Brad McKinzie Dies

The longtime Los Alamitos Racecourse executive was 62.

Edited press release

Brad McKinzie. PHOTO: Los Alamitos Racecourse

Brad McKinzie, a 30-year executive at Los Alamitos Racecourse, a co-founder of the Finish Line Self-Insurance Group, and one of the driving forces in bringing afternoon Thoroughbred racing back to the track, died on Sunday from renal carcinoma. He was 62.

McKinzie served as the vice president and general manager of the Los Alamitos Racing Association since 2014 and oversaw the expansion of the track's racing oval from a 5/8th of a mile track to a one-mile oval. He also managed the addition of 700 stalls to accommodate Thoroughbreds after the closure of Hollywood Park, and he ran the track’s Thoroughbred meets.

Previously, with business partner Michael Lyon, McKinzie started the Finish Line Self-Insurance Group, which provides worker’s compensation coverage for the jockeys, exercise riders, and grooms for 99 percent of the entire California Thoroughbred and Quarter Horse racing industry. McKinzie was also part of the group that built and opened Sammy’s Original in February of 2014, an upscale restaurant in Lake Forest dedicated specifically for off-track wagering. Sammy’s Original has since become a model for future mini-satellite developments.

“Brad was more than employee to me,” said Los Alamitos owner Dr. Ed Allred. “He was close to me. We joked around a lot and some thought that he was my son. Brad had strong opinions, and I’m known to be the same kind of a person. We didn’t agree on everything, but we always worked it out. He was my idea man and I relied on him a great deal. I fired him once from the general manager position, but I had him back working for me on another project the very next day. Our disagreements never affected our friendship. I had deep respect for him

 
Los Alamitos Racecourse owner Ed Allred and
Brad mcKinzie pose for a photo at the track on
the day of the post position draw for the
inaugural Los Alamitos Thoroughbred Derby.
PHOTO: Los Alamitos Racecourse

“He kept his illness private for months and always remained optimistic," Dr. Allred added. "From my limited experience in this area as a doctor, I knew that he was facing a difficult battle, but he always remained very positive. Brad was deeply spiritual and a devout Catholic. I am sure that helped him a lot in his final days. He meant so much to me.”

Born in San Francisco on November 8, 1954, McKinzie grew up in Walnut Creek east of Oakland, California. His family moved to Lakewood in Southern California in the early 1960s, and Brad would soon start accompanying his parents, Bill and Jean, on racetrack outings to nearby Los Alamitos Race Course.

McKinzie became enamored with Quarter Horses and racing, and his love for the sport grew deeper as his parents became friends with trainers and jockeys at the track. As a teenager, McKinzie decided he wanted a taste of life at the Cypress track and went to work as a groom for trainer Barry Woodhouse. When it came time to attend college, McKinzie went to Cypress College before moving on to the University of Arizona in order to enroll in the Race Track Industry Program. One of his classmates during that time was Bob Baffert, and the two struck a lasting friendship.

“I have about five people that I would say are very close friends, people that I can share with my most personal thoughts, and Brad is one of them,” said Baffert, the Triple Crown winning trainer and member of Thoroughbred racing’s Hall of Fame. “My brothers and I met him in college and he became like a brother. My mother called Brad her fifth son, that’s how close we became. We came up together working at Rillito Park Racetrack in Arizona.

"Brad’s the one who talked me into coming to Los Alamitos to train Quarter Horses in 1983," he added. "He’s just been a major part of my life. He’s Uncle Brad to all of my kids and has been with me through all my journeys. Brad has always been a giver and someone that takes care of everyone but himself. If he said he was doing something, just consider it done. He went through his illness in a very private manner. He didn’t want anyone to know that he was sick. He didn’t want anyone feeling sorry for him.

“I feel privileged to be his friend and to know him so close.  I have so many great memories of him, so many that we’ll be talking about him for years to come. He was smart and his humor was just something else. He would help me write my speeches. I don’t know who’ll do that now. He was so good for racing. He was so good for Los Alamitos Racecourse and was so instrumental in bringing Thoroughbred racing back there.”

After his time at the University of Arizona, McKinzie worked in the publicity department at Los Alamitos in 1977 before moving on to work in the media department at Hollywood Park in 1978. He would eventually return to his Los Alamitos roots and co-founded, along with Bruce Rimbo, the popular racing publication QuarterWeek Magazine from 1984-99, where McKinzie’s “Nobody asked, but…” column became must-read copy thanks to his sharp wit and humor.

While at QuarterWeek Magazine, McKinzie helped established and managed the Quarter Horse Breeders Classics program, patterned after the Breeders’ Cup World Championships. The Quarter Horse Breeders Classics went on to produce some of the biggest single-night handle cards in the history of Los Alamitos Race Course, including the track’s first ever $2-million single-night handle on November 17, 1990. In the early '90s, McKinzie was named vice-president and general manager of the Horsemen’s Quarter Horse Racing Association, which operated meets at Hollywood Park and Los Alamitos during that time, and he eventually became the general manager of the Los Alamitos Quarter Horse Racing Association through 1994, and then a valued consultant.

“Brad has been a voice of reason for our sport for a long time,” said Rick Baedeker, the executive director of the California Horse Racing Board and former president of Hollywood Park. “But more important, he will be remembered as a good and honest person who loved life and brought joy to all of us who were privileged to know him.”  

A self-described “race track guy,” McKinzie also struck a great friendship with Blane Schvaneveldt, Quarter Horse racing’s legendary trainer and the all-time leading conditioner at Los Alamitos.

“Everywhere we went Brad was there,” said Blane’s daughter, Shonna Smith Schvaneveldt, who also worked at QuarterWeek Magazine for 20 years. “Brad and my dad would argue back and forth all of the time on how the racetrack should be run. They ended up becoming great friends and Brad became a big part of our family. If there was anything that you needed, Brad was always there for you. When my dad was hospitalized in San Francisco during one Thanksgiving week, he took us all in to make sure we would be together. He could be stubborn at times, but he was a great guy and absolutely loved racing.”

When Los Alamitos established the Blane Schvaneveldt Handicap in honor of its greatest trainer, McKinzie partnered with Schvaneveldt on an Idaho-bred mare by the name of In Between Dreams with the hope that the legendary trainer would have an opportunity to win “his” race. In Between Dreams won the Schvaneveldt Handicap. 

McKinzie’s tireless work in helping to establish The Finish Line Self-Insurance Group, however, may be his most important accomplishment in racing.

“We started Finish Line on November 27, 2005, and it will be Brad’s legacy to the horse racing industry." said Lyon.

“He was so good with everyone on the backside,” Smith Schvaneveldt added. “He poured in countless of hours helping to put together the worker’s comp for Los Alamitos. He worked on that for months. I remember him saying at the time how tough it would be for trainers to survive if they couldn’t put something together. It was difficult, but they got it done.”

McKinzie is survived by his mother, Jean, sister, Lisa, and brother, Mark. A memorial service is set for Monday, August 21, at St. Hedwig Catholic Church in the city of Los Alamitos, beginning at 12 noon.

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