By J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman")
Happy New Year, everyone! Thanks to a pair of early
Kentucky Derby prep races at Santa Anita and Gulfstream Park, 2018 will kick
off with a bang for racing fans. The highlight of this coming Saturday is the
$100,000 Sham Stakes (gr. III) at Santa Anita, which offers a total of 17 Derby
qualification points to the top four finishers, but the $100,000 Mucho Macho
Man Stakes at Gulfstream Park is almost as interesting despite the fact that it
doesn't offer any points.
Let's take a look at both races....
Stakes (gr. III)
This race was shaping up to be a rather competitive event
until trainer Bob Baffert entered McKinzie,
a last-minute move that puts the race in an entirely different light. Regular readers
of this blog know that I'm a big fan of McKinzie, who opened his career with an
eye-catching 5 ½-length maiden win at Santa Anita (earning a 99 Beyer) before
crossing the wire second in the Los Alamitos CashCall Futurity (gr. I) on
December 9th, a race in which he was placed first via
I felt that McKinzie moved a little too soon in the Los
Alamitos Futurity and got a bit leg-weary in the long homestretch, which wasn't
surprising since the race marked his two-turn debut. Baffert wasted no time
getting him back on the work tab after that race, sending him out twelve days
later so that McKinzie could get in three solid workouts before the Sham. I
particularly liked McKinzie's December 27th work, in which he went
five furlongs in :59 1/5 while holding his own against Ax Man (who came back to
break his maiden easily on January 1st) and galloping out
I'm also excited to see that McKinzie will be racing
without blinkers in the Sham Stakes, which should help him settle better and
make a run from off the pace like he did in his maiden win. First-time blinkers
off in graded stakes races is a very strong angle for Baffert, and taking all
of this together, I don't think McKinzie will be beaten in the Sham. He's 3-5
on the morning line, but looks like a solid single for the multi-race wagers
and a horse to key on top in the trifecta or superfecta.
For second place, I like Shivermetimbers, a Jerry Hollendorfer-trainee that won a one-mile
maiden race on November 23rd at Del Mar by a head over Peace, who
came back to win a similar event at Santa Anita against a good field.
Macho Man Stakes
Most of the attention will be focused on Dak Attack, who went 2-for-2 for
trainer Dale Romans during the summer, keeping good company and rallying to
score an eye-catching three-length win in the Ellis Park Juvenile Stakes on
However, Dak Attack was sidelined by a minor injury
following the Ellis Park Juvenile and will be returning from a lengthy layoff
in the Mucho Macho Man. Throw in the fact that he got an ideal pace setup in
the Ellis Park Juvenile (the early fractions were very fast), and I'm tempted
to side against him as he stretches out to a mile for the first time.
Instead, I'll take a shot with Mask. Trained by Chad Brown, the promising young son of Tapit has
only run once, but that one run resulted in a big maiden victory at Belmont
Park that really caught my eye. Despite breaking slowly at the start of the 6 ½-furlong
sprint, Mask gradually worked his way into contention while racing
professionally in between horses and boldly split horses turning for home,
seizing command and drawing off to win by three lengths while earning sharp
speed figures. Considering his pedigree, the one-turn mile of the Mucho Macho
Man shouldn't be an issue, and it's not hard to envision Mask taking a step
forward while making his second start, particularly if he breaks better from
the gate. I'm expecting a big run and believe Mask is the horse to beat.
Now it's your turn!
Who do you like in the weekend Derby preps?
The Unlocking Winners Road to the Kentucky Derby Handicapping Challenge is back for the fourth consecutive year! Please be sure to post all entries, prime horses, and stable additions on the contest page. Thanks, and enjoy the racing!
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.