Baffert still hoping McKinzie can turn the corner

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bob baffert
Bob Baffert

McKinzie remains on course to defend his crown in the Grade 1 Whitney Stakes next weekend, according to trainer Bob Baffert.

The four-time Grade 1 scorer has not found his best form this year but Baffert watched him work at Del Mar this week and declared he still has a shot at the Saratoga race he won 12 months ago.

Since taking out that prize, McKinzie has registered only one further success in five starts.

His latest outing was a lacklustre effort, as he found little under pressure late on in the Met Mile at Belmont Park this month, finishing fifth in a race won by George Weaver’s Vekoma.

Though McKinzie shed two shoes in the race, Baffert wasn’t going to use that as an excuse for a flat performance.

“He did pull those shoes off,” Baffert said, reflecting on the performance. “He broke well, and then all of a sudden he fell back and lost his right front and right hind shoes. I’ve never had that happen. He must have just grabbed himself and pulled them off. It was freaky. It was almost as freaky as when Gun Runner lost his shoe (winning the 2017 Whitney) and it was in his tail the whole way around.

“It was hot and muggy,” Baffert added. “In the warm-up I could tell he wasn’t himself. Going to the gate Mike (Smith, jockey) never felt good about it.”

After running five-furlongs at Del Mar in 1:00.6, Baffert will allow McKinzie time to show if he’s ready for the Whitney on August 1st.

“He worked nice,” Baffert said of the Del Mar exercise. “He’s going to be nominated for the Whitney. I was waiting to see how he worked and how he comes out of it.”

Code Of Honor, third in the Met Mile for trainer Chug McGaughey, and Tom’s d’Etat, winner of his last four starts are amongst the probable contenders for the 1m1f Whitney Stakes at Saratoga.

Baffert has also left in Hollywood Gold Cup winner Improbable, while Bill Mott’s Tacitus completes the list alongside Bodexpress and By My Standards.

Meanwhile, this weekend Baffert hopes to see Maximum Security return to the track in the Grade 2 San Diego Handicap at Del Mar.

It will be his first start since arriving at Baffert’s yard from that of Jason Servis, for whom he won his last four starts, including the inaugural Saudi Cup in February.

The Coolmore-owned four-year-old is already prominent in the betting for the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Keeneland later in the year but, as with McKinzie, three-time Classic-winning trainer Baffert isn’t getting too far ahead of himself.

McKinzie was second behind Vino Rosso at Santa Anita in last years race but, assessing the long-term options for both runners, Baffert suggested: “The Breeders’ Cup? That’s too far off.”

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