McKinzie makes up for lost time with dominant Pennsylvania Derby display
Parx: Pennsylvania Derby (Grade 1)
Before Justify became a Classic-conquering superstar, McKinzie was the colt Bob Baffert believed would claim divisional supremacy.
In his first start since being sidelined in late March, the son of Street Sense provided a reminder as to why he began the year as Baffert's number one pick when he captured the $1 million Grade 1 Pennsylvania Derby by a length and three-quarters from Axelrod to give Baffert his second straight Pennsylvania Derby win and third triumph in the race in the last five years.
McKinzie showcased the ability that will make his connections wonder what might have been had a physical setback not prevented him from ever facing his Triple Crown-winning stablemate.
The winner went about his business in routine fashion under Mike Smith and took command for good at the head of the stright in the 1m1f event.
"If anything can be taken away from the sting of a Triple Crown horse retiring, it's a horse like this," said Smith, who was also the regular rider for Justify.
"He is an incredible horse. I'm really, really proud of him. To come off the bench at a mile and an eighth, Bob is just a tremendous trainer to get him ready. I felt very confident that I could be aggressive early and move a little early, because I knew [Baffert had him] ready."
Baffert's longstanding belief in McKinzie is most evident by the moniker the bay colt carries, being named after Baffert's longtime friend and Los Alamitos racecourse executive Brad McKinzie, who died from renal carcinoma in August 2017 at the age of 62.
Baffert said: "I always felt like he was the best three-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 that distance off that kind of layoff. But you can do it with good horses. 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."
Despite some tail swishing and gawking in the straight, McKinzie won in 1min 52.05sec to reward those who sent him off as 2-1 favourite in the nine-horse field.
"He is still learning as well," said Smith. "Although he has raced, he had a lot of time off. He got to looking around, looking at the tracks and I had a really good hold of him today. I didn't really want to bother anyone.
"The last time I rode him, we got disqualified, of course. I picked his head up and when I asked him to finish, he really got underneath me and galloped out really well."
Also on Saturday
Parx: Cotillion Stakes (Grade 1)
The Steve Asmussen-trained Midnight Bisou and jockey Mike Smith used several tactics to try to beat Monomoy Girl down the straight of the Grade 1 $1 million Cotillion Stakes, but in the end victory came via an objection.
It took her own foibles and the stewards in Pennsylvania to break Monomoy Girl's impressive 2018 win sequence. In pursuit of her fifth straight Grade 1 victory this season, the brilliant Tapizar filly easily moved from third to a clear lead rounding the final turn under regular rider Florent Geroux.
Heading into the straight, Monomoy Girl left a wide path up her inside, which Smith targeted with Midnight Bisou before Monomoy Girl leaned back in on her rival.
"I hate to see it end in controversy like that, but my mare deserves a fair chance, and I don't think she got one," Smith said. "I never got a straight run, and we got beat only by a head."
The rivals straightened out inside the closing stages, as Monomoy Girl maintained the advantage by a neck at the line in a final time of 1 min 45.95 secs. Smith's objection was lodged shortly after and Monomoy Girl, a 1-2 shot, was disqualified to second, her first defeat in six starts for trainer Brad Cox this year.
Midnight Bisou's co-owner Sol Kumin also owns Monomoy Girl in partnership with Michael Dubb, The Elkstone Group, Bethlehem Stables.
"I think these are your two best three-year-old dirt fillies in the countrty," Kumin said. "I'm looking forward to the Breeders' Cup Distaff. And I think the plan with both of these two fillies is to bring them back next year."