|MARE TACKLES MALES FOR MANDELLA IN SAN JUAN
In an uncharacteristic move, Richard Mandella sends out the six-year-old mare Siberian Iris against males in Sunday’s Grade III San Juan Capistrano Stakes for three-year-olds and up at 1 ¾ miles on turf.
The Irish-bred bay owned by Calumet Farm has faced females in all 20 of her previous races, but the distance and the surface of the San Juan would seem to be in her favor.
She won a restricted stake at Del Mar going 1 3/8 miles on grass last August and gained third in the Grade III Astra at a mile and a half on turf at Santa Anita on Jan. 19.
“It’s a unique distance and she’s always given me the feeling she wants to do that,” Mandella said. “It’s kind of interesting to try it. The San Juan is one of my favorite races.
“It’s sad that it’s lost its stature over the years, but it’s fun to have a horse to try it.”
Mandella also has Border Town making his stakes debut Sunday in the Grade III American Stakes at a mile on grass after two impressive come-from-behind wins in overnight races.
“He’s doing great,” Mandella said of the four-year-old War Front colt owned by Perry and Ramona Bass.
The field for the San Juan, race six: Soberano, Brice Blanc, 30-1; Red King, Umberto Rispoli, 4-1; Tintoretto, Ruben Fuentes, 8-1; Siberian Iris, Drayden Van Dyke, 5-1; Kershaw, Abel Cedillo, 6-1; Swamp Souffle, Jose Valdivia Jr., 10-1; Avalanche, Geovanni Franco, 10-1; and Ward ‘n Jerry, Flavien Prat, 6-5.
The American Stakes, race 10: True Valour, Jose Valdivia Jr., 6-1; Jasikan, Ruben Fuentes, 20-1; Cleopatra’s Strike, Mike Smith, 7-2; Blitzkrieg, Victor Espinoza, 12-1; Sharp Samurai, Abel Cedillo, 4-1; Souter, Evin Roman, 15-1; Border Town, Flavien Prat, 4-1; Bowies Hero, Umberto Rispoli, 4-1; King of Speed, Geovanni Franco, 20-1; and Bolo, Drayden Van Dyke, 8-1.
KRISTI’S TIGER, RAY BELL SEEK EXPOSURE IN MELAIR
Ray Bell is a racetrack lifer.
A third-generation horseman, the 66-year-old trainer is “the son of a trainer (Tom) and the grandson of a trainer (Ray). We all have the same name, for some reason: Thomas Raymond Bell.
“I’ve been around racing all my life,” the youngest Ray Bell said. “Officially, I took out my trainer’s license in 1979.
“Prior to that, I worked for my dad during the summer when I was going to school, so it’s pretty much been a lifelong endeavor.”
Despite nearly half a century of dedication, devotion and diligence to his craft, Ray Bell can’t show you his biographical sketch in a race track media guide.
There is none.
Obviously, he’s not in it for the publicity.
He is one of the faceless horsemen who serve their vocation with fervor, training their stock to reach peak condition in search of victory in a game where all must go right to win and one faux pax can spell defeat.
Bell hopes the stars are properly aligned when he sends out longshot Kristi’s Tiger in Sunday’s $150,000 Melair Stakes for three-year-old California-bred or sired fillies at 1 1/16 miles.
“She’s a very hard-trying filly,” Bell said. “She ran creditably last time going a mile for the first time (third by eight lengths May 23, her first race in nine weeks), and you don’t get many opportunities to run with three-year-old Cal-bred fillies for $150,000, so we thought we’d give her a chance.
“She showed us enough in her previous start, which was a Cal-bred allowance, and she didn’t have the best of trips going four wide. It was a worthwhile experience and I think she’ll benefit from the two-turn race.
“We’re looking forward to the Melair, although it won’t be easy. There are some tough, hard-knocking fillies entered, but again, you don’t get many chances to run for that kind of money with straight three year olds at least this time of the year. It becomes three and up real soon.”
Kristi’s Tiger is a daughter of the prolific Smiling Tiger, winner of the Grade I Triple Bend at Santa Anita in 2011 and the Grade I Bing Crosby at Del Mar in 2010. He stands for $7,500 at Harris Farms in Coalinga.
Kristi’s Tiger will be ridden by Brice Blanc, who has been aboard in each of her five races.
The bay filly is owned by Richard Bell (no relation) and Clark Brewster, and was bred by Premier Thoroughbreds LLC and Alan Klein.
Bell, a lifelong Californian, was born in Santa Monica, moved to Arcadia where he was raised when he was five years old, and spent eight years going to school at Holy Angels across the street from Santa Anita.
“My dad’s still with us at 91,” Ray said. “He’s getting old like all of us but his health is good. They called my grandfather Ray and my dad Tom and they refer to me as Ray, too.
“I can’t answer as to why, but that’s the way it went.”
During the pandemic in which folks have been mandated to hunker down and mask their faces, Bell took advantage of the coerced isolation and made a hermit-like decision. He grew a beard.
Expecting a benign response, he asked his significant other, Julie, “If it made me look distinguished, like Ernest Hemingway?”
“‘No,’ she said. “‘It makes you look old, like Gabby Hayes.'”
The Melair, race seven of 12 with a 12:30 p.m. first post time: Big Sweep, Flavien Prat, 6-5; Smiling Shirlee, Mike Smith, 9-5; Retwa, Abel Cedillo, 15-1; Kristi’s Tiger, Brice Blanc, 30-1; Homehome, Mario Gutierrez, 15-1; and Warren’s Showtime, Jorge Velez, 2-1.
The Melair is named for the undefeated California-bred daughter of Debonair Roger who won all five of her 1986 career starts, four times with Patrick Valenzuela aboard and once under Laffit Pincay Jr. Trained by John Sadler, the roan won them by a combined margin of 30 lengths.
FINISH LINES: Peter Miller holds a 32-31 lead over Bob Baffert in the race for leading trainer with two days left in the meet that ends Sunday. Baffert, however, leads Miller in stakes victories, 10-8. With two wins Friday, Richard Baltas raised his total to 29, climbing within three of the leader and two of the runner-up. Baltas has one horse entered today, Shadow Sphinx, 7-2 morning line favorite in the 12th race, and four horses entered closing day, 5-2 morning line choice Danceformunny in the eighth, 3-1 Cosmic Cowgirl and 8-1 True Mischief in the ninth, and 10-1 Fivestar Lynch in the 12th. Miller has horses entered in 11 races this weekend while Baffert has horses entered in three . . . Flavien Prat has locked up the riding title, leading runner-up Abel Cedillo 84-61 with two days remaining. Prat also has a nearly $600,000 bulge in money won over Cedillo, $4,283,992 to $3,705,470, although Cedillo has ridden in 80 more races, 397 to 317.
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