MassCap notebook: MassCap draws horses from far and wide

You don’t find many New Jersey breds competing in $500,000 stakes races and, for that matter, there aren’t a lot of Ontario breds at that level, either. Today’s 66th running of the Massachusetts Handicap at Suffolk Downs is the exception.Cuba is a 7-year-old horse who was bred in New Jersey and has earned almost $444,000 in his 37-race career. Even if he doesn’t win the MassCap, he will go down as one of the best claims of the year, having been taken for only $18,000 in February at Gulfstream and winning five of eight races since.”We’ve been having a lot of success with getting horses off Polytrack and bringing them back to a traditional track (surface),” said Bobby DiBona, a Weymouth native who has trained Cuba since the claim. “I had a feeling Cuba would be a better horse on a conventional track.”The horse had been running on the Polytrack at Woodbine prior to shipping to Gulfstream.The MassCap marks a homecoming for DiBona, who still has family in the Boston area. Cuba, who will be ridden by Pedro Cotto Jr., is third choice on the morning line at 6-1.Even a veteran handicapper might be puzzled when seeing the racetrack abbreviation “Man” in a horse’s past-performance lines. That would be Manor Downs in Texas, which runs a two-month meet starting in late February. One of the biggest races at Manor is the $50,000 Tony Sanchez Memorial Mile, captured this year by Won Awesome Dude, who is 8-1 on the morning line for the MassCap.Trainer Mike Mareina said the combination of his well-traveled horse being in top form and the MassCap field coming up relatively light other than heavy favorite Commentator led him to ship to Suffolk Downs for the big race.”The MassCap is a great historical race (but) I know a lot of the heavy hitters are saving themselves for the Jockey Club Gold Cup (at Belmont next Saturday),” Mareina said. “He’s on top of his game right now, so if we’re ever going to try a race like this, now is the time.”Won Awesome Dude, who was sired by Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Awesome Again, is coming off a win in the Claiming Crown Jewel Stakes at Canterbury Downs in Minnesota, the fifth track he has run at this year. He will be ridden by Casey Lambert.Suffolk Downs Vice President of Racing Sam Elliott and racing secretary Tom Creel have put together a solid undercard that includes three other stakes: the $50,000 Robert M. O’Malley Memorial, the $50,000 Drumtop and the $100,000 James B. Moseley Sprint Handicap. Those three races and the MassCap make up an all-stakes Pick 4.The first race today has been named the City of Lynn Classic, a 5-furlong turf event.Hall of Fame jockey John Velasquez, who will ride Commentator in the MassCap, also has mounts in the Drumtop (Thunders Dove) and Moseley (Real Estate).First post for the 11-race card is 12:45 p.m. Admission is $5 and includes a MassCap hat while supplies last. General parking is free, preferred parking is $5, valet is $10. The MassCap will be televised live on TVG. Suffolk railbirds will be disappointed that TVG analyst Christina Olivares will not make a return engagement this year. Bob Baedeker, Jill Byrne and Mike Joyce will handle the broadcasting chores.

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