February 24, 2018

Mask identifies himself as Kentucky Derby prospect in Mucho Macho Man romp

Unbeaten Kentucky Derby hopeful Mask drew off in his stakes debut in the Mucho Macho Man (Photo courtesy Kenny Martin/Coglianese Photography)

Going into Saturday’s $100,000 Mucho Macho Man at Gulfstream Park, Mask was one of a number of hotshot maiden winners from 2017 who could be anything this season. But after spread-eagling a solid field in the one-mile test, the Chad Brown trainee enhanced his stature as a Kentucky Derby (G1) prospect.

Mask ranked as the 7-5 favorite, the betting public rightly taken with his smart debut victory at Belmont Park October 20. The Lane’s End Racing colorbearer wasn’t quickest into stride that day, yet deftly advanced, split rivals in the manner of an experienced hand, and drew off from the useful Navistar.

Not seen again until the Mucho Macho Man, Mask got away sharply in this second appearance and gained the lead without breaking a sweat. His opponents were happy to hand him the tactical advantage, and jockey Javier Castellano was just as happy to take it and never look back.

Mask was on cruise control through splits of :24.43, :48.13, and 1:12.92 on the fast track, and opened up on them into the stretch. Galloping ever farther ahead with apparent ease, he crossed the wire 6 1/4 lengths clear in a final time of 1:37.65.

Bal Harbour, the winner of the Sapling and Smooth Air, rallied from a troubled start to take second by three lengths from comebacker Dak Attack. The previously unbeaten Dak Attack, making his first start since the August 20 Ellis Park Juvenile, chased Mask’s pace but came under pressure on the far turn. He’s eligible to do better next time. There was a seven-length gap back to Whereshetoldmetogo, followed by Santiamen, Handsome Franco, and Forever Taken. Trainer Todd Pletcher scratched Coltandmississippi.

A $685,000 Keeneland September yearling by Tapit, Mask has now earned $105,760 from his two-for-mark record. The Gainesway Thoroughbreds Kentucky-bred is the first winner from three runners produced by the stakes-winning Hidden Expression. His dam is a Yonaguska half-sister to three graded stakes performers – Bullsbay, the 2009 Whitney (G1) winner; Grade 3 scorer Our Khrysty; and Grade 2-placed multiple stakes victor Vegas No Show.

Mask will now step up for sterner tests of his class. His next assignment is a two-turn race to be named later, presumably worth Kentucky Derby points, when we’ll get a better read on this exciting colt. Should he stay at Gulfstream, his options would include the February 3 Holy Bull (G2), March 3 Fountain of Youth (G2), and April 1 Florida Derby (G1).

Quotes from Gulfstream Park

Winning rider Javier Castellano: “I didn’t expect my horse to run on the lead, I thought he’d run from behind, but the way he ran today was phenomenal. It was a tremendous effort the way he did it. He broke so sharp out of the gate. He’s the kind of horse that is so good mentally and a very mature horse. I remember the first time riding him he broke a little slow out of the gate, but now he knows what’s going on in the gate and will have a lot of potential. The most important thing is he’s got such a good mind and is mature with everything he does. “

Trainer Chad Brown on Mask: “Both starts weren’t a surprise, but we were impressed again. The horse has always trained like he was something special. Again, we learned some things about him. He broke much better in his second start and was able to just go to the lead. He had no problem with a mile. The way he ran, it looks like he’ll have no problem with two turns either. Very professional. Second start, he handled himself perfect in the paddock and has a wonderful mind on him. Exciting horse.

“I was surprised (to see him on the lead) but not disappointed. I was hoping he’d break well and when I saw that first fraction I knew he’d be pretty tough to beat at that point because he’s been training with really good horses in the morning and he’s been galloping out particularly strong in his works. The only thing left to see midway through the race was, was the layoff going to hit him the last eighth or not and it didn’t. He just widened.

“No plans yet. I really wanted to just see what happened today, what he got out of this race, how he handled the mile and everything. So far I couldn’t be more pleased with everything. We’ll see how he comes out of the race and go from there. I do want to try the horse two turns in his next start and find out where we stand as far as putting him on the Derby trail, but right now he looks like he’s firmly on that path.”

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