• CASSIDY SEEKS MALIBU UPSET WITH HOLY LUTE
• ESPINOZA EXCUSES COLT’S ‘ROOKIE’ MISTAKE
Richard Mandella has much to look forward to in the immediate future. First and foremost, the opening of Santa Anita next Thursday, and down the road a piece, the return of Breeders’ Cup Distaff winner Beholder, a cinch to be named champion 3-year-old filly of 2013 when the Eclipse Award winners are announced on Jan. 18, 2014, at Gulfstream Park.
“December 26 is the start of the New Year for me, when Santa Anita opens,” the Hall of Fame trainer said. “It’s always exciting because it’s a great place.”
As to Santa Anita and Del Mar picking up Hollywood Park’s surrendered dates for extended and additional racing at their respective venues in 2014, Mandella preferred to see the glass as half full.
“I’m trying to be an optimist,” he said. “I think things will only get better. I’m very excited about Del Mar having another meet (in November) beyond its regular summer dates. I only wish it was longer, because that is where we’ve really captured the public’s fancy, and where the fans come out to see live racing.
“They get big crowds there and it’s the most successful track I can think of, in that respect. I don’t kid myself and say it will be the same as it is in the summer, but it will be as good as anything else we’re doing, and maybe better.”
Regarding Santa Anita, Mandella stands in full support of Los Angeles Turf Club Chairman Keith Brackpool in his ongoing efforts to improve Santa Anita’s aesthetic on-track experience.
“Yes, other areas of Santa Anita need attention,” Mandella allowed. “But it’s the bettors who produce the handle that generates funds for other improvements, so full focus on attracting them to see and appreciate the new accommodations should be a top priority.
“Brackpool is innovative and progressive in his thinking, and that’s what we need. He has Santa Anita moving in the right direction.”
Beholder, meanwhile, has been enjoying a vacation at Peacefield Farm in Temecula. “We’ll pick her up a couple days after Christmas,” Mandella said of the 3-year-old daughter of Henny Hughes owned by the Spendthrift Farm of B. Wayne Hughes.
“We’ll bring her back (to race), but it’s going to be March, April, something like that. It’s more than you could ask for, what she did,” Mandella added, referring to her dominating, front-running triumphs in the Grade I Zenyatta Stakes and the Distaff, in which she vanquished champion Royal Delta and Kentucky Oaks winner Princess of Sylmar. “I couldn’t be more proud.”
This is not Mandella’s first rodeo with a champion filly, having developed Phone Chatter (1993) and Halfbridled (2003) into Eclipse Award winners in their 2-year-old campaigns.
“She’s got as much talent as the other two,” Mandella said of Beholder. “It’s hard to tell who was the best. The other mares had problems at three, so it’s difficult to compare, because Beholder was very sound at three and developed into a great 3-year-old. The others didn’t, but they had problems. As 2-year-olds, I wouldn’t know which one was better.”
Beholder will join up with Mandella assistant Julie Adair when she first returns from Peacefield. “Julie has a little place in Chino where she kind of gets our horses ridden before they come in,” Mandella said. “Beholder went there after the (Kentucky) Oaks. Julie will pick her up and ride her at her place a couple weeks and then she’ll come to Santa Anita.”
HOLY LUTE SET TO REBOUND IN GRADE I MALIBU
Mike Smith and Jim Cassidy have enjoyed considerable success together in the past, which could continue at Santa Anita opening day should Smith pilot Holy Lute to an upset win for the veteran trainer in the Grade I Malibu Stakes for 3-year-olds at seven furlongs.
Holy Lute worked five furlongs on Santa Anita’s main track Tuesday in 1:01. The gray son of 2007 Breeders’ Cup Sprint champion Midnight Lute has not raced since Nov. 1, when he finished 10th of 11 in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile. Two races prior, he won the El Cajon at Del Mar in August before finishing third in the Grade II Indiana Derby on Oct. 5.
“The Dirt Mile was a very eventful race for him,” Cassidy said, alluding to the four-wide trip in which he weakened and was beaten 17 lengths. “But he’s doing well now and we’re looking forward to this race. I think the seven furlong distance fits him well.”
As for Smith, to no one’s surprise, Cassidy had high praise for the Hall of Fame jockey.
