J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman") Twitter: @J_Keelerman
in a while, a horse comes along and wins its debut with such authority and ease
that you can't help but wonder if you've seen a superstar in the making. Such
was the case when McKinzie cruised
to victory in a seven-furlong maiden race on October 28th at Santa
by Bob Baffert, the son of Street Sense wasn't overly hyped beforehand (he went
off at odds of 3.60-1), but he certainly delivered a performance worthy of accolades.
After settling in fifth place early on, a couple of lengths off the lead,
McKinzie rolled past the field on the turn and kicked clear decisively in the
homestretch to win by 5 ½ lengths, stopping the clock in the solid time of
1:22.70, which was good for a 99 Beyer speed figure.
Saturday, McKinzie will get a chance to become a Grade 1 winner when he faces
four rivals in the $300,000 Los Alamitos
Cash Call Futurity (gr. I) at Los Alamitos. Just like in his debut, he'll
have the Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith in the saddle.
course, there are a few things you can knock about McKinzie's chances in the
Los Alamitos Futurity. For one, he's got only a single sprint race under his
belt, and every one of Baffert's nine previous Futurity winners brought more
experience into the race. Secondly, McKinzie did race a bit greenly coming off
the turn in his debut, and it's fair to wonder if he would benefit from getting
in another prep run before tackling Grade 1 company.
in handicapping the Los Alamitos Futurity, I can't forget McKinzie's smooth run
around the turn and powerful finish in his debut. It's also worth noting that
the third-place finisher in that race, Shivermetimbers, came right back to win
going a mile in a fast time. To me, McKinzie looks like a star in the making,
and this race has been the target ever since his maiden win, perhaps in part
because McKinzie is named for the late Brad McKinzie of Los Alamitos. He might
end up being a short price, but I'll side with McKinzie to win this Saturday.
A strong case can also be made for McKinzie's Baffert-trained
stablemate Solomini, who enters off
consecutive runner-up efforts in the FrontRunner Stakes (gr. I) and the
Breeders' Cup Juvenile (gr. I). He's much more battle-tested than McKinzie, and
his tactical speed coupled with the ability to rate off the lead gives him plenty
of options in terms of race strategy. There's no reason to think Solomini won't
give a good account of himself on Saturday; the only question is whether his
best will be good enough to beat McKinzie.
a good chance that McKinzie and Solomini will run 1-2 in the Futurity, though
if you want to try to beat one in the exacta I would consider the chances of Runaway Ghost. He made a terrific
visual impression while winning the six-furlong Golden Nugget Stakes at Golden
Gate Fields by 7 ½ lengths, and while that race was conducted over a synthetic
track, it was also his first start off a five-month layoff and it's not hard to
imagine him taking a step forward off that run. He did break his maiden on dirt
at Santa Anita, giving some confidence that he can handle the surface switch,
but the bigger question is whether he can take on the likes of McKinzie and
Solomini while running beyond six furlongs for the first time.
out the field are Instilled Regard and
For Him. Instilled Regard finished
second and third in his first two starts before stretching out to 8.5 furlongs
and scoring a 4 ¼-length victory, but he did get a perfect pace setup that day,
carving out slow fractions of :24.02, :48.97, and 1:14.01 before accelerating
the final five-sixteenths of a mile in :31.75, making it difficult for late
runners to catch up. Mike Smith, who rode Instilled Regard in his first three
starts, will stick with McKinzie instead, allowing Drayden Van Dyke to pick up
enters the Los Alamitos Futurity off a run in the one-mile Zuma Beach Stakes on
turf two months ago, in which he set a quick pace before tiring to finish
fourth. It was a solid effort, but six starters from the Zuma Beach Stakes have
come back to run since then, and a third-place finish in a five-furlong turf
sprint was their only on-the-board finish. In addition, For Him's best effort
from three runs on dirt was a victory in a one-mile maiden claiming race at Del
Mar for which he earned a 50 Beyer. This could be a tough spot for him to
transition back to the main track.
it's your turn! Who do you like in the Los Alamitos Futurity?
J. Keeler Johnson (also known as "Keelerman") is a writer, blogger, videographer, handicapper, and all-around horse racing enthusiast. A great fan of racing history, he considers Dr. Fager to be the greatest racehorse ever produced in America, but counts Zenyatta as his all-time favorite. He is the founder of the horse racing website www.theturfboard.com.