For a brief moment, search for Derby colt was over

If you've been in this game longer than two minutes you know how things can go from one extreme to the other in seconds -- literally.

This was evidenced Saturday by the injury Mastery sustained (condylar fracture of the left fore) moments after dominating the San Felipe Stakes at Santa Anita in what was by far the best performance by a 3-year-old so far this year.

Of course, we all hope Mastery's surgery Monday goes well. But you can forgive us if in the meantime we split blood and curse this latest cruel twist of fate.

What makes Mastery's misfortune especially tough to take is the context in which it occurred. This has been a year when every Kentucky Derby prep has been won by way of either a perfect trip or a tremendously favorable pace setup. Not only has no horse won a Derby prep after overcoming adversity or even just an unfavorable setup, no horse has convincingly suggested he is capable of doing so.

Then, factor in the circumstances surrounding Classic Empire and McCraken. Classic Empire, last year's unanimous 2-year-old male champion, entered 2017 as the clear future book Derby favorite. But Classic Empire ran dismally in the Holy Bull in his 3-year-old bow, and had physical issues that interrupted his training.

Even if Classic Empire comes back and wins the Blue Grass, he will essentially be attempting to win the Kentucky Derby off only one legitimate prep race, because he couldn't have gotten a thing out of the Holy Bull. And it is fair to wonder if Classic Empire, or really any horse, is capable of doing that.

McCraken's situation isn't nearly as tenuous as Classic Empire's. However, a minor ankle issue did force McCraken to miss a scheduled start in Saturday's Tampa Bay Derby, meaning instead of having three races this year going into the Kentucky Derby as originally planned, he will have just two. And that's not ideal.

Into this mix stepped Mastery, who had questions of his own to address in the San Felipe. Although Mastery won all three of his starts last year, he had ridiculously easy trips in all three, and beat very little in the process. But with the way he performed Saturday, Mastery made those matters seem absurdly trivial.

The San Felipe was Mastery's first start in three months, and he faced opposition light years better than what he saw at 2. Gormley, who was also a Grade 1 stakes winner last year and winner of a well-regarded renewal of the Sham in his first start this year, was in the field. So was Iliad, a most impressive winner of the San Vicente in his 3-year-old bow. And Mastery humiliated them.

Mastery took pace pressure from those two, put them away nearing the stretch like they were empty manes and tails, drew off despite appearing to do considerably less than he was capable of, and yet still ran fast enough to earn a preliminary Beyer Figure of 105, the highest by a 3-year-old at any distance and on any surface so far this year.

What Mastery did Saturday suggested in the strongest possible terms that the search for the Derby colt we've been looking for this year was over. But in seconds - literally - that search resumed.

Quick Saturday notes

* It's not his fault, but Tapwrit's victory in the Tampa Bay Derby a little more than a half-hour after the San Felipe seemed almost anticlimactic. Tapwrit came from off the pace and scored by a widening 4 1/2 lengths (earning a preliminary Beyer of 96), which was precisely what he was supposed to do if he is any sort of legitimate Kentucky Derby contender. But let's not forget two important things:

The horses who finished second and third in the Tampa Bay Derby (State of Honor and Wild Shot) increasingly look like they want no part of going a distance, at least at this point in their careers, so their inability to stay enhanced the visual aspect of Tapwrit's performance.

Two, McCraken ate Tapwrit for lunch in last month's Sam F. Davis. Tapwrit has work to do to equalize the terms of that relationship.

* I'm a fool for prestigious races with rich histories. As such, I'm worried about the Santa Anita Handicap. Races like the Big Cap are always at the mercy of the depth of the division it serves, and divisional depth can vary from year to year. The handicap division won't always be as lacking in quality depth as it is this year.

That said, it's easy to see the Big Cap getting caught in a bad squeeze between the Pegasus World Cup and the Dubai World Cup.

The combination of this squeeze and a very shallow handicap division hit Saturday's Big Cap hard. I don't want to knock Shaman Ghost, who has compiled a very interesting resume with victories in the Queen's Plate, Brooklyn, Woodward, and now the Santa Anita Handicap. Those are some heady races. But Shaman Ghost was all-out to catch Midnight Storm, who wants no part of the Big Cap's 10 furlongs, and proved it by being unable to hold on despite having a walking lead.

* Not that she needed it, but It Tiz Well's win in the Honeybee at Oaklawn flattered Unique Bella. The Honeybee was It Tiz Well's third win from her last four starts (I cannot believe she was almost 3-1 Saturday). Her one loss over that span was a second to Unique Bella in the Santa Ynez, beaten 7 1/2 lengths.

* I hope Dortmund got at least something out of his unsuccessful turf experiment in the Kilroe Mile because he can do a 180 when he gets back on dirt, the surface he belongs on.