The spirit of competition is truly a powerful thing. What drives one to do what they do in certain situations? Life is a constant proving ground to some and that is what drives them. That is certainly the case for one three-year old Thoroughbred and his team as they prepare for their final start of 2018.

The grade 1 Malibu Stakes at Santa Anita on December 26 will be the last run of the year for West coast sensation McKinzie. Earlier in the year, this speedy son of Street Sense had been regarded as the top Kentucky Derby prospect from the barn of hall of famer Bob Baffert. An unfortunate injury while training in March put McKinzie on injured reserve and opened the gates for that “other” Baffert horse to step into the limelight. As it turned out, the “other” three-year old happened to be Justify and we know how that turned out (unbeaten Triple Crown winner). With the days in this year dwindling, this sentimentally named talent is ready to bring glory back to the Baffert barn.

After coming off the IR (injured reserve), the colt named after a deceased friend of Baffert made his presence felt in the three-year old division with a powerful score in the Pennsylvania Derby. Coming in off a six-month layoff, McKinzie looked every bit the polished product whose only setback in his career came via a disputed disqualification in the San Felipe Stakes on March 10. Then came the Breeders’ Cup Classic. In his first try against older horses, the Kentucky-bred looked primed to provide his conditioner with another Classic win, but a spirited early run saw him tire and fade to a disappointing 12th place finish.

“If I had it to do over again we would not have run in the Classic,” says Baffert. “Coming back off such a long layoff, the Pennsylvania Derby took a lot more out of him than I thought. He just wasn’t fit enough to compete against that type of talent at a mile and a quarter. He ran fast early but just did not have enough stamina to maintain that pace.”

Likely to compete as a four-year old, some might wonder why the Malibu? For team McKinzie it really is more a question of why not. Never one to stand on his accomplishments, the crafty California conditioner has made his name in recent times on the biggest of stages. The Baffert-way has been to focus on the future and not really reflect on the past. Restricted to three-year olds, the historic Malibu’s seven furlong distance should be made to order for this courageous colt. What better way to prove he is the best three-year old still in training in the male division than to run in this year-ending grade 1 event?

“How could you ask for a better spot,” says Baffert of a race that was first contested at Santa Anita in 1952. “The cutback in distance will be good for him and it is his last chance to compete as a three-year old. The race usually comes up tough and we are excited for another opportunity to see him run this year. He is doing great right now.”

Baffert has won the Malibu on two previous occasions (2011 The Factor, 2013 Shakin It Up) and will give a leg up to fellow hall of famer Mike Smith as the rider of McKinzie. The Malibu is part of a 10 race card on opening day at Santa Anita with 5 graded stakes races on tap. First post is slated for 11:30 am Pacific.