Because horses as young as three years old mature at such a rapid rate, it’s hard for even trainers to know how good they are until they race.
Mask, the runaway winner of Saturday’s $100,000 Mucho Macho Man Stakes at Gulfstream Park, fits that profile. With just one respectable victory last October at Belmont Park on his resume, trainer Chad Brown said even he was impressed with the ease his pupil ran away from a talented seven-horse field.
Breaking sharply from the gate under jockey Javier Castellano, Mask immediately took the lead as the field let him go through soft opening fractions of 24.43 seconds for the opening quarter mile and 48.13 seconds for the opening half mile.
With a length up on the field at the 3/4 pole, Mask had plenty in reserve and easily pulled away to an impressive 6 1/4-length victory, going under the wire in 1:37.65. Bal Harbour and Dak Attack finished in order well back.
“I was hoping he would break well and when I saw that first fraction I knew that he would be pretty tough to beat at that point,” Brown said. “He’s been training with really good horses in the morning and he has been galloping out particularly strong in his works.
“The only thing left to see midway through the race was if the layoff was going to hit him in the last eighth or not. And it didn’t. He just widened.”
Now the challenge for the son of Tapit is to master two turns. Brown said he would look for such a race for Mask, but would not say when or where it would come.
Sophmore turf runners were spotlighted in two other $100,000 stakes races Saturday. In the Kitten’s Joy Stakes, Flameaway led the field of seven out through sensible fractions, but given a ground-saving trip throughout from Julien Leparoux, Flameaway was able to hold off all challengers at the wire to win by a neck. The win was Leparoux’s second on the day.
Flameaway covered the 7 ½ furlongs in 1:29.78. Pony Up rallied widest of all to get second while Renaissance Frolic got a neck up for third. The entire field was separated by less than two lengths.
In the Ginger Brew Stakes, Thewayiam showed a quick turn of foot in deep stretch to dash between rivals and win the 7 1/2 furlong race in 1:30.19.
The filly, who was bred in France, was kept well off of the pace by jockey Jose Ortiz down the backstretch but began a furious run in the stretch. Ortiz found a gap between Designing to his inside and Closer Still to his outside and his mount responded with a charge to claim a length victory. Closer Still held on for place while favorite Andina Del Sur rallied for show. Ortiz rode three winners on the day.
Two 6 furlong stakes for 3-year-olds rounded out Saturday’s stakes card. In the $75,000 Limehouse Stakes, even money favorite Piven stalked the early pace and easily drew away to post a four length win. Cicatrix ran down pacesetter Luzmimi Princess in the stretch and held on a late charge from Morning Destiny to win the $75,000 Glitter Woman Stakes by a neck.