October 19, 2017

Baffert, Pletcher send out promising sophomores-to-be

Fact Finding & John Velazquez prove much the best in the Dec. 10 Smooth Air at Gulfstream. Photo courtesy of Leslie Martin/Adam Coglianese Photography

Four-time Kentucky Derby winner Bob Baffert is readying a brigade of horses for the 2017 Kentucky Derby, including American Anthem, Beach Bum, Big Gray Rocket, Hot Sean and Klimt. But the hottest prospect in the Hall of Fame trainer’s barn, Mastery, was on display last weekend and did not disappoint making his two-turn debut in the Los Alamitos Futurity (G1), just missing the track record as he rolled to a 7 ¼-length decision.

Now 3-for-3 overall, Mastery registered a career-best 99 BRIS Speed rating in the 1 1/16-mile race and Mike Smith rides the Candy Ride colt.

On the other side of the country, Todd Pletcher made a splash at Gulfstream Park Saturday as Fact Finding and Sonic Mule enhanced their profiles with impressive wins and Kentucky Oaks hopeful Bode’s Dream came back from a 6-month hiatus to post another convincing score.

Mastery shrugged off a brief challenge in upper stretch and finished full of run under the wire, extending Baffert’s record with a ninth overall Futurity victory, including the last three runnings (Dortmund and Mor Spirit in 2014-15). Baffert put blinkers back on the dark bay, who recorded a 4 ¼-length debut score in a hood but shed the headgear for a 1 ¼-length tally in the November 19 Bob Hope (G3), and Smith noted how Mastery is still learning.

“He relaxed very well, but I think a key point today was Bob (Baffert) putting the blinkers back on him,” the Hall of Fame rider said. “When he hit the front, he didn’t know where he was at and he put the brakes on there for a minute; it kinda worried me. Once I got into him and reminded him ‘it ain’t over, we ain’t done yet,’ man he jumped back into the bridle and finished really strong.

“Actually his gallop out was really good; his gallop out was probably faster than his last sixteenth.”

Mastery brings plenty of speed to the equation and hails from a mare out of the A.P. Indy stallion Old Trieste. His female family features other stamina influences in Storm Cat (second damsire), Mr. Prospector (third dam) and Buckpasser (fourth dam).

Fact Finding turned in a spectacular performance in his long-anticipated stakes bow, registering a 101 BRIS Speed rating as he drew off to win by a widening 7-length margin in the Smooth Air. Count me among those who foolishly questioned the rationale behind an abundance of caution surrounding the son of The Factor – Fact Finding appeared destined for stakes competition soon after a sharp 2 ¼-length debut win at Saratoga August 6 but despite no gaps in his workouts, the gray colt had only started in a 6 ½-furlong entry-level allowance at Keeneland in mid-October.

He had the goods on Saturday, but the sloppy track is a potential caveat. And the Smooth Air took place at one-turn mile so he must still answer the two-turn question. Regardless of any concerns, there is plenty to like right now.

Fact Finding has easily captured all three starts and contains a nice mix of speed and stamina in his pedigree. His sire, The Factor, proved to be a top sprinter but was bred to run longer and Fact Finding hails from a mare by Travers winner Deputy Commander and counts Miswaki as his second damsire. He’s eligible to make a smooth transition to longer distances and as I said in a December 6 preview of Kentucky Derby Futures at the Wynn, Fact Finding could really come on this winter.

Scully: Preview of Wynn Kentucky Derby Futures

Sonic Mule may prove more geared toward sprint/middle distances, but he established himself as one to watch going forward with a dominant front-running victory in the 6-furlong Buffalo Man. Runner-up in a turf stakes, the bay colt also finished fourth in the Saratoga Special (G2) and third in the Sapling before breaking through on Saturday, notching a 103 BRIS Speed rating for his first stakes tally.

His immediate pedigree — by Distorted Humor and out of an A.P. Indy mare — appears favorable for more ground but it’s no surprise to see speedy types like multiple Grade 1-winning sprinter Zensational in the female family given Sonic Mule’s affinity for one-turn distances.

Bode’s Dream earned her first triple-digit BRIS Speed rating, receiving a 100 for her wire-to-wire triumph in the 6-furlong House Party. From the first crop of Kentucky Derby and Preakness runner-up Bodemeister, the gray lass opened her racing career with a 3 ¾-length victory last May and was making her first start since crushing Astoria foes by a 2 ¾-length margin on June 9.

She continued to thrash the competition on Saturday, scoring by 2 ¾ lengths in wire-to-wire fashion, and Bode’s Dream will now stretch out in distance as she tries to make a mark in upcoming Kentucky Oaks preps.

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