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Bob Hope sends Mastery on road to Kentucky Derby

By Kellie Reilly

While the lucrative, and points-bearing, Delta Downs Jackpot (G3) was the center of Kentucky Derby (G1) attention on Saturday, Del Mar’s $100,000 Bob Hope (G3) promises to be a significant signpost on the trail. For Bob Baffert’s flashy debut winner Mastery smoothly handled this first stakes assignment, advancing his record to two-for-two and setting himself up for bigger and better things.

Dare we say that this is the newest incarnation of a Bob Hope “road” movie? “We’re off on the road to Derby!”

A beautifully bred son of Candy Ride, Mastery sold for $425,000 as a Keeneland September yearling. The May 3 foal understandably benefited from extra time, and didn’t go to the races until October 22.

But the word was out on Mastery, who went off as the 1-5 choice in his unveiling at Santa Anita. Showing high speed from the start, he ran his rivals off their feet in a 4 1/4-length romp. Track announcer Michael Wrona exclaimed that Mastery was “poised to excel at a considerably higher level,” and those words may be prophetic.

Mastery stepped up from six to seven furlongs in the Bob Hope, and more important, made the class leap against an experienced customer in California Diamond. Considering that California Diamond has compiled a 7-5-2-0 record, including four stakes wins, this was a meaningful test for Mastery. And he passed it with a minimum of fuss, once again justifying 1-5 favoritism.

With Hall of Famer Mike Smith picking up the mount, Mastery also got an equipment change, losing the blinkers he’d worn on debut. The Cheyenne Stables colorbearer still moved to the fore, but carved out more moderate fractions of :23.23 and :47.07. He was closely attended by Bernin Sensation, but that didn’t appear to bother Mastery at all. As California Diamond loomed ominously, Mastery just found another gear to pull away by 1 1/4 lengths. His final time of 1:23.32 reflected a blistering last furlong in :11.61.

Off this evidence, Mastery is ready for the next logical challenge – the 1 1/16-mile Los Alamitos Futurity (G1) on December 10, when he can start banking Derby points.

Quotes from Del Mar

Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith on Mastery: “It went well after we got away from there. He was a little funny in the gate; had some of those second-race jiggers. But once we got rolling he was fine. He’s got a beautiful stride — big, long and powerful. He’ll go two turns, too. These seven eighths races (the Bob Hope was at seven furlongs) can be tougher than a two-turner. He handled this race fine. I think two turns will be fine, too.”

Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert on Mastery: “We knew he was a nice horse when he broke his maiden, but from what we saw today he could be something. The second out is so important. They can run well in the first outing and then take a step back. We didn’t have him super cranked for the first out and this one was a lot of him (talent). He just shipped down this morning and he shipped well. Now’s he’s got that experience. He didn’t look exhausted afterwards but he didn’t really have to exert himself.” 

Jockey Norberto Arroyo Jr. on runner-up California Diamond: “He tried; he tried hard. All credit to both horses.”

Photo courtesy of Benoit