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What's Next for San Felipe Sluggers?

by Jeremy Plonk

March 12, 2018

Top-ranked heavyweight bouts rarely live up to the billing. But Saturday’s showdown at Santa Anita between McKinzie and Bolt d’Oro in the San Felipe Stakes literally went to the judge’s scorecards to determine a winner. I’m not here do dispute the decision; my biggest concern is just exactly what to do now that we’ve seen a May-level clash in mid-March.

We won’t know for sure how much the San Felipe knocked the starch out of McKinzie and Bolt d’Oro. Speed and performance figure makers will try to measure that in the reappearance by comparing their starts and follow-ups by the numbers. But that post-script won’t be written until after their next p.m. appearance.

What do we do between now and the next time we have to decide to bet on McKinzie or Bolt d’Oro? Consider each horse’s history to perhaps predict their future.

After the Del Mar Futurity, Bolt d’Oro returned to the workout tab in 13 days to prepare for the FrontRunner. He had 2 drills between races that were 26 days apart. Then heading into the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, Bolt d’Oro took 15 days to return to the workout tab post-FrontRunner and posted 3 workouts with 35 days between starts.

To keep with his own pattern of recovery and to show he’s bounced back nicely from the San Felipe, we should expect Bolt d’Oro back on the workout tab in about 14 days (approximately March 24) with 2 timed drills between now and the Santa Anita Derby given the 28-day spread in races.

Bolt d’Oro has been a decidedly faster work horse at 3 than he was at 2, but freshness could attribute to some of that. Now that he’s had a race, don’t be surprised if he if he reverts to a 1:01-kind-of-worker for 5 furlongs than the a.m. blazer he’s become this winter. I would be far more worried about the spacing of the workouts than the times between now and the Santa Anita Derby.

McKinzie was coming off a 2-month break in the San Felipe, which was by design and actually just part of his form cycle since the Jan. 6 Sham. Unlike Bolt d’Oro, he had no training set-backs going into this start and is much less of a concern coming out of it. Still, taxing efforts are taxing efforts, even for a horse smack-dab in the middle of a form cycle. But knowing Bob Baffert, McKinzie was not peaked for the San Felipe with the Kentucky Derby still 2 starts away. He, too, could have done too much, too soon. Tabbing his morning activity will be important moving forward, which makes these two "must-see XBTV," if you will.

Baffert’s success at Oaklawn in the past decade could give him an interesting pivot with McKinzie in that the Arkansas Derby will be a week after the Santa Anita Derby on the calendar. This taxing effort in the San Felipe – and lack of a desire to rematch with Bolt d’Oro – could send McKinzie on the road with more time to recoup if Arkansas is the chosen option.

When might we begin to gauge McKinzie moving forward? He took 18 days to return to the workout tab following his career debut win in October knowing the Los Al Futurity was still 6 weeks between starts. Following his rough-and-tumble Los Al Futurity, which was similarly competitive to the San Felipe, McKinzie was back working in just 12 days, a remarkable rebound. He logged 3 timed workouts in a 4-week window until the Sham Stakes.  Then, after the Sham, he returned in 15 days to the tab even with the San Felipe circled 2 months away on the calendar.

Even if Baffert opts for the Arkansas Derby and takes the extra week of recovery, McKinzie’s history shows he is capable and wanting to do work 12-15 days after a tough race. Just like Bolt d’Oro, we need to see this horse back working at his norm in a similar timeframe, between March 22-25, regardless of his next start.

When Bob Baffert got entrenched in this whole Triple Crown trail business, he had Silver Charm in 1997 lock up with Free House in the San Vicente, San Felipe and Santa Anita Derby and that worked out quite well. A year later, he rematched Real Quiet from the San Felipe with Artax in the Santa Anita Derby and flipped the result in a positive direction.

I’ll be a bit disappointed if McKinzie is directed away from Bolt d’Oro or vice-versa next up. Definitely as a fan. Most definitely as a historian. And slightly as a scout of what it means in terms of confidence heading toward the Triple Crown.