Keeler Johnson's Kentucky Derby Top 10 - 1/9/18

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January 9th, 2018

It’s not every day that you see a horse win a stakes races as easily as Mask won the Mucho Macho Man Stakes on Saturday at Gulfstream Park.

Trained by Chad Brown, the son of Tapit entered the one-mile race with just one run under his belt, that being an impressive maiden win at Belmont Park in which he overcame a slow start to win going away. Handicappers that expected him to employ similar late-running tactics in the Mucho Macho Man were caught by surprise when Mask—capitalizing on a slow pace—casually went to the lead, adapted to a 180-degree change in running style, and won with astonishing authority.

Granted, Mask received about as perfect a trip as you can hope for, racing alone on the lead through slow fractions of :24.43, :48.13, and 1:12.92. But Mask had the field struggling to keep up on the turn, and entering the homestretch Mask started drawing off under virtually no urging from jockey Javier Castellano, extending his advantage to win by 6 ¼ lengths while running the final quarter-mile in :24.73, a solid fraction for Gulfstream Park that produced a final time of 1:37.65.

Finishing behind Mask were the stakes winners Bal Harbour and Dak Attack, so while you can question the easy trip Mask received, it’s harder to knock the competition he beat. Chad Brown already trains the early Kentucky Derby favorite Good Magic, but in Mask he appears to have another highly promising colt with the potential to rise to great heights this winter.

Needless to say, Mask has earned a place in my Kentucky Derby Top 10. Here’s how I rank the contenders this week….
It’s a good thing that the Derby prep season tends to fly by, because we’ve still got about two months to wait until we see Good Magic back in action. The good news is that the horses he beat last year keep coming back to run well, hinting at just how strong Good Magic’s form was last season.
His performance in the Sham was much more professional than his performance in the Los Alamitos Futurity, as he relaxed nicely without blinkers and came on strongly in the final quarter-mile, clocking that fraction in a sharp :24 2/5. That was a big step in the right direction for the still lightly-raced son of Street Sense, who should only get better with more experience and maturity.
A pulled muscle caused him to miss a little training time and he’s now expected to skip the February 10th San Vicente Stakes (gr. II) at Santa Anita and return at a later date, possibly in the March 10th San Felipe Stakes (gr. II), where he could face off against McKinzie.
Like Good Magic, he’s been flattered by the subsequent performances of the various horses he’s beaten. Big Smokey and Goliath, second and third in Le Vent Se Leve’s maiden win, have both come back to win quality races, while Viel Spass and Meiner Yukitsubaki—third and fourth behind Le Vent Se Leve in the Platanus Sho—have come back to place in significant dirt races. In fact, Viel Spass ran third in a National Association of Racing (NAR) Group 3 event behind Don Fortis, who came back to be second behind Le Vent Se Leve in the Zen-Nippon Nisai Yushun.
He’ll make his stakes debut in the Lecomte Stakes (gr. III) at Fair Grounds on Saturday, in which he drew post twelve in a full field. He’s facing a few other quality front-runners and may have to take back off the pace in the Lecomte, which should give us a better idea of his versatility.
His strong performance in the Los Alamitos Futurity was flattered by McKinzie’s easy romp in the Sham Stakes. He was nominated to the Lecomte Stakes, but passed the race and hasn’t breezed since December 28th, so he seems unlikely to return to action until a little later this winter.
Where will Mask run next? Chad Brown has plenty of options, with the February 17th Risen Star Stakes (gr. II) at Fair Grounds being one possibility.
He hasn’t been back on the work tab since winning the Remsen Stakes, though that’s not surprising since he isn’t expected to run again until February at the earliest.
After going three furlongs in an easy :37.45 at Palm Meadows on December 24th, he came back with a half-mile in :49.80 on January 5th as he continues to prepare for a February 3rd return, with the Holy Bull Stakes (gr. III) and the Withers Stakes (gr. III) being possible targets.
He continues to post steady workouts at Santa Anita, with many of them coming from the starting gate, including his most recent—six furlongs in 1:15.20 on January 6th. The way he carries his head low during his workouts is reminiscent of Arrogate, though only time will tell if he can match or even come close to Arrogate’s level of talent.