Kentucky Derby Hope Mastery Gives Baffert Futurity Hat-Trick

Mike SmithMastery proved well-named when staking an early claim for the 2017 Kentucky Derby with an awesome display of dominance in the $300,000 Grade 1 CashCall Futurity. The red hot 1/5 favorite finished clear of toiling rivals by a record-breaking margin of seven and a quarter lengths at Los Alamitos on Saturday (December 10).

The betting market was right about the winner, ridden by Mike Smith (pictured) and trained by Bob Baffert, but it was the 24/1 longshot of the field of five, the Doug O’Neill trainee Irap who finished second under Mario Gutierrez. Almost six lengths further back Irap’s unfancied stablemate Dangerfield closed late to take third, ridden by Drayden Van Dyke. The pacesetter Bobby Abu Dhabi was fourth leaving Baffert’s disappointing second favorite, Show Me Da Lute, to finish last.

When Smith asked Mastery to quicken after the final turn this colt really impressed him with his response, finding immediate acceleration. He clocked a winning time of 1:41.56, just over half a second slower than the track record of 1:40.82. That sounds unremarkable but the early fractions were steady and Smith said that Mastery decided to take a breather and have a look around as soon as he made the lead. Smith admitted that Mastery needed to be reminded to keep running to the wire, the commentator noticed the frequency of his left-hand action with the whip.

It was a third straight win for Baffert in the Futurity and gave him a record-breaking total of nine victories in the race. For Mastery it was only his third run and continued his unbeaten sequence of easy wins. He had blinkers first time out at Santa Anita Park in October but they were left off for his Grade 3 run at Del Mar in the Bob Hope Stakes.

Baffert knows how to handle juveniles and Smith praised him for deciding to put the blinkers back on as they had made his job easier. Smith thought Mastery had relaxed well in them and not wasted vital energy pulling when he held him just off the pace. He was sure that the blinkers had reduced his tendency to assess his environment and helped him to focus on galloping.

Baffert was concerned how Mastery would handle a second turn for the first time in his life thinking that he might become one-paced, believing that the race was over. He was right to think that Mastery might slow up, Smith confirmed it, but was delighted at how he ended his race, galloping in a straight line under his jockey’s drive.

The early part of the race went smoothly for Mastery. Bobby Abu Dhabi broke best from gate two and soon took the lead but Mastery jumped well too and settled in second on his outside with his head alongside Bobby Abu Dhabi’s quarters. Irap raced in third with Show Me Da Loot angling across to the fence to save ground in fourth. Dangerfield was very slow to get into his stride, trailing the pack by about six lengths after the first bend.

Bobby Abu Dhabi covered the first quarter in a steady 23.37 with Mastery’s blue noseband hovering over his flank and continued to set easy fractions of 45.65 and 1.09.53. With half a mile to run the leading trio were tightly packed and had a gap of six lengths between the remaining pair.

At the top of the stretch Bobby Abu Dhabi relinquished his leading position to Mastery. Irap looked the most likely colt to challenge him as the long-term leader weakened. When Mike Smith went for his whip Mastery responded in the style of a very good horse putting plenty of distance between himself and his closest rival. The record for the winning margin in the Futurity of seven lengths had stood since 1995.

The CashCall Futurity win put Mastery’s earnings at $271,200. This Kentucky-bred son of Candy Ride out of the inappropriately named Steady Course (by Old Trieste) has more work to do to repay his purchase price of $425,000 as a yearling at the Keeneland 2015 September sale. Mastery’s owners, Cheyenne Stables, will have to be patient but the future looks good for this colt.

Baffert’s last two Futurity winners have lined-up in the Kentucky Derby and Mastery’s price in the Kentucky Derby betting was reduced to 12/1 after this win. Classic Empire holds his position as the 10/1 favorite.

Mastery is obviously very talent but his unconventional action in front is a potential issue worth mentioning. He dishes noticeably with his right foreleg and his left does not move completely straight either. Do not expect him to have the longevity of a good moving horse like California Chrome but if he can stay sound longer than his sire he should be an interesting prospect for the 2017 Kentucky Derby.