By Jude “Pontiff of the Pick Four” Feld
A turf writer and talented handicapper, the late Ernie Mason covered racing for 41 years. After starting at the Hollywood Citizen News, he also worked for the old Los Angeles Examiner and covered seven Kentucky Derbies for that paper. He was one of the first to syndicate his handicap, and it appeared in 13 newspapers at a time. He also held the post of morning-line maker at Del Mar and Hollywood Park.
When I was a fledgling handicapper, I would consult Ernie’s “green sheet” in the San Gabriel Valley Tribune, to see if our selections meshed and make sure I didn’t miss some pertinent tidbit of handicapping information.
Later on, when I worked for the Daily Racing Form, I got to know Ernie personally. We had many handicapping discussions over the years. Even late in his life, he had a deep love of the game and a keen sense of how a race would set up. One of his treasured comments in his graded handicap was, “The closer to fear.” When Ernie wrote that, you had to pay attention.
Two races on the undercard of Kentucky Derby 138 had closers to fear.
The Twin Spires Turf Stakes (G3) at five furlongs on the grass was laden with speed horses, including the talented Bridgetown. The pace figured to be fast from the opening of the gate.
Great Attack had broken from the number two post position at Keeneland in his previous start. The numbers one and two in Keeneland turf sprints are difficult posts to overcome, having produced just three winners in the last fifty-one starts. He was basically swallowed up early and really never had a chance to show his talent.
He drew the “two” again at Churchill Downs, but there it is an advantageous post. Taking no chances, sharp trainer Wesley Ward named talented jockey Joel Rosario to ride Great Attack, indicating it was all systems go, as Rosario is arguably the best “come from behind” rider in the game right now.
The closer to fear, Rosario took Great Attack from eleventh early to first late and rewarded his fans with a $10.80 payoff.
Later on, they ran the Churchill Distaff Turf Mile (G2). Aruna, who owns an impressive late kick, was scratched when the rains came and softened up the turf course. She has shown she likes her turf “firm,” and trainer Graham Motion decided to wait for better conditions.
In a field early pace types and pressers, only one true closer remained – Hungry Island. Trained by Hall of Famer Shug McGaughey, the daughter of More Than Ready had shown a ton of talent in her three-year-old season. She ran well in her first race as a four-year-old, racing wide and finishing a solid third in an allowance race, suggesting better was ahead.
Charging from behind, down the middle of the course, she was able to run down Tapitsfly in the closing stages and return a pretty generous $13.80
There is no doubt about it. Everybody loves a speed horse.
Witness the fact that turf scribes from coast to coast are singing the praises of Bodemeister’s valiant effort in the Kentucky Derby (G1) while virtually ignoring the winner of America’s greatest race, I’ll Have Another. But rest assured, if you want to make money at the racetrack, look for “the closer to fear.”
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