“Besides being pleasant and easy to get along with, he unfolds a race early, he knows where he’s going, he knows what he’s doing and he gives you a good report when he gets back, win, lose or draw,” Cassidy said.
Told he’ll have to beat his buddy, faux nemesis Bob Baffert, who could have three starters in the Malibu including likely favorite Flashback, Cassidy smiled and said, “I’ve done that before.”
Should San Onofre win the Malibu for Karen Headley, it would mark the first time a father and his daughter trainer captured the prestigious event. Karen’s dad, Bruce Headley, who bred San Onofre, won the 2009 Malibu with M One Rifle.
“He’s doing well,” Karen said of San Onofre, a gelded son of Surf Cat owned by Bruce’s wife and Karen’s mother, Aase, who campaigns as Matson Racing. San Onofre broke his maiden at Hollywood Park last out by 10 ½ lengths on Nov. 15.
“My father won the Malibu with a homebred,” Karen said, “so it would be nice to do it again and keep it in the family, so to speak.”
Probable for the Malibu: Bakken, no rider; Central Banker, Joe Talamo; Distinctiv Passion, Edwin Maldonado; Flashback, Joel Rosario; Heir of Storm, Gary Stevens; Holy Lute, Smith; San Onofre, no rider; Shakin It Up, no rider; Zee Bros, no rider; and Zeewat, Rafael Bejarano.
ESPINOZA HOPES FAMILIARITY BREEDS VICTORY IN SIR BEAUFORT
Victor Espinoza found himself in an unfamiliar position when he rode Rookie Sensation in the Grade I Hollywood Derby on Dec. 1: he was on the lead from the start until hitting the homestretch in the mile and a quarter turf race, eventually finishing fifth, beaten less than three lengths.
Rookie Sensation set the pace for the first time in his career of six races. In four of five previous starts, the gray son of Unbridled’s Song trained by John Shirreffs for owner/breeder Frank Stronach, Founder and Chairman of the Stronach Group, which owns Santa Anita, came from far back, winning the Grade II Twilight Derby at The Great Race Place on Nov. 1.
Espinoza expects a return norm for the 3-year-old colt when he runs in the Grade II Sir Beaufort Stakes at one mile on turf opening day.
“This race should be much more suitable to his natural style,” Espinoza said of the Sir Beaufort. “Last time there was not much speed and I ended up on the lead and let him run on the front. I was forced to try something different, the way the race set up.
“But he’s coming up to this race good. His best races are from well out of it. He’s really talented. Everything went wrong for him last time, but Saturday should be like old times.”
Probable for the Sir Beaufort: Gervinho, Rafael Bejarano; No Jet Lag, Joel Rosario; Rookie Sensation, Espinoza; and Tom’s Tribute, Mike Smith.
FINISH LINES: Unusual Way, one of the favorites for the Grade I La Brea Stakes at
seven furlongs on the main track opening day, has two senior citizens for parents: the sire Unusual Heat, who turns 24 on Jan. 1, and the dam, Way Up, who will be 23. “Unusual Heat will stand again next year,” said Harris Auerbach, Managing Partner of the breeding syndicate for the remarkably durable and successful stud, who stands at the Harris Ranch in Coalinga. “His book is almost full for 2014 but we’ve limited it to 50 the last four years,” Auerbach said. “He is getting older, of course, but he’s like fine wine; he gets better with age. The strange thing about Unusual Way, she runs as well on dirt as she does grass, and Unusual Heats are known for their propensity on turf.” Way Up and Unusual Way were bred by Bay Area resident Tom Bachman . . . The Board of Directors of the Thoroughbred Owners of California have unanimously voted to appoint owner William “Bill” Strauss to fill a vacancy on the board created by the recent resignation of Dennis Cardoza. “We are very pleased to welcome Bill Strauss to the board,” said Chairman Mike Pegram. “His experience as a businessman combined with his passion for horse racing make him a very positive asset to the TOC board of directors.” . . . Christmas Shoppers alert: Champions! Gift Shop will be open Friday through Sunday, 11:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. The popular venue adjacent to the walking ring at Santa Anita offers a wide variety of unique quality clothing and mementoes sure to please racing aficionados.