McKinzie will try to regain his first-string role in Bob Baffert’s stable Saturday when he returns from a more than six-month break in the Grade 1, $1 million Pennsylvania Derby at Parx Racing.
The No. 1 3-year-old in Bob Baffert’s barn early in the year, McKinzie was forced to the sidelines in March following a bumping match with Bolt d’Oro in the San Felipe. Justify filled in admirably during his absence, sweeping the Triple Crown and retiring undefeated.
“In January, I thought I was going to win the Derby with him, but then he got hurt and the red horse came along,” Baffert said. “He’s like that Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts in the championship game. He played the first half and then the freshman Tua Tagovailoa came in and ran the table.”
McKinzie beat Bolt d’Oro by a head in the San Felipe but was disqualified and placed second. He came out of the race with a hock injury that required stall rest.
“They were hitting each other, bouncing around pretty good,” Baffert said. “The injury was minor. I just couldn’t train him for a month. He’s been in my barn the whole time.”
The Pennsylvania Derby will not be an easy assignment for McKinzie, who is named for Baffert’s close friend, Los Alamitos executive Brad McKinzie, who died in August 2017. The 1 1/8-mile race has a 10-horse field that includes the rapidly improving trio of Hofburg, Mr Freeze, and Axelrod; the tough and consistent Bravazo; graded winners Instilled Regard, Core Beliefs, and King Zachary; and longshots Trigger Warning and First Mondays.
Baffert, who won the Pennsylvania Derby last year with West Coast and in 2014 with Bayern, has worked McKinzie nine times since Aug. 1, including three seven-furlong drills in the last month.
“It’s a tough spot to bring him back, but it’s the last million-dollar 3-year-old race of the year,” Baffert said. “He’s been training very, very well. I think he’s going to give a good account of himself. He’s got a lot of quality.”
Mr Freeze and McKinzie have the most early speed in the field and are drawn side by side in posts 7 and 8. Mr Freeze could end up on the lead under Robby Albarado with McKinzie and Mike Smith stalking from the outside.
Bravazo, Axelrod, and Core Beliefs have tactical speed and may land stalking positions. The deeper closers include Hofburg and Instilled Regard.
Dale Romans has entered both Mr Freeze and King Zachary. Mr Freeze will be making his first start since winning the West Virginia Derby by eight lengths on Aug. 4. The 102 Beyer Speed Figure he earned is tops in the field and a point better than McKinzie’s number in the San Felipe.
Hofburg won the restricted Curlin Stakes going 1 1/8 miles at Saratoga by five lengths July 27 and earned a 100 Beyer. Bill Mott was preparing Hofburg for the Travers when he spiked a fever and was forced to skip the race.
“Even though he won the Curlin, I think he might have been compromised by the mud and from having to come from behind,” Mott said. “He was the only horse to come from off the pace that day.”
Mott will equip Hofburg with blinkers for the Pennsylvania Derby.
“I think he’s an improving horse,” Mott said. “Pace is important for him because of his style. You don’t want them out there walking the dog in front of him.”
Bravazo is the iron horse of the 3-year-old crop and will be making his sixth consecutive Grade 1 start. Trained by D. Wayne Lukas, he has finished sixth in the Derby, second in the Preakness, sixth in the Belmont, second in the Haskell, and third in the Travers.
Instilled Regard will be racing for the first time since finishing fourth in the Kentucky Derby at 85-1. He was given 30 days off following that race, and owner Larry Best then transferred him from Jerry Hollendorfer to Chad Brown.
Instilled Regard has worked nine times in New York since July 21. Brown realizes this is a tough comeback spot for Instilled Regard, who won the Lecomte at Fair Grounds last winter.
“It’s a tall order for sure,” Brown said. “But he’s a very talented horse and the timing and distance of the race works for us.”
Axelrod has won the Smarty Jones at Parx and the Indiana Derby at Indiana Grand in his last two races, both for Mike McCarthy. He faces tougher company Saturday.
The Pennsylvania Derby will be Core Belief’s final start of the year, according to trainer Peter Eurton. He lost valuable position when he stumbled at the start of the Haskell in his last start and finished fourth. Eurton said he came out of the race with “a little bit of mucus.”
◗ The Pennsylvania Derby is co-featured on the 13-race Parx card with the Grade 1, $1 million Cotillion for 3-year-old fillies. Three other stakes are carded, including the Grade 3, $300,000 Gallant Bob, a six-furlong sprint for 3-year-olds.
– additional reporting by David Grening
This story originally appeared on DRF.com.
Visit DRF.com for additional news, notes, wagering information, and more.