Will McKinzie Win the Los Alamitos Futurity?

By J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman") Twitter: @J_Keelerman

Once 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 Anita.

Trained 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.

On 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.

Of 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.

But 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.

There's 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.

Rounding 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 the mount.

For Him 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.

Now 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.

Recent Posts

More Blogs