McKinzie Wins Grade 1 Malibu at Santa Anita Park

McKinzie on his way to victory in the Grade 1 Malibu Stakes at Santa Anita. Photos by Terri Keith.

McKinzie — who was one of the most promising 3-year-old colts in Bob Baffert’s stable before Triple Crown winner Justify came along — wrapped up his racing year with a win Wednesday in the Grade 1 Malibu Stakes at Santa Anita Park.

McKinzie was sent off as the bettors’ 6-5 favorite and earned his third Grade 1 stakes victory in the seven-furlong race against 13 foes, including three other colts trained by Baffert.

He was coming into the race off a disappointing 12th place finish in the Breeders’ Cup Classic early last month — something for which Baffert said he blames himself.

“The Breeders’ Cup was just a complete throw-out,” Baffert told reporters after McKinzie’s latest win. “I just got over-zealous and I was just trying, you know, to get him there because it was the Breeders’ Cup … I should have just sat back, but, you know, you get caught up. I’ve never been one to shy away from a big race, you know.”

McKinzie now has five wins and one second in seven starts, including victories in the Grade 1 Pennsylvania Derby and Los Alamitos Futurity and the Grade 3 Sham Stakes.

He was among the top Kentucky Derby prospects when he was sidelined last spring by a leg injury.

“It was devastating when I had to make that call because we knew how good he was …,” Baffert told reporters.

While his more famous stablemate Justify went on to Triple Crown victory, McKinzie was away from the races for more than six months before returning with a win Sept. 22 in the Pennsylvania Derby. He lost his next race — the Breeders’ Cup Classic — by 31 lengths.

Jockey Mike Smith — who has ridden McKinzie in all seven of his starts — queried Baffert about the colt’s disappointing Breeders’ Cup race, the trainer said. Baffert said he he took responsibility for the disappointing outing and assured Smith not to worry about it.

“He was ready to run today,” Smith said after the Malibu, telling reporters that he has said all along that “we haven’t seen the best of him.”

McKinzie completed the seven-furlong race in 1:22:48, 4 3/4 lengths ahead of second-place finisher Identity Politics. Having Fun, who went off at odds of nearly 46-1, finished third.

“It was nice seeing him, and I’m sure his namesake (the late Los Alamitos executive Brad McKinzie) was looking down on him today so I was pretty excited about that. And the crowd — they were all in on him,” Baffert said. “When (track announcer) Frank (Mirahmadi) made the call turning for home, you could hear the crowd really got into it so it’s pretty exciting to see that.”

Mike Smith celebrates aboard McKinzie after the Malibu Stakes.

McKinzie is expected to return to the track next year, but his trainer said he doesn’t have any plans set in stone for the son of 2007 Kentucky Derby winner Street Sense and 2004 Darley Alcibiades and Golden Rod winner Runway Model.

“He’s a good one,” Baffert said of McKinzie, whose earnings surpassed $1 million with his latest victory.

Horse Bits:

— The connections of Spiced Perfection are probably happy that a recent $500,000 offer for the 3-year-old Smiling Tiger filly wound up being pulled off the table. She wound up winning the Grade 1 La Brea S. in her first graded stakes start, bringing her earnings to just over $622,000 in 14 career starts.

“It’s a good thing to do right after somebody says, `No, we don’t want her,” trainer Brian Koriner told reporters.

— Along with the win aboard Spiced Perfection, jockey Flavien Prat rode River Boyne to victory in the Grade 2 Mathis Brothers Mile on turf. It was the sixth victory in nine starts this year for the 3-year-old Irish-bred colt, who is trained by Jeff Mullins.

— Gift Box won the Grade 2 San Antonio S. in his first start in just over nine months for his new trainer, John Sadler, who said the horse is close to his heart.

He said he’s been watching Gift Box for a couple of years, noting that the 5-year-old gray/roan is from the first crop of Twirling Candy, whom Sadler trained.

Mike Smith celebrates aboard McKinzie after the Malibu Stakes.

It was the first stakes win for Gift Box, who had previously been trained by Chad Brown and finished fourth in the 2016 Travers in a field that included eventual Breeders’ Cup Classic winners Arrogate and Gun Runner.

“Isn’t he beautiful? He’s a big, beautiful horse,” Sadler said, noting that “he’s got that Unbridled’s Song gray coming from the dam’s side.” Gift Box’s dam, Special Me, was sired by Unbridled’s Song.

Owner Kosta Hronis of Hronis Racing LLC quipped that Sadler told him he had a gift for him when the horse was privately bought.

“John knew what he had and was real happy when he got him. He’s worked well and he loves it here,” Hronis said of his latest purchase. “Sadler’s doing his magic again.”

Gift Box joins a stable that includes one of the nation’s top-ranked horses, Accelerate, who is also owned by Hronis Racing. But the two are expected to head to different races, with Accelerate headed to the Pegasus World Cup for his final race before retirement and Sadler considering a trip to Dubai for Gift Box.

“He had seconditis back east,” Hronis said of Gift Box’s four consecutive runner-up finishes before his win in March, noting that he thinks they “pushed him over the hump.”

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About the Author

Terri Vermeulen Keith is an award-winning journalist with a passion for horse racing. Her favorite horse is and probably always will be 1994 Horse of the Year Holy Bull. Her family vacations usually include a trip to the horse races or a horse farm