability.

Horses to Use in Multi-Race Wagers

#8 Kanthaka – The Grade 2 San Vicente Stakes annually serves as a major Kentucky Derby prep race each season, even though it’s not an official points race. Against a stacked field, Kanthaka won in runaway fashion, and will now try two turns for the first time. His breeding is questionable for stretching out in distance, which will make this a pivotal start for him. With the chance of rain very possible, the track could end up favoring closers, which would be another big positive for Kanthaka. He’s the most likely upsetter in this race.

#1 Bolt d’Oro – The multiple Grade 1-winner makes his 3-year-old debut after a couple of minor injuries set him back to start the year. Based on talent alone, he was the best-looking sophomore in the crop, but a wide trip caused him to finish third in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. His training has been a bit sporadic leading up to this race, but his final workout was flawless. He’s a hard horse to get a read on, but we know the talent is there. If the track comes up sloppy on Saturday, then he’ll wait another week to debut. The drama builds!

Exotic Plays

#2 Lombo – He picked up a big win last time out in the Grade 3 Robert B. Lewis Stakes, which was his first try around two turns. The competition gets much tougher here, though, as the field in the Lewis was not particularly strong. However, he might be the controlling speed in the race, which will give him an outside shot. You’re going to need a price on him to make him a playable option. If the “Big 3” take all the money, then he becomes a sneaky play.

Party Crashers

NONE – It’s very hard seeing anyone outside of the “Big 3” winning this race.

Throw Outs

#3 Ayacara – The Robert B. Lewis was not the strongest race, but this horse did run a decent second in that contest. He was also fourth behind Bolt d’Oro in the Grade 1 FrontRunner Stakes last fall. He has some class, but he now needs to show a bit more talent.

#7 Peace – He struggled to a fifth-place finish in the Robert B. Lewis, and the waters are much deeper here. He has to do some major improving to have any shot.

#5 Aquila – He recently won a maiden special weight at Santa Anita going the same distance as this race. It’s not a bad spot to give it a go against stakes company, but it’s hard to imagine him making much of an impact other than perhaps rounding out the superfecta.

#6 Calexman – His best race was on the turf, and oddly enough, he has only one start over it, which was a win. I’m not sure why they entered him here; he seems completely overmatched.

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