By Emily Shields, California Thoroughbred
W hen Lloyd Mason was only 5 or 6, his mother would drive him to a nearby horse farm, hand him a sandwich, and watch him ride off into the Arizona prairie for the day.
“All of us kids would go out and ride for hours,” Mason recalled. “I fell in love with horses that way.”
Arizona Chrysler tycoon Bill Luke, who at one time had 70 racehorses to his name, owned the ranch where Mason learned to ride.
“My dad was good friends with him,” Mason said. “Every other week or so we got to go, and I couldn’t wait. The horses were already saddled for us, and off we went into nothing but tumbleweeds.”
Mason still remembers sitting in the backseat of his parents’ car when his produce-farmer father discovered that a wicked hailstorm had wiped out their entire crop.
“He said to my mom, ‘We’re done.’ Next thing I knew, he moved us out to Walnut Creek, in Northern California.”
Although he spent his days working in the family’s subsequent concrete business, Mason kept his equine passion lit as he aged. He got involved with jumpers through the guidance of friend and respected veterinarian Dr. Bill Nissen.
“I rode at Spruce Meadows in Canada,” Mason said, “with some of the great riders of the time.”
Mason became famous for his exploits with Kojak, a jumping Appaloosa who once cleared seven feet during a show in Monterey.
“He was the greatest horse I ever had,” Mason said. “He had the biggest heart you could ask for, and lived to be 31.”
The problem with jumpers was that it was hard to make a living. Much as he loved it, Mason decided to switch to training at racetracks.
“I was around really nice horses, and I was well schooled by some incredible people,” Mason said of his jumping career. “So far, I’ve been pretty successful with racehorses. I like the action. I like to win.”
Mason sent out his first winner in 1980, and only a few years later he campaigned the graded stakes-placed Grand Exchange, an earner of $325,210. In 1988, Mason won the California Breeders’ Champion Stakes with California-bred No Commitment. In 2009, Mason collected his 1,000th career win via Our Man Luke, who scored at the San Joaquin County Fair at Stockton. He even trained the aptly named, stakes-winning Appaloosa He’s Spotless to win 11 of 26 starts.
It is Mason’s partnership with Robert Jones that has led him to his most recent success.
“Lloyd came highly recommended by friends of ours who were getting out of the business,” said Jones. “I find him to be honest and knowledgeable about horses. He’s a real easy guy to work with.”
Their homebred mare Power of Ten has racked up $241,670 while winning six of 38 starts. She has done it the hard way, racing in only one stakes event during her career. The Cal-bred daughter of Marino Marini—Position of Power, by Lord Carson, is classy enough that Mason and Jones now breed her dam back to the Rancho San Miguel stallion Marino Marini every year. Position of Power has a 2-year-old filly by him named Power of Thirteen, as well as a yearling and foal, both colts.
Mason trained the multiple stakes-placed Demons Begone mare Deb’s Royal Flush, from 2000 through 2002. He guided her to earn $143,770, with six wins in 21 starts. When her Desert Code filly showed up in the 2011 Northern California Yearling Sale at Pleasanton, Mason desperately wanted her.
“She wasn’t very big, but I had her mare,” Mason said. When longtime client Dave Currie, who owned Deb’s Royal Flush, opted to not buy in, Mason convinced Jones to share the purchase.
“He had the dam, who was a real runner,” Jones recalled. “It turns out she’s a runner, too.”
They acquired the filly, named Deb’s Wildcard, for $17,500.
“She’s the sweetest thing, but when you work her in the morning she knows exactly where the wire is,” said Mason. “She completely slows down right as she passes it. She does what she wants to do; she’s really amazing.”
Deb’s Wildcard broke her maiden first out, winning by 2 1⁄4 lengths at Golden Gate Fields Aug. 30, 2014. She didn’t win again until March of this year, but in between she added a pair of third-place efforts and a second by less than a length to her resume. Two allowance victories in her next three starts set her up for a trip to Emerald Downs for the $50,000 Seattle Handicap May 31.
The 6 1⁄2-furlong contest drew eight rivals for Deb’s Wildcard, who was sent off as the 3-1 second choice. While Ethan’s Baby and favored Suva Harbor led the field early, Deb’s Wildcard sat back in fifth, rallying around the turn and down the stretch to get up and win by a nose. She now has four wins, two seconds, and two thirds in nine starts for earnings of $113,924.
“She’s been a real pleasure,” Jones said. “After the race we went back to the barn, and she was cuddling with my daughter in her stall.” Mason missed the victory, but he sent his longtime assistant, Faith Taylor, in his stead.
“I like to travel, while he stays home and holds down the fort,” Taylor said. Taylor helped break Deb’s Wildcard, and recalls that the filly was decidedly lazy. “I could hardly get her out of a trot,” Taylor said. “Nothing shakes her up. She’s just a really relaxed filly.”
“There’s not much to her,” Mason said of Deb’s Wildcard. “I train her lightly. She doesn’t need much work. She’s proven she knows what she is doing, so I’m just going to stick with it.”
Mason currently has around 20 horses, including homebreds and recent auction purchases. “He has a genuine love of horses,” Taylor said. “Some of his records from his jumping days still stand. He’s a self-proclaimed daredevil, but so good with the horses.”