By Richard Rosenblatt
A year after finishing 12th in the Breeders’ Cup Classic – the only race he’s not won or finished second in 13 career starts – McKinzie is back for another shot.
This time, the 4-year-old colt trained by Hall of Famer Bob Baffert will go against 10 rivals over his home track at Santa Anita Park.
“He’s been training the right way all along and just had a nice workout,’’ Baffert said after McKinzie covered seven furlongs in 1:24.40 on Oct. 22. “I feel like he hasn’t lost a step. He came out of the work very well and looks healthy. We just need a little racing luck.”
McKinzie, who could be the favorite when post positions are drawn Monday, comes into the 1¼-mile Classic off a second-place finish in the Awesome Again (G1) at Santa Anita behind long shot Mongolian Groom, also pre-entered in the Classic.
Prior to that, McKinzie ran in New York twice, finishing second to Mitole in the Metropolitan Handicap (G1) at Belmont Park and then winning the Whitney Stakes (G1) at Saratoga. The son of Street Sense has compiled a 2-4-0 record from six starts this year for owners Karl Watson, Mike Pegram and Paul Weitman.
There will be one major change when McKinzie walks onto the track Nov. 2 for the Classic. He will be ridden for the first time by Joel Rosario, who replaces Hall of Famer Mike Smith.
Smith has been aboard McKinzie from the start, but Baffert, not thrilled with the way Smith had been riding the colt of late, went with his gut and made the surprising change.
“I just go with my instinct. I was frustrated,’’ Baffert said. “I felt like I had to make a change.”
Baffert has won the Classic three times, with Arrogate (2014), Triple Crown winner American Pharoah (2015) and Bayern (2016).
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Over the years while working at The Associated Press, Rich Rosenblatt became a familiar name to legions of the horse racing fans and industry insiders with his award-winning articles on horse racing and his stories from the backstretch.
In addition to being an astute observer of sports, Rosenblatt is the co-author of The All-American Chili Cookbook. His work has been seen in just about every publication in the world, including The New York Times, The Washington Post and Time Magazine.