06/30/2008 12:00AM

If Mast Track gets loose, watch out


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Everyone knows 7-5 favorite Heatseeker is supposed to win the Grade 1 Hollywood Gold Cup on Saturday.

But if Heatseeker is a cinch, it is unusual that so many challengers are lining up. Nine others entered the 1 1/4-mile race, and whether you like Mast Track or not, the 20-1 longshot holds the key to the race.

Mast Track has never hit the board in a graded stakes, and on paper the allowance-caliber 4-year-old is simply not good enough to win a Grade 1. Try telling that to jockey Tyler Baze.

"You know what? They've doubted a lot of horse that I've ridden," Baze said. "If I get loose on the lead, ands he gets a breather . . ."

The weird thing about the Gold Cup this year is the lack of pace. Mast Track is the only front-runner in the field. As of Thursday morning, Baze and trainer Bobby Frankel had not discussed strategy for the Saturday race, but you don't have to be a genius to predict what might happen.

"With blinkers on, especially from the 1-hole, I'm sure he wants me to send him out of there," Baze said. "I've never ridden this horse, but I'll watch his races and do whatever Bobby tells me."

The likely instructions are to put Mast Track on the front. That is where Baze does much of his best work.

"Yeah, I do like going to the lead," he says, with no apology required. In fact, since the departure of Patrick Valenzuela from the Southern California circuit, Baze often is the one to catch.

"If you're running fast, you know what? Everybody behind me has to catch me," Baze said. "It's not how fast they're going, it's how easy they're doing it. If you get into a fight with them, you end up with no horse. [Sometimes] you have to go a little bit faster so they relax."

Mast Track has won 4 of 9, and has never raced beyond 1 1/16 miles. But lone speed is always dangerous, even against the best handicap horse out West.

"Heatseeker is a tough horse," Baze admits, "but they might let me go."

It wouldn't be the first time Frankel scored an upset with a seemingly outclassed Gold Cup front-runner. In 1991, Marquetry ($56.80) raced gate to wire over heavily favored Farma Way.

As for this year, well, everyone knows that Heatseeker should win the Gold Cup. And if he does not, remember that you read it here first.

Cosmic Queen better than her Beyer

Cosmic Queen meets Glitter City on Saturday in the $100,000 Landaluce Stakes for 2-year-old fillies, and though Glitter City earned a 93 Beyer in her maiden win, Cosmic Queen (85) rates the edge. The May 15 maiden race won by Cosmic Queen produced three next-out winners, and Glitter City is wheeling back in only 13 days.

As impressive as Cosmic Queen was in her debut, trainer Chris Paasch might have one better.

Jockey Mike Smith did not believe it until he worked Stardom Bound. After the workout, Smith said to Paasch, "You might be right." Stardom Bound cut her left rear leg and scratched from race 8 Wednesday. The gray Tapit filly will be live when she runs opening week at Del Mar.

Odds and ends

* Big Brown's trainer, Richard Dutrow, got 15 days for a medication violation. Then jockey Jeremy Rose got 60 days for striking a horse in the eye with a whip. Now it appears Curlin's trainer, Steve Asmussen, is in hot water for a medication issue, while out in California, trainer Doug O'Neill's horses currently are running out of a detention barn. Makes you proud to be a racing fan, huh?

* Speaking of the showdown that will never happen . . . does anyone really believe that Big Brown would have a snowball's chance in hell against Curlin?

* I am so, so smart. The other day I was explaining the nuances of pace analysis and used first-level allowance winner Chocolate Lava as an example. She only won, I said, because of ridiculously slow fractions and had no shot at the next condition. On Wednesday, Chocolate Lava raced wire to wire in a second-level allowance route and paid $17.20. So, so smart.

* Here's a tip for opening day at Del Mar. Unless they end up in the same division of the Oceanside Stakes on July 16, graded-stakes-placed Indian Sun and Afleet Ruler (runner-up with trouble on Wednesday) will stand out in the mile turf stakes for 3-year-olds. But maybe they should be backed only to place. Indian Sun and Afleet have combined to win three, with eight seconds.

* Popular unbeaten filly Magnificience recently returned from a layoff with her third win. Good news. But a flaw stands in her way Saturday in race 9 at Hollywood. Magnificience earned a sleepy 86 Beyer, and might not be as effective at Hollywood as at Santa Anita. Barring a five-length wakeup, Magnificience would be hard-pressed to hit the board in the A Gleam Handicap.

* Is there a bigger cinch Saturday than Daytona in the Grade 2 American Handicap? Nope, didn't think so.

* Based on laws of supply and demand, you'd think the California Horse Racing Board would be reluctant to raise takeout rates by 1 percent on California fair races - a proposal scheduled to be discussed at this week's board meeting. Here's a news flash - bettors are not exactly clamoring to wager on the fairs. And if the price goes up, count on fewer bettors still. The takeout increase was to be discussed Friday during the CHRB meeting at Pleasanton, and for some reason I have zero confidence the CHRB will make the right decision.

* Just strictly for the record, I truly detest the new race name "Breeders' Cup Ladies Classic."

* Excuses for Big Brown's loss in the Belmont include loose shoe, quarter crack, bad ride and bad Richard Dutrow karma, third start in five weeks, missed training, hot weather, track bias, and lack of steroids. It's all hogwash. What actually happened the night before the race is a UFO landed, Big Brown was abducted at midnight by aliens, transported to a remote galaxy, examined, and flown home. The stress of the journey knocked him out. That is why Big Brown lost, don't you agree?