There are very few important races in this country that trainer Bob Baffert has not won. Saratoga’s Grade I Whitney Stakes had been one of them.
And now the Whitney no longer is a big race that has eluded the powerful Baffert operation.
Baffert sent out McKinzie to win the 2019 renewal of the 1 1/8-mile Whitney in convincing fashion last Saturday. Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith piloted the 4-5 favorite.
Yoshida, last early in the field of seven, rallied to finish second at 8-1 in by far his best effort of the year to date. Vino Rosso, off at 9-2, ended up third, 4 3/4 lengths behind Yoshida. Preservationist, the 2-1 second choice in the wagering, came in fourth.
Thunder Snow was withdrawn from the Whitney. He reportedly had a cough and temperature. An earner of $16,511,476, Thunder Snow no doubt would have been a contender if he had started.
McKinzie raced in contention early after an alert beginning. Approaching the backstretch, he vied for the lead while racing to the inside of Preservationist. These two were well clear of the others at this stage of the race.
Shortly after entering the backstretch, Preservationist opened a clear lead. That seemed to be just fine with Smith, who essentially hit the “pause button” to slow McKinzie momentarily. Smith then steered McKinzie to the outside of Preservationist.
As the field made its way down the backstretch, Smith appeared quite content to be sitting about a length off Preservationist while the pacesetter posted early fractions of :23.77 and :47.48.
Heading into the far turn, Preservationist opened up his lead to about two lengths. It appeared at this point that perhaps odds-on McKinzie might not get it done on this particular day at the venue known as “the graveyard of favorites.” Indeed, one of the most famous upsets in the history of American racing occurred at Saratoga in the 1973 Whitney when Onion won in an upset and Triple Crown winner Secretariat let his many supporters down by finishing second.
McKinzie did not let his numerous backers down last Saturday. He moved up to take the lead in the vicinity of the quarter pole, then was about two lengths in front at the sixteenth pole. The bay colt maintained a clear lead the rest of the way without being put to a drive by Smith. McKinzie won by 1 3/4 lengths in 1:47.10.
Daily Racing Form’s David Grening pointed out that when McKinzie’s final time is converted in fifths to 1:47 flat, it was the second-fastest Whitney since the race was shorted to 1 1/8 miles in 1955. Tri Jet also won the 1974 Whitney in 1:47 flat when times were not recorded in hundredths. The track and stakes record is 1:46.64, which was set by Lawyer Ron in 2007.
McKinzie was credited with a career-best 111 Beyer Speed Figure for his Whitney performance.
Here are the Beyer Speed Figures recorded by Whitney winners going back to 1990:
2019 McKinzie (111)
2018 Diversify (110)
2017 Gun Runner (112)
2016 Frosted (107)
2015 Honor Code (113)
2014 Moreno (109)
2013 Cross Traffic (108)
2012 Fort Larned (110)
2011 Tizway (111)
2010 Blame (111)
2009 Bullsbay (107)
2008 Commentator (120)
2007 Lawyer Ron (117)
2006 Invasor (113)
2005 Commentator (123)
2004 Roses in May (114)
2003 Medaglia d’Oro (114)
2002 Left Bank (121)
2001 Lido Palace (114)
2000 Lemon Drop Kid (118)
1999 Victory Gallop (116)
1998 Awesome Again (110)
1997 Will’s Way (126)
1996 Mahogany Hall (110)
1995 Unaccounted For (111)
1994 Colonial Affair (111)
1993 Brunswick (115)
1992 Sultry Song (112)
1991 In Excess (116)
1990 Criminal Type (115)
OUT OF EXACTA ONLY ONCE SO FAR
McKinzie certainly has been a model of consistency. He has won seven races and finished second four times in 12 lifetime starts. This was his fourth Grade I triumph to go along with the Los Alamitos Futurity, Pennsylvania Derby and Malibu Stakes.
Earlier this year, McKinzie won the Grade II Alysheba Stakes with authority by nearly five lengths at Churchill Downs on May 3. He then finished an unlucky second when experiencing a troubled trip in the Grade I Met Mile at Belmont Park on June 8.
