Last weekend kicked off the 2018 Kentucky Derby prep race season, and it’s safe to say that we came out of the gates running. The Grade 3 Sham Stakes at Santa Anita and the $100,000 Mucho Macho Man Stakes at Gulfstream Park did not disappoint, producing solid prospects. There’s still a long ways to go before the first Saturday in May, but we’re off to a good start. Let’s take a look at our latest Three Stars of the Week:
The heavily-hyped Bob Baffert trainee needed to show us a solid effort in Saturday’s Sham, and he did just that. After a controversial and somewhat disappointing “win” in the Grade 1 Los Alamitos Futurity, McKinzie left no doubt this time with a decisive win by 3 1/2 lengths. The removal of blinkers seemed to help him relax early as he sat just off the pace in fourth, then simply stayed wide and pounced at the top of the stretch. He won under only mild urging, which signals that he should have plenty left in the tank for his next start. In a nice, smooth, steady, and non-stressful victory, McKinzie did what he had to do in this spot to prove that he’s a serious player.
The Mucho Macho Man at Gulfstream Park was not an official Kentucky Derby prep race, but Mask certainly showed that he’s a legit contender for the first Saturday in May with a 6 1/4-length victory. After coming from behind in his debut, Mask found himself on the lead in this race, which didn’t seem to bother him. He cruised through very soft early fractions, then dominated down the lane while barely even being asked to run. This race sets him up perfectly for his next start, as he now must prove that he can bring that same type of effort around two turns. Trainer Chad Brown looks like he has a solid 1-2 punch with Mask and Good Magic.
It seems like every turf race for older horses at Santa Anita comes up tough, and Saturday’s Grade 2 San Gabriel Stakes was no different. Itsinthepost is always a major player in these types of races and he got a perfect ride by Tyler Baze, sitting in a perfect stalking position for most of the race. At the top of the stretch, he made a strong bid for the lead and held on gamely late in the race to win by 1 1/4 lengths over the fast-closing Flamboyant. The win now gives Itsinthepost four Grade 2 victories, with three of them coming at Santa Anita. There’s no doubt that he loves this track, and there will be several more opportunities for him here throughout the year.