Top Two Throw Down at Santa Anita
By Dick Downey with content from Santa Anita
The hype calls for showdown time Saturday at Santa Anita as top Kentucky Derby prospects McKinzie and Bolt d’Oro head a field of eight in the 1 1/16-mile San Felipe Stakes.
The two are top-rated in the 3-year-old polls, and something may have to give.
The final major steppingstone to the Santa Anita Derby on April 7, the San Felipe will award 85 Kentucky Derby qualifying points—with 50 to the winner and 20, 10 and five points to the second, third and fourth place finishers.
Trained by Bob Baffert, McKinzie was a rousing 5 1/2-length first-out maiden winner going seven furlongs at the track on Oct. 28. He was subsequently second, beaten three quarters of a length, in the Grade I Los Alamitos Futurity going 1 1/16 mile on Dec. 9, but he was awarded the win when his stablemate Solomini was disqualified for interference in deep stretch. That led to a third win in three starts in the Sham Stakes at Santa Anita in January. Baffert removed McKinzie's blinkers for that race and believes it helped him relax in the early stages of the contest.
A Kentucky-bred colt by Street Sense, McKinzie hasn't missed a tick training for Baffert and may get top billing at the betting windows on Saturday.
Owned and trained by Mick Ruis, Bolt d’Oro was undefeated in three starts, including a pair of grade I wins, going into the Grade I Breeders’ Cup Juvenile on Nov. 4, but he was arguably compromised by an outside draw and finished third, beaten 5 1/3 lengths by eventual Eclipse Champion Good Magic.
Sidelined by what was described as a muscle pull following the Juvenile, Bolt d’Oro had his first recorded work of the year on Jan. 27 and has trained forwardly, with his most recent drill a fast half mile in 46.40 Monday morning with Victor Espinoza aboard at the track.
Highly respected longtime private clocker Gary Young assessed "Bolt’s” work, saying, “He looked terrific. No one could knock the way he worked today, it was perfect. It looks like the stage is set for Saturday. McKinzie worked great yesterday, so the two favorites come into this race really good.”
Among the challengers is Kanthaka, trained by Jerry Hollendorfer. The impressive come-from-behind winner of the seven-furlong San Vicente Stakes will try two turns for the first time. Connections stated a preference for shipping to the one-turn Gotham Stakes soon after the San Vicente, but they decided to stay home and see what they have at two turns. With terrible weather delaying a charter's plan to arrive in New York today, the decision looks prescient.
Lombo is apparently going to be sent to the lead by trainer Mike Pender in an effort to duplicate his front-running win in Febuary's Robert B. Lewis Stakes at the track.He faces much tougher competition this time around, but all the entries are three-year-olds that are prone to change quickly this time of year.
Here's more information about the top two contenders.
Owner: Mike Pegram, Karl Watson and Paul Weitman
Trainer: Bob Baffert
A sentimental favorite for Baffert and many others, he’s named for longtime Los Alamitos executive and Baffert confidant Brad McKinzie, who passed away this past August at age 62 following a lengthy illness. Purchased as a $170,000 Keeneland September yearling, he appears to rate an advantage over Bolt d’Oro at this point in time due to the fact Baffert has not missed any training with him since his Grade I win on Dec. 9. With “Big Money” Mike Smith set to ride him back, McKinzie is obviously in good hands.
Owner and trainer: Mick Ruis
A winner of the seven furlong Del Mar Futurity in his second start on Sept. 4, this talented colt by Medaglia d’Oro breezed to a 7 3/4 length win at the track in the 1 1/16-mile FrontRunner Stakes on Sept. 30 and was the 3-5 favorite among 12 horses in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile on Nov. 4. Parked wide the entire trip from his number 11 post position, Bolt d’Oro finished with interest to be third, and in the opinion of some he remained 2017’s top 2-year-old.
With regular pilot Corey Nakatani and Ruis parting company in early January, Ruis sought out four-time Eclipse Champion Javier Castellano for Saturday’s San Felipe and flew Castellano west to work “Bolt” six furlongs out of the gate in 1:12 flat on Feb. 26—a work in which he broke tardily, which has been an issue in two of his starts. With Victor Espinoza hoping to take over in either the Santa Anita Derby or the Run for the Roses, Bolt d’Oro was all business Monday morning, perhaps an indicator that his gate issues are behind him. Although he’s now had seven recorded works dating back to Jan. 27, Ruis indicated Monday morning that his primary objectives lie beyond Saturday’s San Felipe:
“We’ve got a plan,” he said. “The San Felipe isn’t really the race we’re point for…He’s got a lotta talent. He’ll be really good in the Santa Anita Derby.”
Via Twitter today, Jeremy Balan of BloodHorse reported that Ruis said he could scratch Bolt d'Oro if rain muddies up the track on Saturday.
Race 6; approximate post time 5:30 ET
1. Bolt d’Oro, Javier Castellano, 124
2. Lombo, Rafael Bejarano, 122
3. Ayacara, Kent Desormeaux, 120
4. McKinzie, Mike Smith, 124
5. Aquila, Martin Pedroza, 120
6. Calexman, Alonso Quinonez, 120
7. Peace, Drayden Van Dyke, 120
8. Kanthaka, Flavien Prat, 120