Owned by Mike Pegram, Karl Watson and Paul Weitman, McKinzie has not been part of the exacta only once, that being when he finished 12th in the Grade I Breeders’ Cup Classic at Churchill Downs last year.
McKinzie will get another chance to win a BC Classic this year on Nov. 2 at Santa Anita, his home track.
These are the five horses to have won both the Whitney and the BC Classic in the same year:
2017 Gun Runner
2012 Fort Larned
1998 Awesome Again
By the way, the 2019 Whitney was one of five stakes races last Saturday on what was proclaimed Marylou Whitney Day. All day long Saratoga paid tribute to the owner, breeder and philanthropist who passed away on July 19 at the age of 93.
Whitney was one of 16 inductees into the Hall of Fame last Friday in Saratoga. She was one of a dozen who were inducted this year as Pillars of the Turf.
BAFFERT FONDLY RECALLS COLT’S NAMESAKE
“It’s a great honor to win the Whitney,” an emotional Baffert said last Saturday after McKinzie’s victory. “I’ve never won the Whitney, so this is a huge moment for me.”
Of course, “huge moments” are far from anything new for Baffert, the trainer who won the Triple Crown in 2015 with American Pharoah and again in 2018 with Justify.
Baffert was noticeably overcome with emotional after winning the Whitney. That’s because McKinzie is named after Baffert’s close friend Brad McKinzie, who passed away following a battle with cancer on Aug. 6, 2017, at the age of 62.
It actually was at Brad McKinzie’s funeral when the idea was hatched to name the future 2019 Whitney winner, Baffert explained in Sunday’s Saratoga Race Course notes. At the funeral, Baffert and Pegram were telling Brad McKinzie stories when Pegram said, “You know what? We need to name a good horse after Brad.”
Baffert responded by saying he had a colt in mind that would fit the bill.
“I think I’ve got one,” Baffert said. “I’ve got a Street Sense colt. I think he’s pretty good.”
Two names were considered.
“We didn’t know if we were going to call him Big Brad or McKinzie,” Baffert said Sunday.
They opted for McKinzie, Baffert explained, because they felt it was a stronger name. Baffert also said Sunday that he thought Brad McKinzie “would have preferred” naming the colt McKinzie instead of Big Brad. Not only that, Baffert said he thought the colt “got a little bit faster once we named him” McKinzie.
Born in San Francisco, Brad McKinzie attended the University of Arizona Race Track Industry Program in the 1970s. Baffert was a classmate. The two became lifelong friends.
During Brad McKinzie’s long career in both Thoroughbred and Quarter Horse racing, he wore many different hats, as they say. At various times, he was a groom, a racehorse owner, a track publicist, a magazine publisher and a track executive.
When McKinzie was vice president and general manager of the Los Alamitos Racing Association, he was instrumental in the construction of 700 more stalls at that track to provide an additional place for Thoroughbreds to train following the closure of Hollywood Park in 2013. He also oversaw Los Al’s expansion from a five-eighths oval to a one-mile oval for racing in 2014.
Quite possibly McKinzie’s most significant achievement was his tireless work, along with business partner Michael Lyon, to establish The Finish Line Self Insurance Group in 2005. At the time of McKinzie’s death, that insurance entity was providing worker’s compensation coverage for the jockeys, exercise riders and grooms for 99% of the entire Thoroughbred and Quarter Horse racing industries in California.
Following Brad McKinzie’s death, Baffert said: “I have had about five people that I would say are very close friends, people that I can share with my most personal thoughts, and Brad was one of them. My brothers and I met him in college and he became like a brother. My mother called Brad her fifth son. That’s how close we became.”
EIGHT RINGS SPARKLES AT FIRST ASKING
Baffert looks like he has a terrific 2-year-old in the smooth-moving Eight Rings, who strolled to a 6 1/4-length win in his debut last Sunday at Del Mar. The $520,000 yearling completed 5 1/2 furlongs in 1:03.68.
Eight Rings recorded a 94 Beyer, highest by a debuting 2-year-old so far in 2019. The 94 is the second-highest Beyer by a 2-year-old this year. Dennis’ Moment registered a 97 Beyer when he romped to a 19 1/4-length win in a seven-furlong maiden race at Ellis Park on July 27 in his second start.
