03/09/2017 2:30PM

Mastery makes eagerly awaited 3-year-old debut in San Felipe

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Barbara D. Livingston
Mastery will try to improve his career record to 4 for 4 in the 1 1/16-mile San Felipe.

ARCADIA, Calif. – In recent weeks, as a number of well-regarded 3-year-olds suffered setbacks on the road to the Kentucky Derby, Mastery has looked better simply by not doing anything. On Saturday at Santa Anita, he will get a chance to show he’s as good now as he was at age 2, when the unbeaten colt makes his 3-year-old debut in the Grade 2, $400,000 San Felipe Stakes.

The San Felipe, at 1 1/16 miles, has three of the best Derby prospects in the nation in Mastery, Gormley, and Iliad. They are the core trio in a field of seven who will be chasing after the 85 points on offer, including 50 to the winner, under the system used by Churchill Downs to determine the field for the Kentucky Derby on May 6. To borrow a term from the Breeders’ Cup, this race essentially is a Win and You’re In.

Mastery won all three of his starts last year, most recently the Grade 1 Los Alamitos Futurity. He has turned in a strong series of works for his return.

“He’s been ready to run for two weeks,” trainer Bob Baffert said outside his barn the other morning. “He’s coming into it well. He’s ready to run.”

Baffert realizes that Mastery has two strong rivals in Gormley and Iliad. This is a much better field than Mastery beat in the Los Alamitos Futurity, in which Irap and Dangerfield rounded out the trifecta.

“We’re going to find out about him,” Baffert said. “This is the first time he’s run with stiff competition.”

Gormley and Iliad both have the advantage of having run at this meet. Gormley captured the Grade 3 Sham on Jan. 7, while Iliad won his stakes debut in the Grade 2 San Vicente on Feb. 12.

There are four others in the race, but the big three dominate in what shapes up as one of the best Derby preps so far this year. The San Felipe is the final local prep for the Grade 1, $1 million Santa Anita Derby on April 8.

San Felipe, Race 5

KEY CONTENDERS

Mastery, by Candy Ride

Last 3 Beyers: 91-87-93

◗ He starts alongside Gormley, with Iliad just to Gormley’s outside, and all three possess good early speed, so the run to the first turn could be a tactical chess match among the jockeys.

◗ Mike Smith has been aboard Mastery for his last two starts and has the mount Saturday.

◗ Baffert said Mastery “has gotten taller” over the winter. “He’s not heavy. He’s very athletic,” he said. “There’s not an ounce of fat on him.”

Gormley, by Malibu Moon

Last 3 Beyers: 94-76-93

◗ He got a severe test from American Anthem in the Sham and proved best while earning the fastest figure of his career.

Iliad, by Ghostzapper

Last 3 Beyers: 96-92-58

◗ This will be his first start around two turns, and his keen sprint speed makes him the most likely front-runner.

◗ He was trained by Baffert for his first two starts before moving to Doug O’Neill when Baffert and owner Kaleem Shah split. O’Neill also entered Ann Arbor Eddie and Term of Art.