The wonderful world of sports can often times provide us with a glimpse of the real world. If we look inside the cover of that book, there can be some of those deeper meanings of our existence. The grade 1 Whitney Stakes at Saratoga on August 3 was one of those “good” reads in the game of life.

Bob Baffert is the most recognizable face in Thoroughbred racing and arguably the best big race conditioner the game has ever known. Never content with what he has done, the hall of famer is always looking ahead to the next challenge. Calculating with the cunningness that has aptly provided the moniker “Big Race Bob”, Baffert made the decision weeks back to send one of his California stable stars East. Thing was, Bob was not looking for the winner’s share of the $1 million purse or the Win and You’re In bid for the Breeders’ Cup Classic. The Arizona native was in search of something far bigger.

McKinzie has been one of the barn favorites for Bob Baffert since toeing the track for the first time in October of 2017. Named for one of Baffert’s dear friends (the late racing executive Brad McKinzie), the horse has honored the fallen friend with an outstanding career to this point. Injury took him off the Triple Crown trail in 2018, but patience and improvement with maturity has landed this son of Street Sense near the top of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association poll in 2019. Coming in with only one win this year, three hard-luck near misses and the confidence of his conditioner told everyone this four-year old is a “for real” race horse.

“He’s a real special horse for sure,” says Baffert. “McKinzie is one of those runners that can be anywhere in the race and still win. As long as he gets into that comfortable rhythm when he’s running he can come from way back or be on the lead. He has gears and that gives him a dangerous versatility.”

Lining up against six other accomplished runners, team McKinzie was eager to make amends for a tough loss in the Met Mile in his last start. A zig instead of a zag in a traffic-laden race caused a big late run to come up just short on June 8 at Belmont Park. This time needed to be different for more reasons than one. Breaking alertly under jockey Mike Smith, McKinzie was out front early before settling just off the pace. At the top of the stretch, Smith booted his charge to the lead and he took it from there. Rolling to the wire, McKinzie won by a widening 2 lengths.

“The race was won on the backstretch,” says Baffert. “We wanted to get him out of the gate and get him rolling early. When Mike took him back and let the 8 horse take the lead that was the winning move. He knows this horse so well and understands how to win races like this.”

So we know the talent this four-year old has pulsing through his veins and we also have a handle on how he pulled it off. But why would Baffert ship his runner across the country when there are attractive races in the Golden State?

“The Whitney is what they call a proper grade 1 race,” says the five-time Kentucky Derby winning trainer. “Saratoga is such a special place and this is one of those races that really sets a horse apart when he wins. To honor my dear friend and give this horse a chance at the accolades he deserves we decided to make the trip. It gives me great pride to know that the McKinzie name will always be there as a grade 1 winner at Saratoga. We had a goal of making history and we did it. I’m getting a little more emotional about things as I have gotten older. This was really special for all of us.”

With that understanding, I think “us” encompasses way more than just the McKinzie team.