IN A THRILLER, GIFT BOX DEFEATS McKINZIE BY A NOSE IN GRADE I, $600,000 SANTA ANITA HANDICAP

IN A THRILLER, GIFT BOX DEFEATS McKINZIE BY A NOSE IN GRADE I, $600,000 SANTA ANITA HANDICAP; RIDDEN BY ROSARIO, HE GIVES SADLER HIS SECOND BIG ‘CAP VICTORY IN A ROW, COVERING 1 ¼ MILES IN 2:03.02 

ON A STUNNINGLY BEAUTIFUL AFTERNOON, HUGE PERFORMANCES IN THE SANTA ANITA DERBY & THE BIG ‘CAP WOW AN ON-TRACK CROWD OF 30,713 

ARCADIA, Calif. (April 6, 2019)–On a stunningly beautiful day at Santa Anita, the 82nd running of the iconic track’s signature race for older horses, the Grade I, $600,000 Santa Anita Handicap, developed into a thrilling stretch battle between the two principles in today’s affair, John Sadler’s Gift Box and Bob Baffert’s McKinzie.  In the end, it was Joel Rosario and Gift Box by a nose over Mike Smith and McKinzie, with the gray Gift Box stopping the clock in 2:03.02 for a mile and a quarter.

With longshot Prime Attraction showing the way into the Club House turn, Gift Box and McKinzie were in close attendance, no more than a length and a half off the early lead.  Mid-way around the far turn, Rosario, who had his mount well in-hand, cruised to the lead past Prime Attraction a quarter mile out and was immediately engaged to his outside by McKinzie.

From the three sixteenths pole home, it was a classic head and head battle that had all 30,713 on-track fans enthralled and yes, if even for a couple minutes, maybe far removed from the weight of an onslaught of bad news primarily wrought by a wet winter.

“It was a good race,” said Rosario.  “He broke perfect out of there and John told me to keep him close and when he wants to go, maybe follow someone…It was a good race turning for home.  I knew McKinzie was coming for us in the last part…He showed a lot of heart today and I have to thank Hronis Racing for the opportunity and to John.”

For Sadler and owner Hronis Brothers Racing, LLC, it was their second Big ‘Cap win in a row, having won it last year with eventual Older Horse of the Year Accelerate.

Originally based in New York, Gift Box, a 6-year-old horse by Twirling Candy, out of the Unbridled’s Song mare Special Me, had been idle since his first Southern California start, a half length win in the Grade II, 1 1/16 miles San Antonio Stakes on Dec. 26.

“This is very special,” said Sadler.  “I grew up with this race, to win it two years in a row is incredible.  I came here as a kid with Lou Rowan (owner/breeder and original board member of the Oak Tree Racing Assoiciation) when Quicken Tree won the Big ‘Cap (1970), so it means a great deal to me.

“Joel rode a great race, you could see he had a lot of horse around the turn and he was just sitting on him.  To beat a top horse like McKinzie in a photo like that…We needed it because we lost that tough photo last week (with Catapult, who was beaten a nose by longshot Ohio in the Grade I Frank E. Kilroe Mile).  This was the plan when we bought this horse and it happened.  We couldn’t be happier.”

Off as the 2-1 second choice in a field of six, Gift Box, in his first Grade I win, paid $6.20, $2.40 and $2.20.  With the winner’s share of $355,000, he hiked his earnings to $879,160 and improved his overall mark to 15-5-5-2.

For his part, McKinzie lost nothing by way of stature in defeat as he was 3 ¾ lengths clear of longshot Mongolian Groom.  Off as the 2-5 favorite, 4-year-old McKinzie, who carried top weight of 123 pounds while spotting the winner one pound, paid $2.10 and $2.10.

Ridden by Geovanni Franco, Mongolian Groom, off at 53-1, paid $3.40 to show.

Fractions on the race were 24.24, 49.03, 1:13.70 and 1:38.37.

Although Baffert was denied his sixth Big ‘Cap win, he took his record ninth Grade I Santa Anita Derby two races earlier, as Roadster upset his stablemate Game Winner by a half length in a thrilling stretch run that barring something unforeseen, should propel both colts to center stage in next month’s Kentucky’s Derby.

Racing resumes with a nine-race card on Sunday.  First post time is at 1 p.m. and admission gates open at 11 a.m.