February 5, 2023

Masen gets job done in Poker

Masen wins the Poker Stakes (Photo by Coglianese Photos)

If not a tour de force display as in his prior start in the Seek Again S., Masen duly obliged as the 3-10 favorite in Saturday’s $242,500 Poker (G3) at Belmont Park. The Chad Brown trainee stalked and pounced to a one-length decision with Flavien Prat.

Masen proved hard to settle early. Breaking alertly from the rail, the Juddmonte homebred wanted to mix it up with Wolfie’s Dynaghost. Prat was in a wrestling match with Masen as he wrangled him back through an opening quarter in :24.05 and steered around into an outside tracking position.

The favorite then accepted the situation and rated kindly in second through the half in :48.26. Masen drew nearer by the six-furlong mark in 1:11.28, accosted Wolfie’s Dynaghost in the stretch, and forged clear. By covering the mile on the firm Widener turf in 1:34.16, Masen gave Brown his first win in the Poker.

Wolfie’s Dynaghost boxed on to salvage second in a three-way photo separated by noses. Brown’s other runner, Public Sector, was disadvantaged by the race shape but closed determinedly in third and just missed an exacta for the barn. Sanctuary City was in a similar spot in fourth, and 20-1 longshot Penalty trailed.

Prat wasn’t concerned about the pace scenario for Masen, as long as he relaxed.

“He broke well and when I asked him to switch off, it took him a little while,” the winning rider said. “It was a slow pace, so that didn’t help, but after that he switched off nice for me. He has a great turn of foot, so I wasn’t so worried about the slow pace. It was only a matter of getting him to switch off. After that, I was fine.”

Brown commented on the tighter margin of victory for Masen, who had beaten Wolfie’s Dynaghost by double digits in the May 22 Seek Again.

“He ran back just inside a month, which is a little tight for him, but I wanted to get another race between now and the Fourstardave (G1) (on August 13 at Saratoga). It worked out. (He was) a little headstrong off the slow first quarter, but he did settle nicely after that. Flavien indicated that he was pretty much in control from there just decided when he wanted to take over. By midstretch, he felt pretty comfortable when he forced the lead.

“I was (a little concerned),” Brown responded regarding Masen’s rank behavior. “I didn’t want to take too much out of him, having to reposition him to the outside of Wolfie’s Dynaghost, who ran a much better race this time and I expected him to. He’s a nice horse. We anticipated a better fight from him today and he gave it to us. Luckily, Masen was able to find a little bit more.”

Brown was satisfied with Public Sector’s effort in the circumstances, following a sixth in the Turf Classic (G1) on Kentucky Derby Day.

“A good regroup race from him after drawing a line through his race at Churchill over a turf course he didn’t like. He needs a little more pace to run at. He just missed second by a nose and was coming steadily. I think he prefers a mile and a sixteenth and a mile and an eighth anyway, which we know. We will build off this and figure out where we’re going to go next.”

Masen improved his record to 9-5-2-1, $426,288. Just nailed by Shirl’s Speight in his U.S. debut in the April 15 Maker’s Mark Mile (G1), the Kingman gelding had collected black-type for original trainer Ger Lyons in Ireland. Masen was a close third in the 2020 Tyros (G3) as a juvenile, second in last summer’s Ruby S. at Killarney in his belated sophomore bow, and left on a high note by taking the Oct. 23 Knockaire S. at Leopardstown.

British-bred Masen is out of Continental Drift, a daughter of Smart Strike and champion Intercontinental. Thus he hails from the tribe of Dansili, Banks Hill, Champs Elysees, Cacique, and Heat Haze.