Is Mask a Contender or Pretender on the Kentucky Derby Trail?

On Saturday, a horse named Mask won the Mucho Macho Man Stakes at Gulfstream Park in a manner that had the internet buzzing over the colt’s Kentucky Derby chances.  In fact, the son of Tapit is now tied with Montauk for the fourth-lowest odds on US Racing’s list of top Kentucky Derby contenders — behind only Bolt d’Oro, Good Magic and McKinzie.

Is he worthy of all the hype? In a word, no.


Look, I get it. Mask won the Mucho Macho Man by 6 ¼ lengths — under wraps — and earned a 100 Brisnet Speed Figure (BSF) in the process. Over the past 26 years, 23 winners of the Run for the Roses earned a triple-digit BSF at least once prior to the first Saturday in May, so Mask is already good on that count.

His overall pace figures are also solid — better than solid, actually. Thirty-eight of the last 46 Kentucky Derby winners (82.6 percent) recorded at least one positive Pace Profile in their three races prior to the Most Exciting Two Minutes in Sports; once again, Mask is ahead of the curve.

But where I part from the hype mongers hinges on the way that Mask won his last start.

Many will argue that because he was “under wraps,” Mask could have run much faster than he actually did. I have written extensively about this and it’s simply not true. If you look at track and world records, you will find that they are most often set by horses that drew away to big wins, not by those involved in all-out drives to the wire.

A perfect example of this is Secretariat in the 1973 Belmont Stakes. I think it’s safe to say that jockey Ron Turcotte wasn’t asking Big Red for his best down the stretch — but Secretariat gave it anyway. That’s what great racehorses do. And I sincerely doubt that, if Secretariat had been pressed, he’d have run significantly faster.

So, I disagree with the notion that Mask deserves extra credit for winning his last race with ease. And, in fact, I actually think that effort could be a negative going forward. For one thing, I am always dubious of horses that rate on a slow pace — and that’s exactly what the Chad Brown trainee did in his last race.

Horses that led at both the first and second call, but lost ground (lengths) from the former to the latter in their last race do win more than their fair share of races, but they are grossly overbet, as the following digits show:

  • Won last race while leading at each of the first two calls.
  • Lost ground (lengths) from first to second call in last race.

Number: 734
Winners (Rate): 128 (17.4%)
$2 Return (ROI): $1.38 (-31.13%)

And the stats get worse as the pace gets slower:

  • Won last race while leading at each of the first two calls.
  • Lost ground (lengths) from first to second call in last race.
  • Earned early speed ration (ESR) of -5 or greater (slower) in last race.

Number: 250
Winners (Rate): 44 (17.6%)
$2 Return (ROI): $1.09 (-45.60%) 

When one considers that last-out winners — of all types — produce an ROI of approximately -22 percent, it’s easy to see just how bad the numbers above really are. Put simply, betting on horses like Mask next out is actually worse than betting a random entry, which costs about 25-26 cents per dollar wagered.

Can Mask move forward and be a factor on the Triple Crown trail? Absolutely. Would I bet on it? Absolutely not.

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