MALIBU LIKE DANCING WITH THE STARS FOR MCKINZIE
So if you tuned in to the December 26 Malibu Stakes at Santa Anita you saw quite the performance from a very talented three-year old. In fact, it was so impressive, if this were an episode of Dancing with the Stars, the judges would have all flashed up a “10” on their scorecards after McKinzie tripped the light fantastic over the California dirt with his partner.
The seven furlong Malibu has long been a target for top runners on opening day of the winter meet at The Great Race Place. Restricted to three-year olds, the race has enticed talent from across the country to run in company with their peers one last time since it was inaugurated in 1952. This edition was no different as heavy hitters from all over entered the starting gates. Having been considered one of the top three- year old males in the early part of the year, injury and a disappointing performance in the Breeders’ Cup had raised questions about the abilities of McKinzie. With 13 skilled competitors and post position 13 confronting him, the Bob Baffert trainee would have his chance to cut a mean rug.
When the gates opened, this son of Street Sense did not exactly look like Fred Astaire as a stumble left him shuffled back behind a wall of horses. Further back early than most expected, McKinzie’s supporters had a few anxious moments early. Fortunately for his backers, he was dancing with one of the best in the business. Having mastered the rumba, sprinkler, dab, and many other moves over the years, Mike Smith knew exactly what to do once the music started.
“I really was not that concerned with our post draw because it was a cut back in distance for him and we would have all the action inside where we could see them,” says the hall of fame jockey. “He broke well but did stumble about three jumps out of the gate. That put us back a little farther than we thought, but I knew they were getting busy on the front end. He recovered like a champ and settled nicely. I knew he was full of run at that point.”
The early pace was in fact hot. As Calexman, Nero, and Ax Man did their version of the running man through a quick opening quarter mile (22.30), Smith kept his mount out of traffic and to the outside. Not concerned with saving ground as he had a plenty fit horse beneath him, Big Money Mike let McKinzie cruise through the opening half mile (44.92) while the front runners were doing their used car salesman routine on the dance floor.
“I knew Bob (Baffert) had done an excellent job of getting him ready so being wide was not a concern,” says Smith. “Considering all things, I think breaking from the outside was the best scenario for us. He had thrown in a clunker in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, but the good thing about that was it didn’t take a lot out of him so I knew we had a lot of horse for this race.”
As the field turned for home everyone else figured out what Smith already knew. Displaying a tremendous turn of foot, McKinzie gobbled up ground at an unbelievable rate. In Michael Jackson-like fashion, he danced to the front with moves that would make Ginger Rogers blush. Inside the final furlong it was a case of “watch me whip watch me nay-nay” as McKinzie rolled past the wire a widening 4 ¾ lengths ahead of everyone else.
“That was the kind of race I know he can run,” says his jubilant rider. “He was very impressive, especially down the stretch. That was the turn of foot that can make him into a great sire once he is done racing. People can look at that and will see the special abilities that can hopefully be passed down.”
After those dance moves and with what should have been perfect scoring from the judges, the future looks bright for a colt that has lost only once on the track. M.C Hammer might be calling for pointers if he can continue to put on those types of displays.
“I am so excited about what 2019 can offer with this horse,” says Smith. “Bob will get him on a program where he can perform like this every time. The injury back in the spring set him way back, but Bob had him right for a big win in the Pennsylvania Derby. We always knew he was this kind of horse and the Malibu kind of validated that to everyone. I have thought all along McKinzie has the talent to be a special horse and we are looking forward to what can be a really big year with him.”