SARATOGA SPRINGS — McKinzie had a clear aversion to the Whitney blanket of pink roses Sunday morning.
Trainer Bob Baffert draped it over a beam on McKinzie’s stall door for a photo op, at which point the 4-year-old colt turned away from the hay rack he had been munching on to stand back by the rear window.
“Huh? He’s scared of the flowers?” Baffert asked groom Roberto Luna.
While a second to Mitole in the Grade I Met Mile still gnaws at the McKinzie camp — well, jockey Mike Smith, perhaps — the horse came out smelling like roses after winning the Grade I $1 million Whitney at Saratoga Race Course on Saturday.
Now McKinzie will get maybe one more race before the Nov. 2 Breeders’ Cup Classic, having solidified his standing as the best older dirt route horse in the country. That race won’t come at Saratoga, as Baffert is leaning toward a race with better spacing between the Whitney and BC Classic than the Aug. 31 Woodward would provide.
Anyway, they got the big one they were after, in the wake of the Met Mile loss, so Baffert and owners Mike Pegram, Karl Watson and Paul Weitman have the luxury of running when they want to.
“I’ve always thought he was my best horse since he was a 2-year-old, but then Justify came along and took his spot,” Baffert said. “The way he’s getting better and better, he’s like one of my greater horses. He can win going seven-eighths, he can win going a mile, mile and a eighth, mile and a quarter. It’s like most good horses. If they’re ridden properly, they can get the distance.”
McKinzie, named for Los Alamitos Race Course executive Brad McKinzie, who died two years ago, rolled home in 1:47.10, the second-fastest Whitney in the last 17 years.
Yoshida, the 2018 Woodward winner, closed well for second, but was not a threat to McKinzie and finished 1 3/4 lengths back.
Baffert says McKinzie has always been “quirky,” but “we’ve got him figured out now.”
“You realize that you can put him anywhere, and he’s got a kick,” Baffert said. “Usually our horses, like Justify and [American] Pharoah, they get out there and go. He’s not that kind of horse.
“That’s why, to me, it’s better when you have a horse and you don’t have to worry about speed in the race. You can just place him. And he’s quick enough to get out of trouble. When Yoshida made that big run at him, I thought, ‘Wow.’ Because I wasn’t really paying attention to the fractions. And then you can tell he just turned him loose. That’s what we want to see.
“He wasn’t even blowing after. He’s a very lightly-made horse. Arrogate was sort of lightly-made. They’re easier on themselves, and they stay healthy and stay sound.”
Even if McKinzie wasn’t having anything to do with the rose blanket, Baffert was still basking in the glow of the Whitney.
Besides the emotion of winning a big race named for their deceased friend, he and the owners did it in front of a crowd of 40,000.
“I could’ve stayed home; I had a million-dollar race in my backyard,” Baffert said. “Right before we went in the gate, one of my owners said, ‘Wow, I’ve never seen a crowd like this.’ Just packed. It was like a mini-Breeders’ Cup day. The win means more when you have a lot of people there.
“I talked to his [Brad McKinzie’s] mother a couple weeks ago, and this horse is keeping her going. It’s funny how these horses keep people going. I know my parents lived longer just because they couldn’t wait to watch my horses run in big races. I got a text from everybody who knew Brad, and they were in tears when he won.”
McKinzie was scheduled to fly back to California early Monday morning, while Baffert will remain behind for the Fasig-Tipton Selected Yearling Sale on Monday and Tuesday.
MORE WHITNEY DAY
World of Trouble, one of the top sprinters in the country, is still recovering from a minor foot bruise that forced trainer Jason Servis to scratch the 3-5 morning-line favorite out of the Grade III Troy on Saturday.
“We tested it and he was tender, real tender. We kind of had to cut it out and it got a little more tender, nothing serious,” Servis told the New York Racing Association. “He actually went to the track today [Sunday], but he’s still a little tender on that foot. It’s a shame. It was just bad timing. It showed up on Monday, and we were trying to make it.”
World of Trouble, who is riding a five-race winning streak back to December and was second by a neck in the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint, will point toward the Grade III Turf Monster at Parx on Sept. 2.
“We were always going to run here and then try to make the Turf Monster,” Servis said. “He’s a monster. He’s a monster horse.” …
Trainer Brad Cox said there is no firm plan for Covfefe’s next race, since Saturday’s Test was a primary objective. She’ll stay in his barn at Saratoga until Aug. 13 before traveling back to Churchill Downs.
AROUND THE TRACK
Baffert said Game Winner is on course to run in the Aug. 24 Travers.
He had not raced since a fifth in the Kentucky Derby, then came back on July 13 to romp at odds of 1-20 against three rivals in the Los Alamitos Derby. Stablemate Mucho Gusto, Haskell runner-up to Maximum Security, is pointing toward the Pennsylvania Derby.
“The only outside chance I would run him [in the Travers] is if it looked like one of those rainy, sloppy days, because he really loves the mud,” Baffert said. …
Multiple stakes winner Divine Miss Grey has been retired after jockey Manny Franco pulled her up in the stretch during Saturday’s De La Rose.
“She fractured one sesamoid, but didn’t tear any ligaments,” trainer Danny Gargan said. “She may need to have surgery on Monday, but she may not.”