by Jeremy Plonk
April 2, 2018
McKinzie hit the sidelines this weekend with an undisclosed injury, and within a sunrise it was stablemate and hotshot Justify confirmed for his Santa Anita Derby replacement on Saturday. Necessity remains the mother of invention, and there’s no greater example than horse racing.
Rarely do we see the most prudent path taken toward the Kentucky Derby. More often than not, these power barns are keeping their own horses away from one another, and their top horses away from the sport’s other top horses. Less attention seems to be paid toward one step at a time development.
But the absence of McKinzie from the Santa Anita Derby allows for the stars to align in terms of the right thing to do. Justify won’t be sent on the road to a frenzied Oaklawn Park for the Arkansas Derby. He’ll stay right at home and try to make a more natural transition.
The Santa Anita Derby is more of a next step for Justify. The Arkansas Derby would have been like trying to make three or four steps in one. Add in first-time variables like travel, a large field size, saddling in the infield, a new surface. That’s a lot of bites off the apple at once for a horse with a maiden and allowance race only on his resume by early April.
In the Santa Anita Derby, the footing and environment remains the same without any travel. The field size historically figures to be shorter. Justify won’t find the competition lacking with Bolt d’Oro among this crop's best also in a home-game at Santa Anita. But tackling Magnum Moon at Oaklawn didn’t figure to be a Saturday picnic either.
Shed no tears for Baffert, of course, as he’s had an embarrassment of Triple Crown success as well as success in both of these major preps. Plus, he’s also got Solomini aimed at the classics in what appears to be a trip to Aqueduct for the Wood Memorial. But it’s not out of the question that Solomini could be re-directed back to the Arkansas Derby following his Rebel Stakes runner-up to Magnum Moon. But don’t count on that.
Solomini’s connections already have stated a trip to New York, the home area of Zayat Stables, was their ‘preference’ for the Wood Memorial. Of course that preference has to be prefaced with the fact that McKinzie was set for the West with Justify headed to the Midwest. Now that’s changed. Again, necessity is the mother of invention, right?
The other notable factor in these situations becomes the media narrative. When one barn loses a major player, it’s amazing how quickly they start to talk up the other members of the shedrow. Don’t be shocked to hear how incredibly well Solomini is doing in the Wood Memorial lead-up. Necessity also creates optimism, after all.