McKinzie takes Whitney at Saratoga

McKinzie with Mike Smith in the saddle
McKinzie with Mike Smith in the saddle

McKinzie, the No. 1-ranked horse in the Breeders’ Cup Classic rankings, backed up his accolades Saturday by winning the Grade 1, US $1 million Whitney at Saratoga.

The 4-year-old colt McKinzie gave trainer Bob Baffert his first Whitney win and clinched a “Win and You’re In” berth to the Breeders’ Cup Classic, scheduled for Nov. 2 at Santa Anita Park.

Among the horses McKinzie beat Saturday were Vino Rosso, No. 3 in the Breeders’ Cup Classic Rankings, and Preservationist, No. 4 in that poll.

Second-ranked Thunder Snow was also supposed to run in the 1 1/8-mile dirt feature, but scratched Saturday morning with a mild fever.

McKinzie crossed in 1:47.1 under jockey Mike Smith.

Grade 1 winners Yoshida and Vino Rosso came home second and third.

Baffert was emotional after the victory talking about his star colt, who is named for his late friend Brad McKinzie.

“I got my Whitney,” Baffert said. …

“This horse is getting better with age and has worked great. … I’m just so proud of him today. Winning here at Saratoga is so huge. It’s big-time racing here.”

After some early jostling for the lead, Preservationist settled in front to set fractions of :23.77, :47.48 and 1:11.3.

Smith, who struggled to find running room last out when McKinzie finished second in Belmont’s Metropolitan Handicap (G1), got the 4-5 favorite into comfortable position on the outside along the backstretch.

Then McKinzie made his move in the turn, evening with Preservationist as Vino Rosso and Yoshida also moved forward.

McKinzie turned on the jets from there to score for owners Michael E. Pegram, Karl Watson and Paul Weitman.

Saturday's Grade 1 victory marked the fourth of McKinzie's career along with the 2017 Los Alamitos Futurity and last year's Pennsylvania Derby and Malibu Stakes.

McKinzie will hope to join Gun Runner (2017), Fort Larned (2012) Blame, (2010), Invasor (2006) and Awesome Again (1998) as horses to win both the Whitney and Breeders’ Cup Classic.

The Street Sense colt ran 11th in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic, marking the only time over 12 starts he’s finished outside the top two.

McKinzie is the fourth runner to earn a Breeders’ Cup Classic berth, joining Inti (February Stakes, Tokyo Racecourse), Seeking the Soul (Stephen Foster, Churchill Downs) and Maximum Security ( Haskell Invitational, Monmouth Park).


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