The Triple Crown Trail’s route through Southern California officially got underway on Saturday as Watson, Pegram and Weitman’s McKinzie took the first Kentucky Derby prep of the new year, winning the $100,000 Sham Stakes (GIII) at Santa Anita Park by 3 ½ widening lengths under regular rider Mike Smith. The Son of Street Sense gave his Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert a record fifth winner in the event and earned himself ten points to make the Kentucky Derby starting gate in four months, bringing his overall total to 20, second behind Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (GI) winner Good Magic’s 24.
McKinzie was the public’s overwhelming favorite at 1-5 and was good for $2.40, $2.40 and $2.10. Runner-up All Out Blitz capped off the $7.10 exacta (for $1) and paid $7.20 and $3.80 at odds of nearly 15-1. My Boy Jack checked in third, four lengths farther back, and was good for $2.80 at odds of nearly 7-1. Shivermetimbers, City Plan and Here Is Happy completed the order of finish after Mourinho was withdrawn in favor of the Smarty Jones Stakes at Oaklawn Park. The trifecta paid $12.30.
After the field of six newly turned sophomores broke cleanly from the gate, Smith took McKinzie back off the pace to a stalking position, while racing three wide around the first turn and most of the way up the backstretch. All Out Blitz, who sped to the front, set all of the early pace in splits of :23.69, :47.73 and 1:12.17, with Shivermetimbers to his outside and My Boy Jack just behind the top two. As the frontrunner rounded the far bend, Smith and McKinzie were in full flight and, before reaching the top of the stretch, had taken command.
Though McKinzie drew away from the tiring field behind him with every stride, Smith stayed busy and kept his mount focused on the task, the colt swishing his tail briefly in deep stretch when his pilot went to the stick. After logging seven furlong in 1:24.22, McKinzie finished up the one-mile, fast main-track test in 1:36.58.
It was his first start without blinkers.
“He just broke, he got in a good position, didn’t get rank with the blinkers off,” Baffert said. “He was good and when horses come to him he really gets into the bridle. He got a lot out of this.”
McKinzie is a bay son of the multiple Grade 2-winning Petionville mare Runway Model and was purchased for $170,000 as a Keeneland September yearling in 2016. So far, he’s undefeated in three starts with earnings of $270,000. He also won the Los Alamitos Futurity (GI) via the disqualification of stablemate Solomini for interference in the stretch.
“He was a bit too aggressive last time,” Smith said. “Today he seemed to relax early, then he jumped when I asked, so taking the blinkers off today, I thought we might as well try it and I think it was a great move.
“He’s getting better as he matures. He ran a tremendous race in only his second time out last time at Los Al. The horses he ran with that day were top horses and we thought he’d move forward off of that race and he did today. I smooched to him just to keep him interested, but going past the wire he was well within himself and galloped out nicely.”