Gift Box outduels McKinzie in a Santa Anita Handicap thriller

March 26, 2019 08:33pm
Gift Box outduels McKinzie in a Santa Anita Handicap thriller
Photo: Benoit

While short on entries, Saturday’s Grade 1, $600,000 Santa Anita Handicap didn’t disappoint in its star power — or its stretch battle.

The anticipated match race between Gift Box and McKinzie materialized at the top of the late, with the former getting a nostril down at the wire while completing 10 furlongs in 2:03.02.

"That was a very cool race turning for home," said Joel Rosario, who rode Gift Box to win in a photo finish.

A victory gave trainer John Sadler and owner Hronis Racing their second straight win in the Big ‘Cap following Accelerate’s score last year. It also established the East Coast transplant Gift Box, a former Chad Brown trainee, as California’s big older horse.

" The exercise riders, John -- they really liked this horse, so we took a shot, and he's shown himself really proud these last two races," said Kosta Hronis, who privately purchased the son of Twirling Candy, then immediately sent him out to win the Dec. 26 San Antonio Stakes (G2). The Big 'Cap marked his first race since.

"I really thought he was going to win easy," Hronis added with a laugh, "but then McKinzie came flying. I didn't see that coming. I was grateful we got the bob."

McKinzie, as he proved Saturday, is but perhaps a nose behind with the 4-year-old also a narrow loser of the San Pasqual (G2) in his season debut. Three starts back, the Bob Baffert trainee blitzed his age group in the Malibu (G1).

Gift Box, age 6, secured his first Grade 1 victory Saturday after pressing the pace-setting Prime Attraction. The gray headed that rival at the quarter pole, then set up a duel with McKinzie, who ranged up outside.

"It's really rewarding," said Sadler, who suffered a tough beat last Saturday when Catapult lost a Grade 1 race in a photo. "...I kind of felt like this week I really needed this one."

“It was a tough beat," said Mike Smith, who rode McKinzie. "I don’t know. I think I was in front I just didn’t get the bob, you know. There’s not a whole lot you can do about that. It’s part of the game.” 

McKinzie was defeated as a 2-5 favorite. Gift Box, the second choice in a field of six, went off at 2-1 and returned $6.20.


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