Mastery Wins San Felipe, Is Off Derby Trail

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6:42 pm EST

The Ups and Downs of Racing

By Dick Downey

It was the best of days, it was the worst of days. Mastery was super impressive winning the San Felipe Stakes only to be pulled up about 10 jumps past the wire by a worried Mike Smith and later diagnosed with a condylar fracture.

Up to a point, everything was joyous. The Bob Baffert trainee turned back heavy pressure from Gormley and Iliad up the backstretch and the far turn before separating himself from the field in the stretch. He galloped home under a hand ride in 1:42.38 in the 1 1/16-mile San Felipe. And then, in less time than it took to run the race, Mastery's Kentucky Derby hopes were dashed.

Connections and fans who supported Mastery at 4-5 odds had little time to celebrate. Smith, who a few minutes later said he felt something off in the colt's left hind, pulled up Mastery and hopped off shortly after the race ended. An equine ambulance was summoned, and after an initial assessment, Mastery walked into the van under his own power.

Mastery broke from post 4 on top of the field and led Gormley, who left post 5, by a neck into the first turn with Iliad, who was in post 6, in very close pursuit. With Mastery inside, Iliad outside and Gormley sandwiched between them, they entered the backstretch in the same order while Vending Machine chased them. Further into the run up the back, the top three separated themselves from the pack, and they stayed that way for a while, with Mastery just ahead of Gormley and Iliad going into the far turn. Mastery had been able to get a bit of a breather, but not much, as they began to round the bend.

At this point, Mastery had set fractions of 23.50, 46.79 and 1:10.48.

Iliad moved on Gormley in the turn, but Mastery stayed in front and cut the corner into the stretch and began to get loose while Gormley went in the opposite direction. Iliad continued to give chase, but it was to be in vain.

Smith, calm and collected, galloped Mastery away to the wire as Iliad and Flavien Prat looked on.

Smith and Mastery hit the finish line 6 3/4 lengths ahead. Term of Art came on late to get third, another 1 3/4 length back of Iliad and 1 1/4 length ahead of Gormley. It was another dozen lengths back to Ann Arbor Eddie, followed by Bluegrass Envy and Vending Machine.

Once the race was finished, Smith quickly pulled up Mastery and dismounted. Mastery was not in obvious distress to the naked eye and calmly walked into the ambulance before being vanned off.

Smith soon said, "I hope it was something I imagined," and Mastery reportedly walked off the van at his barn to be evaluated. A little over an hour after the raced, the diagnosis was revealed. Mastery is scheduled to have surgery on his left foreleg on Monday, when screws will be inserted. He'll be off for several months.

The San Felipe was Mastery's 3-year-old debut and his fourth win in as many starts. In his juvenile finale, he won the 1 1/16-mile Los Alamitos Futurity in December after breaking his maiden at first asking and winning the seven-furlong Bob Hope Stakes.

By Candy Ride (ARG), Mastery is out of Steady Course, by Old Trieste and was bred in Kentucky by Stone Farm. He's owned by Everett Dobson's Cheyenne Stables LLC and was purchased for $425,000 at the Keeneland September 2015 Yearling Sale. He's a late foal, having come into the world on May 3, 2014.

Fifty Kentucky Derby points went to Mastery, never to be used. Twenty were awarded to Iliad, 10 to Term of Art and five to Gormley. Of the $400,000 purse, $240,000 was won by Mastery.

Equibase chart


Bob Baffert (after diagnosis): “When he got back to the barn, he seemed okay, but when he got off the wash rack, he showed some filling in his left front ankle. It’s a condylar fracture. He’ll be operated on this Monday and they’ll insert two screws. We won’t know until after the surgery whether or not this is career-ending.”

Bob Baffert (before diagnosis was made): “Mike just said that when he was pulling him up on the turn, he felt something behind, like he took a funny step. So he pulled him up, and he was favoring his left hind. As soon as he took the saddle off, then he was perfect. He was walking good. We’ll take him back and see. It’s left hind, whatever it is. Jimmy (Barnes) said he didn’t see anything obvious, and he went out of the trailer fine.

“We’ve been so high on this horse, and you see what he did today was just incredible and puts him as the best 3-year-old in the nation. I’m walking down and I hear a fan say ‘I hope your horse is all right.’ I said ‘What?!’ and he said ‘I hear they’re unsaddling him.’ We went from the highest of the highs to somber. Hopefully it’s nothing obvious or really serious. We’ll have to get back there and find out what’s going on.

“The way he moves – he’s just a beautiful moving horse. He was just doing it easy. It’s very rare to get one like that. You go from seeing the next coming, and then something like that happens. I’ve never dealt with anything like that. I thought maybe it was heat or something.”

Mike Smith (before diagnosis was made): “He seemed to just go off in the left hind. I don’t know why. Nothing happened that made me think, ‘Oh, something just happened.’ He just all of the sudden went off and wouldn’t put weight on it. I got off real quick and nothing seemed dislocated or anything. After he moved for a little bit he started walking fine on it so I’m hoping that maybe he just tweaked it or rolled it. I’m hoping it’s not that serious because he’s an incredible horse.

“I felt it about 10 jumps after the wire. All of a sudden he just picked up his back leg. At that point I couldn’t tell what it was. After a minute or so and he started walking, he seemed fine. This is a really talented horse. The power…it’s endless with this guy. He’s some kind of strong. He was hitting gears every time I asked him to. Gear down one, gear up two, gear down one… Everything seemed to come easy for him. That was a pretty impressive race. I’m just hoping everything is ok.”

Doug O'Neill, trainer of Iliad: “He just got a little tired. Flavien said that between the three eighths and the quarter pole, he thought he could win it. Obviously, Mastery is a very special horse, but I’m really happy with the way my horse ran first time around two turns. If he stays healthy, we’ll shoot for the Santa Anita Derby.”

Flavien Prat, aboard Iliad: “Between the three eighths and the quarter pole, I thought I could catch him. This was his first time around two turns, and he ran really well. He should improve off of this race.”

Victor Espinoza, aboard Gormley: “You know, Gormley was good all the way around. He kind of surprised me at the three-eighths pole where he kind of dropped the bridle and just kept moving along with the winner and I thought he’d finish second. It seems like he’s okay, but these young horses, they’re still figuring it out. Race by race, they’re seeing what exactly they like and some little thing may not being going their way and they won’t race at their best, but he’ll recover and do better in the next one.”