Submitted by Jim Hurley on Wednesday, March 14, 2018 at 10:25 AM
Perhaps in an attempt to have a metaphorical as opposed to too often real smokescreen emanate from the region, pundits who should know better have repeatedly made the claim that in recent years the best 3-year olds prepping for the Kentucky Derby have been stationed in Southern California.
This mantra has been built on the success in 2012 of the ill-fated I'll Have Another, who was the Derby and Preakness winner before being injured and withdrawn a day before the Belmont Stakes, California Chrome, who also was the Derby and Preakness winner in 2014 and of course American Pharoah who swept the Triple Crown in 2015. That American Pharoah did all his 3-year old prep racing at Oaklawn Park is just a side issue. American Pharoah was trained by Bob Baffert and Bob Baffert, for all his global success is Southern California...as they say, ergo ipso facto.
That being said, there is no question that as expected the two post time favorites, McKinzie and Bolt d'Oro put on an entertaining show for the audience at Santa Anita in the Grade II San Felipe on Saturday and are definitely legitimate 2018 Kentucky Derby contenders.
I say entertaining, although from both a positive and negative standpoint that "entertainment" was, to say the least, tempered by the decision of the stewards to disqualify McKinzie from first and send original runner up Bolt d'Oro to the winner's circle.
I'll leave the squabbling over whether or not the disqualification should or should not have been to the less-than-objective holders of tickets on either three-year old. But suffice to say, the decision was controversial and is still fodder for the masses.
As to the race. Here is the chart as published by BRISnet:
MCKINZIE had speed between horses then stalked off the rail, bid between foes again on the backstretch and outside a rival on the second turn, took a short lead leaving that turn, angled to the rail and bumped with BOLT D'ORO into the stretch, fought back under left handed urging through the drive, came out some under left handed whipping to bump that one again late and gamely prevailed. BOLT D'ORO pulled and stalked a bit off the rail, bid three deep leaving the second turn, took a short lead outside MCKINZIE while bumping with that one into the stretch, battled outside that foe through a stiff drive, was bumped again late and continued gamely to the wire.
Following a stewards' inquiry into the stretch run and claims of foul by the rider of BOLT D'ORO against MCKINZIE for interference in upper and late stretch, the stewards disqualified the latter and placed him second for interference in late stretch.
The San Felipe was the second race of the 3-year old campaign for McKinzie, who easily eclipsed the one mile Sham Stakes at Santa Anita on January 6. In that race the son of Street Sense stalked the pace in hand and drew clear.
Ironically, prior to the Sham, McKinzie was last seen finishing second in the Cash Call Futurity at Los Alamitos on December 9, but was placed first after original winner Solomini was disqualified for interference and placed third.
Putting aside the drama that ensued in the stewards' box, the fact that Bolt d'Oro was making his first start of the year since finishing third in the BC Juvenile at Del Mar, November 4, one might give him the edge over McKinzie moving forward.
In the BC Juvenile Bolt d'Oro was well regarded and sent off as the 7-10 favorite. In that test he bobbled out of the gate, was 7 wide to the first turn and in light of that trip his rallying third was promising.
As noted, he pulled a bit in the San Felipe, but Javier Castellano was able to get him to stalk before making his move on pace setters Lombo (a last out front running winner of the Robert E. Lewis Stakes) and McKinzie. Still, as Castellano intimated, Bolt d'Oro was a bit headstrong in the final furlong so it has to be assumed the winner of the Del Mar Futurity and Front Runner Stakes in 2017 prior to the BC Juvenile should move forward.
As for McKinzie, in his two 2018 preps he has shown a willingness to lay a bit off the pace (as he did in the Sham) and show pressing speed (as he did this past Saturday.)
Neither Bolt d'Oro's trainer Mick Ruiz or Baffert have announced where their charge will run next. It will be interesting to see if Baffert ships McKinzie out of town for his final prep. Especially since he also has yet another stud in his barn...a 3-year old who might be even better than either McKinzie or Bolt d'Oro.
DID JUSTIFY STEAL THE SHOW AT SANTA ANITA THIS WEEKEND?
Mike Smith was rather candid on Saturday regarding his disqualification aboard McKinzie. He thought his colt and Bolt d'Oro each bumped and hindered the other and the result should have remained as was.
That being said, it is somewhat troubling to feel too sorry for Smith and Baffert, especially since the very next day the jockey-trainer combo took a trip around the Santa Anita oval on a Cadillac named Justify.
The late developing son of Scat Daddy made just his second career start in an entry level allowance and made it two-for-two daylight in hand triumphs as he drew off by 6 ½ lengths and got the mile in 1:35 3/5.
The colt still needs qualifying points if Baffert wants to get him to Louisville for the first Saturday in May so it will be interesting to see if, as I mentioned earlier, Baffert sends Justify out of town or keeps him in Southern California for the Santa Anita Derby and exports McKinzie or switches up with the pair.
In any case, he might be just as good as Mike Smith says he might be.
"I hate to compare him to other horses right now, but doesn't he remind you of Easy Goer way back in the day? A big old red horse with that big, powerful stride?"
We'll know a lot more after this guy's next start.
Who knows, maybe the best 3-year olds will come from Southern California in 2018.
Check back Wednesday for my review of the Gotham Stakes and Tampa Bay Derby