When Game Winner won a maiden race by 5 3/4 lengths at the 2018 Del Mar meet in his unveiling, he received an 83 Beyer. He subsequently took the Grade I Del Mar Futurity (93 Beyer), Grade I American Pharoah Stakes (97 Beyer) and Grade I Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (93 Beyer).
Baffert has won the Del Mar Futurity a ridiculous 14 times.
By running a 94 Beyer in his debut, Eight Rings demonstrated that he has a good chance to win this year’s Del Mar Futurity on Sept. 2. The Beyer for the winner of the Del Mar Futurity has exceeded 94 only twice since 2003: Declan’s Moon’s 107 in 2004 and American Pharoah’s 101 in 2014.
Interestingly, according to Daily Racing Form’s Jay Privman, Enrique “Lalo” Luna is Eight Rings’ groom. Luna not only was the groom for 2015 Horse of the Year American Pharoah and 2018 Horse of the Year Justify, he currently is also the groom for Game Winner, the Eclipse Award-winning 2-year-old male of 2018 who has designs on Saratoga’s Grade I Travers Stakes on Aug. 24.
Another highly regarded Baffert-trained 2-year-old colt, Garth, is entered in Saturday’s first race at Del Mar. He breaks from the inside post vs. five opponents in the 5 1/2-furlong sprint.
Eight Rings is a Kentucky-bred son of Empire Maker, who won the Grade I Belmont Stakes in 2003. Garth, a Kentucky-bred Into Mischief colt, is a grandson of Empire Maker.
Garth sports four straight bullet drills, all at Del Mar, going into Saturday’s race. He worked five furlongs from the gate in company with Eight Rings there on July 25. The two finished on virtual even terms in 1:00.00.
MORE ON SHANCELOT’S BIG BEYER SPEED FIGURE
Speaking of Beyer Speed Figures, as I noted last week, when Shancelot recorded a 121 for his 12 1/2-length tour de force in the Grade II Amsterdam Stakes at Saratoga on July 28, it was the highest Beyer so far this year.
These are the highest Beyer Speed Figures this year through Aug. 6:
Beyer Horse (Date, Track)
121 Shancelot (July 28, Saratoga)
114 Come Dancing (April 5, Aqueduct)
114 Imperial Hint (July 27, Saratoga)
112 City of Light (Jan. 26, Gulfstream Park)
111 McKinzie (Aug. 3, Saratoga)
109 Roy H (Jan. 19, Santa Anita)
109 Imprimis (March 9, Gulfstream Park)
109 McKinzie (May 3, Churchill Downs)
109 Wellabled (May 10, Arlington Park)
108 Mitole (April 13, Oaklawn Park)
108 Laki (April 20, Laurel)
108 Preservationist (July 6, Belmont Park)
108 Promises Fulfilled (July 6, Belmont Park)
108 Mitole (June 8, Belmont Park)
108 Yoshida (Aug. 11, Saratoga)
Dick Jerardi, in a story he wrote for the Daily Racing Form, shed some additional light on the historical significance’s of Shancelot’s lofty 121 Beyer Speed Figure.
“The 121 was the best by any 3-year-old sprinter in the 27-year history of the Beyer Speed Figures being published in Daily Racing Form,” Jerardi wrote. “It was the third-fastest by any 3-year-old doing anything in that period. Only Holy Bull’s 122 in the 1994 Met Mile and Arrogate’s 122 in the 2016 Travers have been better.
According to Jerardi, just three 3-year-olds have hit the magic 120 mark in a race shorter than one mile since 1993 -- Kelly Kip in 1997, Xtra Heat in 2001 and Cajun Beat in 2003.
Shancelot’s “121 was the best Beyer sprinting by horses of any age since Midnight Lute got a 124 in 2007,” Jerardi wrote. “And, to think Shancelot got his 121 in just his third career start.”
