Here’s a racing rarity: Richard Mandella has never won the Santa Margarita Stakes. The Hall of Fame trainer has captured just about every other stakes at Santa Anita, or so it seems, but never the Grade I Santa Margarita, the meet’s premier stakes for older fillies and mares.

That void could be filled Saturday when Mandella sends out Spellbound in the 77th edition of the Santa Margarita, which offers a $350,000 purse and will be decided at 1 1/8 miles.

Spellbound, a 4-year-old daughter of Bernardini, is coming off her first stakes win, a Grade II score in the La Canada, in which she rallied four wide to get up by a neck at a mile and a sixteenth under Victor Espinoza, who retains the mount in the Santa Margarita.

“A Grade I win for a (prospective) broodmare is icing on the cake,” Mandella said. “She’s a Grade II winner now, so a Grade I would be the dessert. She’s doing great, and improving, I think, with age. She’s a leggy filly, slow to grow up. I think we’re seeing the best of her now.”

The field for the Santa Margarita, race seven of nine: Fiftyshadesofhay, Martin Garcia, 5-2; Spellbound, Victor Espinoza, 4-1; Macha, Rafael Bejarano, 12-1; Miss Serendipity, Brice Blanc, 6-1; Let Faith Arise, Corey Nakatani, 4-1; Stanwyck, Gary Stevens, 6-1; Iotapa, Joe Talamo, 2-1; and Yahilwa, Tyler Blaze, 15-1.


Topic will make her first start in more than five months when she runs in Sunday’s Grade II Santa Ana Stakes for older fillies and mares at 1 1/8 miles on turf.

“We backed off her; she was a late-maturing filly,” said Hall of Fame trainer Neil Drysdale in explaining the extended absence. “The distance may be short for her, but you’ve got to start somewhere.”

A 4-year-old Kentucky-bred daughter of Discreet Cat owned by Alice Bamford and Anthony Speelman, Topic was seventh in the Grade I Rodeo Drive Stakes at 1 ¼ miles at Santa Anita in her most recent start, last Sept. 28.

In her four prior races, none was shorter than 1 ¼ miles, the longest being 1 3/8 miles.

The Santa Ana: Miss Serendipity, Brice Blanc, 4-1; Stormy Lucy, Rafael Bejarano, 6-1; Emotional Kitten, Victor Espinoza, 3-1; Topic, Corey Nakatani, 8-1; Nickels Wild, Martin Garcia, 20-1; Emollient, Mike Smith, 1-1; and Floral Romance, Gary Stevens, 8-1.


Mario Gutierrez has ridden Dancingtothestars in her last 10 races and in 15 of her 21 career starts. But not Saturday in the Irish O’Brien Stakes. Gutierrez, who rode I’ll Have Another to victory in the 2012 Kentucky Derby for owner J. Paul Reddam and trainer Doug O’Neill, rides at Golden Gate Fields this weekend, including Marketway on Saturday for trainer Troy Taylor in the $50,000 Camilla Urso Stakes.

With Gutierrez in the Bay Area, O’Neill has engaged Joe Talamo to ride Dancingtothestars in the $100,000 Irish O’Brien at about 6 ½ furlongs on turf. Santa Anita’s second-leading jockey this meet with 41 victories, Talamo has ridden Dancingtothestars three times previously, winning once, in July of 2012.

“We love Mario, but he’s out of town,” O’Neill said. “The filly is doing well. I think 6 ½ down the hill might be a tad too short for her, but if she gets a good clean trip, she’ll be fine.”

The field for the Irish O’Brien, race four of nine: Boller Bomb, Martin Garcia, 10-1; Dancingtothestars, Joe Talamo, 2-1; Oscillator, Edwin Maldonado, 10-1; Tribal Spy, Irving Orozco, 4-1; Ciao Bella Luna, Rafael Bejarano, 5-2; Sudden Sunday, Victor Espinoza, 8-1; and Could Be Trouble, Corey Nakatani, 3-1.


Robert B. Lewis Stakes winner Candy Boy, moving closer to the Grade I, $1 million Santa Anita Derby on April 5, worked five furlongs on Santa Anita’s main track Friday morning in company with Prospector Alley. With Gary Stevens aboard, Candy Boy was clocked in 59.40, while his stablemate went in 1:00.40.

“He went really well,” trainer John Sadler said of Candy Boy. “He looked very sharp. He’ll have two more works before the race.”

In other Santa Anita Derby news:
Bob Baffert said he is considering both the Santa Anita Derby and the April 12 Arkansas Derby for Bayern, 15-length allowance victor who galloped on the main track today.

Trainer Peter Eurton said El Camino Real Derby runner-up Dance With Fate is ticketed for the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland on April 12, while Patrick Biancone has Oak Tree Juvenile Turf winner Diamond Bachelor set for the $75,000 Pasadena Stakes for 3-year-olds at one mile on turf March 22.

Trainer Simon Callaghan said Ontology, third in the Sham Stakes in his most recent start on Jan. 11, was given “a little break,” is back jogging, but not a candidate for the Santa Anita Derby.

