On Cross-Country-Saturday, the rich just kept getting richer. At Santa Anita, McKinzie, saddled by 2017 Eclipse Award finalist Bob Baffert, made short work of the Sham Stakes field, cruising to victory in the West Coast’s first stop on the Kentucky Derby trail.

At Gulfstream Park, Mask, saddled by 2017 Eclipse Award finalist Chad Brown, crushed the competition in the Mucho Macho Man, South Florida’s first step on the road to Kentucky.

Both horsemen have colts among the three finalists for the 2017 Juvenile championship, neither of which are named McKinzie or Mask.

Rating kindly beneath 2017 Eclipse finalist Mike Smith, McKinzie showed emphatically that he don’t want--and he don’t need--no stinking blinkers.

Settling into a wide 3-path throughout off the speed of even-pace setting All Out Blitz, it was Smith who came wide a blitz on the far turn, his momentum carrying his mount into the lead at headstretch before drawing off without need of pressure.

All Out Blitz proved easily second best, staying on after McKinzie took the lead and galloping out with energy after the finish in a good speed performance.

Second favorite Shivermetimbers clearly disappointed, stalking the pace after breaking a bit flat-footed and could not match strides with the first two finishers after being asked to do so on the final turn.

McKinzie’s final quarter-mile was a highly respectable 24.41, stopping the timer in 1:36.58 for the two-turn mile. Said Baffert post race:

"He just broke, got into good position, (and) didn't get rank with the blinkers off," Baffert said. "He was good, and when horses come to him, he really gets into the bridle. He got a lot out of this,” indicating that the March 10 San Felipe could be next.

At Gulfstream, the normally all-business Chad Brown was smiling widely in the winners’ circle, pleased but not necessarily surprised that his colt wound up on the lead, or in the winners' circle, for that matter.

“We had a good post and figured he’d break better in his second start,” said Brown following his colt’s sophomore debut at a flat mile. And break better he did.

Mask, whose stablemate Good Magic is an Eclipse finalist in the Juvenile category, broke sharply and inherited a clear lead in moderate fractions, a pace greatly moderated by a strong westerly wind that had the infield flags saluting crisply all afternoon.

The Mucho Macho Man was billed as a showdown: Mask, a second-time starter heavily bet from the bell, versus undefeated Dak Attack, 2-for-2 in Kentucky for Dale Romans, who had to adapt the colt’s training owing to shin issues that is so common with babies.

The Romans colt broke sharply and was but was taken in hand by Robby Albarado, in for the ride, but forced to race between horses down the long backstretch run. Those tough circumstances, plus some feel-good histrionics in the ring pre-race, could not have helped.

Despite that, nothing that he or any of Mask’s rivals could have done differently would have made a bit of difference. The $685,000 purchase who probably gets his speed from the Yonaguska mare, Hidden Expression, opened ground on his own at the turn and was not much more than knuckled-on by Javier Castellano into the lane.

image
Mask, an Embarrassment of Riches for Chad Brown
Photo Credit: Lauren King
In the straight it was all Mask, and we mean all Mask. Castellano sat motionless through the final furlong and eased his mount a sixteenth of a mile from the wire while increasing the margin.

The vastly experienced Bal Harbour rallied nicely on the fence through the lane to secure the place as Dak Attack remained one-paced to the end, holding the show in an effort sure to move him forward.

So while Mask didn’t necessarily prove anything by 12-clipping his field to death, coming his final quarter mile in 24:72, his future seems boundless, if he goes from start two to start three the same way he went from sprint debut to Mucho Macho Man, timed in 1:37.65.

While Brown remained noncommittal as to where the colt will run next, it seems unlikely it will be the Holy Bull and more likely the Fountain of Youth, unless he decides he wants more time between races leading up to the Florida Derby.

Showing an affinity for Gulfstream, it doesn’t make much sense to do anything but leave him in SoFla and allow him to develop at Palm Meadows. Apparently, those company works with Stellar Wind paid dividends.

As for stablemate Good Magic, he could take the New York or Lexington route to Louisville. Love this time of year, even as the rich get richer.

Speaking of Three-Year-Olds…

Too bad that Bolt D’Oro, who might hold a slight exit-poll edge over Good Magic in Eclipse voting, has had his three-year-old debut delayed after apparently getting cast in his stall. The March 2 San Felipe seems to make the most sense for his belated debut.

The Jerome, a flat mile for three-year-olds in New York that was lost to the intemperate weather, has been rescheduled and will be run on Saturday. The race will be redrawn from the original nominees, though there could be supplemental noms.

Meanwhile, the Louisiana Derby lid-lifter, the Lecomte at a mile 70 yards, has been drawn—love, love, love that Fair Grounds draws entries this far in advance!—and it has drawn a better than limit field; 14 in the body plus an also-eligible.

Three of those are legitimate headliners: Principe Guilherme, 2-for-2 by an aggregate 17-1/4 lengths; Instilled Regard placed second in G1 Los Al Derby last time and getting first-time Castellano, and the filly Wonder Gadot, also cross-entered in the Silverbulletday, with Velazquez.

Meanwhile, her stablemate Flameaway was a very game winner of the Kitten's Joy, setting the pace under pressure and repelling a host of stretch challengers, adding a turf victory to his prior scores on synthetic and dirt surfaces. Very nice colt!