These are the Beyer Speed Figures of 120 or higher by a 3-year-old since 1993:
Beyer Horse (Year Race, Distance, Track)
122 Holy Bull (1994 Met Mile, 1 mile, Belmont Park)
122 Arrogate (2016 Travers, 1 1/4 miles, Saratoga)
121 Rock and Roll (1998 allowance, 1 1/16 miles, Belmont Park)
121 Concerned Minister (2000 Tenacious. 1 1/16 miles, Fair Grounds)
121 Shancelot (2019 Amsterdam, 6 1/2 furlongs, Saratoga)
120 Kelly Kip (1997 allowance, 6 1/2 furlongs, Saratoga)
120 Xtra Heat (2001 Sweet n Sassy, 6 furlongs, Delaware Park)
120 Medaglia d’Oro (2002 Jim Dandy, 1 1/8 miles, Saratoga)
120 Cajun Beat (2003 BC Sprint, 6 furlongs, Santa Anita)
120 Bellamy Road (2005 Wood Memorial, 1 1/8 miles, Aqueduct)
120 American Pharoah (2015 BC Classic, 1 1/4 miles, Keeneland)
120 Arrogate (2016 BC Classic, 1 1/4 miles, Santa Anita)
Jorge Navarro trains Shancelot, who was making his stakes debut in the Amsterdam. Even before the Amsterdam, Navarro had gone on the record as saying Shancelot was the best horse he has ever trained. That was a big statement coming from someone who has conditioned such talented runners as Private Zone, X Y Jet and Sharp Azteca.
As the DRF’s Grening pointed out, Private Zone, X Y Jet and Sharp Azteca have combined to win 30 races, including 20 stakes, and earn more than $8.3 million.
Shancelot, a Kentucky-bred Shanghai Bobby colt, is scheduled to make his next start in Saratoga’s Grade I H. Allen Jerkens Stakes at seven furlongs on the Aug. 24 Travers card.
I stick by what I wrote last week when I said that “it will be a mission impossible for anyone to beat Shancelot in the Jerkens if he comes anywhere close to running like he did in the Amsterdam.”
RETIRED TRAINER RICHARD HAZELTON PASSES AWAY
Richard Hazelton, who won 4,845 winners as a trainer to rank 10th on the all-time list, died on July 30 in the Los Angeles area at 88, Daily Racing Form’s Marcus Hersh reported.
According to Equibase, these are the all-time leading Thoroughbred trainers through Aug. 7:
Rank Trainer (Wins)
- Dale Baird (9,445)
- Steve Asmussen (8,520)
- Jerry Hollendorfer (7,625)
- Jack Van Berg (6,523)
- King Leatherbury (6,501)
- Scott Laker (6,036)
- Bill Mott (4,933)
- D. Wayne Lukas (4,817)
- Todd Pletcher (4,785)
- Richard Hazelton (4,775)
According to the DRF’s obituary, Richard Hazelton died after suffering a stroke, though he had been in relatively poor health for some time. The retired trainer’s death was reported by his son, TVG broadcaster Scott Hazelton.
I worked with Scott for many years when we both were with HRTV. My heart goes out to Scott. I know how much he revered his father.
Scott “had been helping take care of his father since Richard Hazelton moved to California from his home in Illinois several years ago,” the DRF’s obit stated.
Born on Sept. 2, 1930, in Phoenix, Richard Hazelton was a jockey in his younger years. In 1945, he won the jockey title at Agua Caliente in Tijuana, Mexico. Scott once showed me photos of his father taken when he was a jockey.
Richard Hazelton began training in the 1950s. He retired from that profession in 2011.
Hazelton won numerous training titles at Chicago area tracks and at Phoenix’s Turf Paradise. The Chicago racing press often referred to Hazelton as “King Richard.”
“Great is not a good enough adjective for Richard as a horseman,” Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen was quoted as saying in the DRF’s obit. “King Richard was an accurate description of him.”
Baffert is another Hall of Fame trainer who talked about his respect for Hazelton in The Paulick Report’s obit.
“He was Turf Paradise. He was Sportsman’s Park. He was Arlington Park. I mean, that was him,” Baffert said of Hazelton. “I remember going to Turf Paradise once, and I saw him in the paddock. But I was too scared to go up and introduce myself. He was a better horseman than I will ever be.”
Hazelton became well known for training two special Thoroughbreds, the speedy Zip Pocket and the claiming legend Maxwell G. (though neither horse was mentioned in the DRF’s obituary or The Paulick Report’s obit).