Garen, a son of Street Cry who broke his maiden by 2 ¼ lengths going a mile and a sixteenth at Santa Anita on Feb. 17 for trainer Peter Miller, is headed for the Grade III, $800,000 Sunland Derby on March 23, while the filly D’ya Knowwhatimean goes in the $85,000 New Mexico Breeders’ Oaks the same day. Victor Espinoza has both mounts.


Top handicapping tournament horseplayer Dennis Decauwer will be Tom Quigley’s special guest Sunday on “Quigley’s Corner,” a free handicapping seminar in Santa Anita’s East Paddock Gardens beginning at 11:20 a.m.

A winner of Santa Anita’s “Double Down” Handicapping Challenge March 2, Decauwer finished second in the 2009 National Handicapping Challenge in Las Vegas (his fifth NHC appearance) and has been betting on Thoroughbreds for more than 45 years.

Born in Massachusetts and raised from age 10 in nearby Claremont, Decauwer is a graduate of Cal Poly Pomona and is a retired CPA.

Decauwer, 64, and his wife, Diane, have been married 43 years and have three grown children and 10 grandchildren. He volunteer-teaches Mondays and Wednesdays in Claremont.

Following is a brief question and answer interview with Decauwer:

Q. How did you first get involved playing horses?
A. “I was in college about 45 years ago and I started sneaking out to Santa Anita whenever I could.”

Q. What is it that appeals most to you about coming to the races?
A. “I think it’s the challenge of putting the puzzle together. Every single race is different, even if some of those horses have run against each other recently. Originally, for me, it was the exhilaration, the rush of going to the races and the action of playing every race. I discovered 25 years ago that I could make a profit by making selections where my opinions were strong.”

Q. What’s the biggest bet you ever made?
A. “I bet $4,000 to win on Gio Ponti in the 2010 Breeders’ Cup Mile at Churchill Downs. I was there playing in a handicapping tournament and he got through every step of the way and I thought he was home, but Goldikova came flying to beat him. It was her third Breeders’ Cup win in a row.”

Q. What’s your biggest-ever score?
A. “It was in 1996 at Golden Gate Fields. I was at Surfside (Race Place, Inter-Track Wagering at Del Mar) and I played a $36 ticket. It paid $60,000 and it was all me.”

Q. Are there certain types of races that you are more comfortable with, more inclined to make a significant wager in?
A. “Yes. Sprints are my strong point, whether they’re down the hill here at Santa Anita or on the main track. That said, I won that tournament (March 2) by making some key wagers in a one mile race. It was the eighth race that day and I really liked the one-two finishers, Dress Code and Run For Fun. Dress Code paid $15.80; I keyed both in the exacta and trifecta. The exacta paid $74.80 and the tri paid over a thousand ($1,051.30).”

Q. You mentioned you volunteer at your grandkids’ school. What else do you do?
A. “I also volunteer with the Claremont Rotary Club, but mainly, I’m a full-time horseplayer. I usually go to the Finish Line at Barretts (Pomona, satellite wagering) on Thursdays and Fridays and I’m at Santa Anita almost every weekend.”

Q. Do you think it’s an advantage to be at the live racing venue?
A. “Absolutely. I’m basically an old-school guy. I read the Form, I watch video and I like to go down to the paddock and check out the body language of the horses. I watch races from the Box Seat area and I’d be at Santa Anita every day if the traffic on the 210 (Freeway) wasn’t so congested on weekdays. I’m not a software guy, although I don’t begrudge anyone who is. In fact, I think in some ways, those guys have caught up with people like me in terms of their approach to wagering.”

Q. Are you looking forward to being Tom’s guest on Sunday?
A. “I really am. I think I might’ve been his first guest when he started doing these seminars last year. I’m hoping I can come with a big priced horse and hopefully a big exacta. Handicapping is something I love and it should be fun.”

Tom Quigley serves as Santa Anita’s VIP Player Concierge and hosts “Quigley’s Corner” each Saturday and Sunday during live racing at The Great Race Place. He can be reached at, or on Twitter, @Quigleys_Corner

FINISH LINES: Ria Antonia, a candidate for the Grade I Santa Anita Oaks on April 5, worked four furlongs Friday in a bullet 46.60 for Bob Baffert. It was the fastest of 41 drills at the distance, of which the average time was 49.29 . . . Apprentice Gonzalo Nicolas, who missed nine weeks recovering from a chipped vertebrae in his lower back, has been granted an extension of 69 days on his apprenticeship by the California Horse Racing Board. Currently riding with a seven-pound weight advantage, Nicolas’ apprenticeship will end Oct. 24 or until he has ridden his 40th winner, whichever occurs later. He has 25 wins to date . . . Agent Danny Thomas reports Kent Desormeaux will ride regularly at Keeneland when the Kentucky track opens April 4. Desormeaux, with seven wins from just 27 rides at Santa Anita, a 26 percent average, is at Oaklawn Park tomorrow to pilot Ride On Curlin in the Grade II Rebel Stakes for trainer William Gowan . . . Good luck to Jorge Periban Jr., 17-year-old son of trainer Jorge Periban, who is in a semifinal Golden Gloves match tomorrow night in the 114-pound weight class at Lincoln Park in East Los Angeles.