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McKinzie 'the one to beat' in the Whitney

McKinzie 'the one to beat' in the Whitney

Baffert colt looking to shake off traffic trouble that cost him the Met Mile
McKinzie 'the one to beat' in the Whitney
Whitney favorite McKinzie goes for an easy gallop under Simon Harris at Saratoga Wednesday morning.
Photographer: Erica Miller

SARATOGA SPRINGS -- He traveled without a hitch.

McKinzie stepped off the horse van at 4 p.m. Tuesday after a cross-country flight from California and looked like he'd been on the grounds all along, alert and energetic as he absorbed his new surroundings.

McKinzie got his first look at the Saratoga Race Course main track for the first time Wednesday morning, for an easy jog under exercise rider Simon Harris, who said, "He's a cool horse to ride. He was bouncing over it."

"He seems to travel well, so that's not really an issue with us," assistant trainer Jimmy Barnes said Tuesday.
If only they could say the same about the Met Mile.

The 4-year-old McKinzie ran what in most years would've been a winning race at Belmont Park on June 8, except for traffic trouble in the stretch that prevented jockey Mike Smith from finding clear running room until it was too late. He'll try to rebound from that second-place performance to Mitole as the 7-5 morning-line favorite for Saturday's 92nd running of the $1 million Whitney.

"It's unfortunate we didn't get the trip we really wanted there, but now, going a mile and an eighth, hopefully, will give him a little more time to work out a better trip," trainer Bob Baffert told the New York Racing Association by phone from California on Tuesday.

Since breaking his maiden first time out in October of 2017, McKinzie, a son of 2007 Kentucky Derby and Travers winner Street Sense, has been the betting favorite in nine of his last 10 starts. The one exception was the Breeders' Cup Classic in November, when he finished 12th to Accelerate.

His victories include the San Felipe and Pennsylvania Derby as a 3-year-old and the Grade II Alysheba this year, but he has finished second in his three other 2018 starts, albeit against top quality competition.

Easily, the most painful to the McKinzie camp was the Met Mile.

He and Thunder Snow were trapped behind a wall of horses coming into the stretch, and Thunder Snow was able to make the first move to chase Mitole, with McKinzie right behind him and the rail shut off by the tiring front-runner Coal Front.

Just before the eighth pole, track announcer Larry Collmus said, "McKinzie has no place to go, he's in traffic," and that condition didn't change until the sixteenth pole, where Thunder Snow dropped inside to the rail. McKinzie finally was able to make a big rush at the leader, but could only get within three-quarters of a length while passing Thunder Snow in that short span of racetrack.

"It's certainly a prestigious race, and it would mean a lot to have it on McKinzie's resume," Baffert said. "It looks like a very good competitive field, so we're hoping we can run our race and get a little bit of racing luck as well."

McKinzie and Smith will break from the No. 6 post in the eight-horse Whitney field.

He is ranked No. 1 in the Breeders' Cup Classic poll and No. 3, behind Bricks and Mortar and Midnight Bisou, in the National Thoroughbred Racing Association poll of top thoroughbreds.

"You could make a strong argument that McKinzie and Thunder Snow are the two of the best older horses around two turns in the world," said trainer Todd Pletcher, who will saddle Vino Rosso in the Whitney. "As you would expect, it's a deep, tough Whitney."

McKinzie had a sharp four-furlong breeze in 48.00 at Del Mar on Monday for Baffert, who will be in Saratoga on Thursday.

Baffert's only other previous experience in the Whitney was a fourth by Sarava in 2004.

"We're excited and really looking forward to running in this race," he said. "He's trained forwardly since the Met Mile, and he's come out of that race really well.

"I've only run in the race once previously, and that was with a horse we were just hoping we could finish in the money with. It's nice to come in here among this good field with a shot at winning it."

Reach Gazette Sportswriter Mike MacAdam at 518-395-3146 or [email protected]. Follow on Twitter @Mike_MacAdam.

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