For Mast Track, the key to winning the $100,000 Native Diver Handicap (gr. III) (VIDEO) Dec. 12 at Hollywood Park was making the early lead. With Rafael Bejarano executing that plan to perfection, it was clear sailing from there and the 5-year-old horse went on to win by 1 1/2 lengths while breaking a long losing streak.
Bred and previously owned by the late Bobby Frankel, Mast Track won for the first time since June 28, 2008 when he took the Hollywood Gold Cup (gr. I). The son of Mizzen Mast had gone nine races since without a victory, including six defeats in 2009. Now owned by Stronach Stables and trained by Frankel’s longtime assistant Humberto Ascanio, Mast Track earned his second graded stakes win.
The nine furlong Native Diver went to post with a field of only five, as the much-anticipated return of popular gelding Lava Man was put on hold when he was scratched earlier in the day due to prolonged rain in the area. Trainer Doug O’Neill indicated that Lava Man could possibly make his return start at Santa Anita later this month.
Breaking from post 1 under a steady rain, Mast Track dueled with his speedy rival Tres Borrachos for the early lead and was able to win the tactical battle. He gained the edge going into the first turn, posting an opening quarter-mile of :24.57. Tres Borrachos, with Victor Espinoza aboard, pressured Mast Track through the backstretch, while there was a large gap back to Square Eddie, High Court Drama, and 2-1 favorite Neko Bay. A half-mile was run in :48.76.
There was no change on the front end as the two leaders left the backstretch, but as they made their way further into the turn Mast Track began to put some distance between himself and Tres Borrachos. He opened up a clear lead at the quarter-pole and was still full of run while holding a three-length advantage with a furlong remaining. High Court Drama and Neko Bay both rallied well in the stretch but were no match for the winner.
The final time on the Cushion Track surface was 1:50.53.
"When he's on the lead he's got more heart than when he comes from behind," Bejarano said. "I saw (Square Eddie) break on top but then he took hold a little bit to try to get some traction. So I was able to make the lead and keep the rail. I was pretty comfortable after that. The last time I rode him he was real close to the lead and he ran good, but as I said before, he's got more heart on the lead."
Mast Track's previous race was in allowance company Oct. 9 at Santa Anita, when he lost by a length to Neko Bay in a one-mile contest over the Pro-Ride surface. Earlier this summer he was fourth in the Hollywood Gold Cup and runner-up by a nose in the San Diego Handicap (gr. II) at Del Mar. On Sept. 6 he was 12th in the Pacific Classic (gr. I).
"At Del Mar, he ran a real game race in the San Diego, then in the Pacific Classic I thought he was going to run real big," Ascanio said. "But when he broke out of the gate he stumbled and grabbed his shoe. He almost finished the race with no shoes.
"When he makes the lead he gets real brave. Rafael did a great job today. I told him just to break and try to go and if someone else wants the lead play follow the leader."
Bred in Kentucky and out of the Homme de Loi mare Nawal, Mast Track improved to 6-4-1 from 20 starts. He has earned $922,822.
The winner paid $8.20, $4.80, and $2.60. High Court Drama was a neck better than Neko Bay for runner-up and returned $5.40 and $2.80. The $1 exacta (1-5) was worth $21. The $1 trifecta (1-5-4) was $61.80.
Tres Borrachos was fourth, followed by Square Eddie.