McKinzie Returns to Win G1 Pennsylvania Derby

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Keith Jones

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BENSALEM, Pa. (Saturday, September 22, 2018)

McKinzie Is Back On Track with Win in G1, $1 Million Pennsylvania Derby

The 39th Running of Grade 1, Pennsylvania Derby for 3-year-olds saw McKinzie return off a six month break to win the $1 million race by 1 3/4 lengths over Axelrod under Hall of Fame rider Mike Smith in 1:52.05 for the 1 1/8 miles over the fast track.

The bay son of Street Sense began the year with all eyes on his hide as the favorite for this year's Kentucky Derby for Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert before a hind-leg injury forced him to be withdrawn from a start in the Santa Anita Derby on April 7. The injury was significant enough to take McKinzie off the Derby Trail before stablemate Justify was piloted by Smith as they swept through six races to become the 13th Triple Crown winner.

"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 [trainer Bob Baffert] 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."

Longshot Trigger Warning was sent to the front amid the field of eight others as Bravazo and McKinzie kept close in range with Mr. Freeze to their outside. Through the first quarter of a mile in 23.81, the quartet led the way until they were invaded by Core Beliefs who began to advance. As the half-mile was run in 48.91, McKinzie sat just a length of the still leading Trigger Warning, but as they advanced to the three-quarters mark run in 1:13.44, McKinzie was a head in front, and expanded his lead to a length with a mile run in 1:39.40 while Axelrod closed from the back of the pack to serve as the runner-up 7 1/2 lengths over Trigger Warning who outlasted the rest at 81 to 1 while Hofburg finished a length behind in fourth.

"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's victory was the second straight Pennsylvania Derby victory for both Baffert and Smith who came east to win last year's running with West Coast.

The Pennsylvania Derby was the second Grade 1 victory earned by McKinzie since he was placed first via disqualification after being bumped by Solomini in the Los Alamitos Futurity on December 9 in just his second career start.

The $170,000 purchase at Keeneland's September Sale began his career with a 5 1/2 length victory in his debut at Santa Anita, and added the Grade 3 Sham Stakes to his resume before being disqualified to second for interfering with Bolt d' Oro in the Grade 2 San Felipe on March 10 at Santa Anita.

Although McKinzie's afternoon efforts make his victories look easy, the veteran reinsman has to remain strong with the young colt to ensure he doesn't return to bad habits as each race remains a learning process due to time away from competition.

"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 gawking around and I had a really good hold of him today and I didn't really want to bother anyone. The last time I rode him we got disqualified [San Felipe Stakes] of course. I picked his head up, and when I asked him to finish he really got underneath me and really galloped out really well."

Rounding out the field in the Pennsylvania Derby was Core Beliefs, King King Zachary, Bravazo, Mr. Freeze and Instilled Regard.

Sent off as the 2 to 1 Pennsylvania Derby favorite, McKinzie paid $6.00 to win.