Very few trainers have ever had a horse fast enough to set three world records. Hazelton did train a horse with that kind of blazing speed in Zip Pocket.
At the end of 1967, Zip Pocket held the world record for these various distances: five furlongs (:55 2/5), 5 1/2 furlongs (1:01 3/5) and six furlongs (1:07 2/5). All three world records were set at Turf Paradise.
Zip Pocket’s six-furlong world mark stood until it was broken in 1972 by Grey Papa. On Labor Day in 1972, I was at Longacres when Grey Papa, ridden by Joe Baze (Russell Baze’s father), won a six-furlong race in a rapid 1:07 1/5 to break Zip Pocket’s world record.
Maxwell G. was a blue-collar racehorse who won 47 of 234 career starts. That’s not a typo. Maxwell G. raced 234 times!
In monetary terms, Maxwell G. earned $181,420. “Max” also earned the admiration of a great many racing fans, particular those at Turf Paradise, Arlington Park, Hawthorne and Sportsman’s Park.
Maxwell G. did not race at 2 or 3. At 4 in 1965, he won his second career start, a 5 1/2-furlong race at Yakima Meadows. I was there that day to witness the first of Maxwell G.’s 47 victories.
In fact, I saw Maxwell G. run a number of times at Yakima Meadows during the 1960s. I have a tattered Yakima Meadows program that shows Maxwell G. entered for a $1,000 claiming tag in the fourth race on March 26, 1967. According to what I wrote on that program page, Galspin B. won and Maxwell G. finished second.
Maxwell G. eventually made his way to California. He raced without much success at Bay Meadows, Golden Gate, Santa Anita and Hollywood Park.
And then in 1970 at the age of 9, Maxwell G. was claimed for $6,250 at Pomona (later renamed Fairplex Park). That was when Hazelton first became Maxwell G.’s trainer.
Prior to Maxwell G. joining the Hazelton barn, the Washington-bred gelding had come close to beating the Hazelton-trained Fleet Wing. That, Hazelton later would explain, was the main reason he claimed Maxwell G. in 1970 for the first time.
“The careers of both horse and trainer would never be the same,” Gene McCormick wrote in a story about Maxwell G. in the 2004 Illinois Racing News.
Maxwell G. won a whole bunch of races for Hazelton. From time to time, someone would claim Maxwell G. away from Hazelton. But time after time, Maxwell G. did not do all that well for his new connections. Eventually, “Max” would find himself back in Hazelton’s barn.
When Maxwell G. was 13 in 1974, an article about him appeared on the front page of the Wall Street Journal.
Early in 1977 at Turf Paradise, 16-year-old Maxwell G. won a $2,000 claiming contest at one mile under Jimmy Powell, who rode the popular gelding in many of his races. After Maxwell G. lost a couple of times that year at Sportsman’s Park, it appeared to Hazelton that age finally seemed to have caught up with the son of Author. The trainer decided that the time had come to retire Maxwell G. from racing.
Remarkably, Maxwell G. made at least one start a year for 13 consecutive years from age 4 through 16. Talk about longevity.
According to McCormick’s story, after Maxwell G. was retired from racing, Hazelton “made certain Max had a good retirement home. The old horse was sent to the 26,000-acre McGregor Ranch near Wichita Falls, Texas.”
Maxwell G. spent the remaining five years of his life at that ranch surrounded by other Thoroughbreds and Texas Longhorns.
THIS WEEK’S NTRA POLL
In the wake of McKinzie’s victory in the Grade I Whitney, he moved up a notch to No. 2 in the NTRA Top Thoroughbred Poll this week. McKinzie is knocking on the door for the top spot, just 19 points behind grass star Bricks and Mortar, who heads a field of 10 entered in this Saturday’s Grade I Arlington Million.
Here is the Top 10 in the NTRA poll for this week:
Rank Points Horse (First-Place Votes)
- 418 Bricks and Mortar (25)
- 399 McKinzie (16)
- 333 Midnight Bisou (3)
- 212 Mitole
- 193 Sistercharlie
- 185 World of Trouble
- 134 Imperial Hint
- 107 Maximum Security
- 67 Elate
- 67 Seeking the Soul