Third start off the layoff, and this time, McKinzie was ready to roll. Looking very much like the colt that got bet down to 7-2 second choice against a deep Breeders’ Cup Classic field, and nothing at all like the one who staggered home 12th in that same race, the son of Street Sense overwhelmed a full field in the Grade 1 Malibu Stakes on opening day at Santa Anita. It’s not confirmed yet, but the big performance is likely to earn him another shot against the best dirt horses in America, this time in the $9 million Pegasus World Cup at Gulfstream Park on January 26.

As for the Malibu, McKinzie did not break out fast from his outside 13 post position, and was subsequently much farther back than any race before. Relaxed early and ready to roll late, the new style of running employed in the 7 furlong feature seemed to suit the race favorite well. Picking up horses on the far turn, he posed a menacing presense for the rest at the top of the lane. Taking his cue from rider, Mike Smith, McKinzie inhaled the leaders and scampered away powerfully to win by nearly five lengths.

Clearly the type of performance that only the good ones can produce, he left his Hall of Fame rider quite impressed. “I’ve said all along that we haven’t seen the best of him yet. When he learns to put a few of these in a row together, we’re going to see something special,” said Smith. Reported to come out of the race in excellent condition, it would seem hard to keep McKinzie out of the Pegasus.

Once again, the Pegasus World Cup would be a big step up in class for McKinzie, much as the Breeders’ Cup Classic was after his stylish return win in the Pennsylvania Derby. Not only would he again face Accelerate, the winning favorite of the Classic, but another strong and deep field is expected for America’s richest race. Other top contenders expected for the 1 1/8-mile affair at Gulfstream Park include the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile hero, City of Light, as well as the Classic runner-up, Gunnevera, and the Florida Derby winner, Audible. Still, if McKinzie can build off his big win on Wednesday, he looks like a major threat in the Pegasus.

Baffert takes the blame for the colt’s poor performance in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, believing after the fact that he did not have McKinzie quite ready enough for all that awaited him at Churchill Downs, which was his first race at both ten furlongs, and against older horses. He liked what he saw since, though, and felt his charge was ready to give a more representative effort of his true talents. “Coming in to this race they were all [Baffert had four in the Malibu] training really well but the horse is just an outstanding individual. You could just tell he was getting in gear,” said the Hall of Fame trainer.

Once upon a time, a top contender for the 2018 Kentucky Derby, McKinzie was on the shelf when his star stablemate, Justify, swept the Derby, Preakness, and Belmont Stakes to become racing’s 13th Triple Crown champion. Returning from his physical setback after a six-month plus layoff, he scored a decisive victory over a solid field in the Grade 1 Pennsylvania Derby.

The win at Parx was proof that he could win outside Southern California, and validation that he still had the ability that he flashed along the Derby trail. It was not, however, enough to have him at his physical best for the Breeders’ Cup. Now with more time since the layoff, more weight on his frame, and more maturity under his belt, McKinzie looks the part of a horse ready to take things to a new level. Still lightly raced, he already has put together a strong resume.

Owned by Mike Pegram, Karl Watson and Paul Weitman, the $170,000 yearling purchase scored his fifth victory overall, with three of those coming in Grade 1 racing. Keep in mind that the Malibu was only his seventh career start. The bay colt also became racing’s newest millionaire, pushing his earnings to $1,086,000 with the victory. Of course, all that would seem like small potatoes if he can build upon this impressive score.

With the riches of the Pegasus World Cup coming in January, the Dubai World Cup two months later, and this year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic back at Santa Anita in November, it would seem McKinzie is primed for a lucrative year in 2019.

Photo of McKinzie courtesy of Benoit Photo