By Andrew Caulfield
The New Year may be little more than a week old, but the Kentucky Derby hype machine is already cranking into action, thanks to ‘TDN Rising Star’ Mask‘s highly impressive romp in the Mucho Macho Man S. Incidentally, the race is named after a Breeders’ Cup Classic winner who finished third in the Derby when still more than five weeks short of his actual third birthday.
Mask doesn’t face problems of that sort, as he was born Feb. 2, and his maturity was there for everyone to see as he controlled his Gulfstream Park opponents virtually from the start three days ago. Despite being the least experienced in the seven-horse field, he was soon traveling smoothly on the lead and his rivals began to struggle rounding the far turn. However, the most encouraging part of Mask’s effort was still to come. As soon as they straightened up, the son of Tapit cruised away to score by more than six lengths, chased home by a pair of black-type winners.
The victory must have delighted the Gainesway team, as they not only stand Mask’s sire Tapit, but also bred the colt from Hidden Expression, a mare bought by Gainesway for $360,000 in February 2014–just weeks before the mare’s visit to Tapit. Gainesway also consigned Mask to the yearling sales, where he drew a bid of $685,000 from Lane’s End. Interestingly, Hidden Expression hasn’t been returned to Tapit. She visited Empire Maker in 2016 and then went to Tapit’s GII-winning son Anchor Down in his first season at Gainesway in 2017.
Six hundred and eighty-five thousand dollars may sound like an enviable amount, but Mask’s price was less than $40,000 higher than the average price for a yearling colt by Tapit in 2016, when five of Tapit’s youngsters achieved prices between $1.1 million and $2 million. They were sired at a fee of $150,000.
For the record, these five were headed by the $2-million Marconi. This half-brother to Mucho Macho Man earned ‘TDN Rising Star’ status when he won over a mile and an eighth at Aqueduct in December. Next most expensive was a $1.4-million Quiet Giant filly which is still unnamed, but the $1.25-million colt out of Rote has been named Phoenix Fire (a May 14 foal, he has yet to race). Also yet to race is Temperit, the $1.1-million filly out of Quiet Temper, while Line of Departure, the $1.2-million colt out of Hooh Why, has raced only once so far.
It is worth adding that Mask and Marconi are just two of five TDN Rising Stars from Tapit’s 2015 crop. The others are Stonestreet’s homebred filly Dream Pauline, who burst onto the scene with a six-length debut win at Aqueduct in December; the $750,000 New York Central, a seven-length winner at Churchill Downs in late-November; and the $600,000 Principe Guilherme, who was another clear-cut Churchill Downs winner in the first of his two starts. The chances are that Tapit’s name is going to be very prominent once again in the run-up to the main events in May and June.
The limiting factor on Mask’s price as a yearling was arguably the fact that his dam’s pedigree–though solid enough–could hardly have been described as highly fashionable. Mask’s first three dams, Hidden Expression, The Hess Express and Turcomedy, are daughters of Yonaguska, Lord Carson and Turkoman, none of whom could be described as a roaring success as a stallion.
Yonaguska’s base changed from Kentucky to Louisiana and then to Turkey, but he did better than that might suggest. He enjoyed GII success with Musket Man (Illinois Derby over a mile and an eighth), Coffee Boy (Carry Back S. over six furlongs) and Yawanna Twist (General George H. over seven furlongs). His other Graded winners included Cherokee Country (Fall Highweight H. over six furlongs) and you won’t find any mile-and-a-quarter winners among his better progeny. Hidden Expression gained both her victories as a juvenile, notably taking the Colleen S. over 5 1/2 furlongs at Monmouth.
This is hardly surprising in view of Yonaguska’s own record and pedigree. A son of the champion sprinter Cherokee Run, Yonaguska had been a fast and precocious 2-year-old whose juvenile efforts peaked when he dead-heated with City Zip in the GI Hopeful S. over seven furlongs. Although he finished a creditable third in the GI Champagne S. over 1 1/16 miles, his connections accepted that he was a sprinter and reaped their rewards when a 3-year-old Yonaguska won the GII Hutcheson S. over seven furlongs, as well as two GIIIs over six, including the Fall Highweight H.
Lord Carson, sire of Mask’s second dam, was another sprinter. This son of the quick-maturing Carson City gained all 12 of his wins over sprint distances, with his best success coming in the GII Boojum H. over six furlongs as a 4-year-old. However, there was quite a lot of stamina in the bottom half of Lord Carson’s pedigree. For example, his second dam was by Beddard, an Irish colt who ran away with the Queen’s Vase over two miles as a 3-year-old at Royal Ascot in 1965.
Lord Carson’s best winner was Windsor Castle, winner of the GII Remsen S. over a mile and an eighth as a 2-year-old. His daughter The Hess Express won on dirt and turf and was stakes placed over six furlongs at two and a mile at three. With a dam by the champion mile-and-a-quarter performer Turkoman, The Hess Express was able to shine as a dam of stakes winners at around a mile and an eighth. Bullsbay, her colt by Tiznow, won the GI Whitney H. and Our Khrysty, her filly by the Storm Cat horse Newfoundland, took the GIII Turnback The Alarm H.
So where will Mask slot in on the distance scale? A mile and an eighth appears unlikely to trouble him, but the presence of Yonaguska and Lord Carson close up in his pedigree means that I would want to see more of Mask (who has four lines of Mr. Prospector) before accepting him as a potential Kentucky Derby winner. His cause may well be helped by Tapit’s record of having supplied three of the last four winners of the Belmont S.