By Dick Powell 

It might be March 9 when this column is published but somehow, I don’t think we’ve seen the 2017 Kentucky Derby (G1) winner. At least, not yet. Last weekend did not help.

In New York, heavily favored EL AREEB (Exchange Rate) was surprisingly sent to the front and either ran out of gas or pedigree, or both, in the stretch in the Gotham Stakes (G3). Yes, it was a contested pace but he really didn’t have any excuses on an Aqueduct inner dirt where he posted two graded stakes wins by wide margins.

If a Kentucky Derby winner comes out of New York, I think you have to wait for the Wood Memorial (G2) to be run in three weeks. I didn’t see any in the Gotham.

Down at Gulfstream Park, IRISH WAR CRY (Curlin) was sent off at 11-to-10 in the Fountain of Youth Stakes (G2) and finished a well-beaten seventh behind the classy GUNNEVERA (Dialed In), who passed horses with ease after being 10th and last early in the race. The winning time of 1:44.25 was a bit slow but the main track played slow all day as the sun and winds dried out any water put down by the maintenance crew.

What Gunnevera showed recording his third graded stakes win on three different tracks is an ability to pass horses and not hang when asked to make his move. He might be a legitimate Kentucky Derby contender but not sure if he is good enough to win it.

But this Saturday, the picture could come into sharper focus when Santa Anita hosts the San Felipe Stakes (G2) going 1 1/16 miles on the main track. The race only attracted a field of seven but four of them are graded stakes winners and the spotlight will be on MASTERY (Candy Ride), who is 3-for-3 and captured the Los Alamitos Futurity (G1) at the same distance 91 days ago.

Trainer Bob Baffert never really backed off of him as he resisted the temptation of bringing him back to the races too early. Nobody in today’s game can get them ready off workouts like Baffert and Mastery’s workouts started out steady and now with the screws being tightened, they have been sensational.

Last Sunday, Mastery worked six furlongs in 1:12.60 while three or four paths off the rail and like stablemate ARROGATE (Unbridled’s Song), the sophomore colt finished up with energy past the finish line.

Mastery will get tested severely on Saturday since there is good pace in the race and he will have to relax. He does gets the services again of Mike Smith, who has only had 42 mounts this year. By appointment only, Smith is America’s best big-race rider and his decision making has been faultless.

Quick, what do AMERICAN PHAROAH (Pioneerof the Nile), DREFONG (Gio Ponti) and Arrogate have in common? They are champions trained by Baffert and all lost their career debuts. And, it’s not like Baffert has to race his horses into shape since he has the same high win percentage of debut runners (21%) as Todd Pletcher.

Those three monsters were beat first time out but Mastery wasn’t, scoring at 3-to-10 odds back in October at Santa Anita; not Del Mar in the summer. The $400K yearling purchase has been heavily bet in all three career starts and will be again on Saturday. He commands all my attention and a win will vault him to the head of the 3YO class.

Speaking of Arrogate, it’s official – I give up. I have run out of adjectives trying to describe his workouts. He did it again on Sunday morning at Santa Anita where he covered a mile in 1:38. But it’s not how fast but how he’s working fast and there is just no way for me to describe it since every time I use a superlative, he comes back and works even better.

Arrogate came out of his romp in the Pegasus World Cup (G1) so well that he is going to leave for Dubai on Monday for the $10 million Dubai World Cup (G1).

The San Felipe and Tampa Bay Derby are part of the $25,000 Kentucky Derby Dream Bet promotion at TwinSpires.com. Brisnet.com has Ultimate PPs for the San Felipe and Tampa Bay Derby