LEGEND OF BALD EAGLE RESONATES WITH MANDELLA
MAN’S MAN SPECHT SEEKS SUNDAY UPSET
TOP JOCK PRAT POSTS DOUBLE ON FRIDAY
SEVERAL ‘BIG’ HORSES ON A.M. WORK TAB
MANDELLA: ‘NO RACE I’D RATHER WIN THAN WHITTINGHAM’
After a trip to Dubai for the $6 million Sheema Classic on March 28 that never came to fruition because of the global pandemic , United is safe and sound at home with Richard Mandella preparing for the Grade II Charles Whittingham Stakes at a mile and a quarter on turf Saturday, May 23.
“I took him to Dubai to school him,” Mandella said in typical self-deprecating fashion. “Seriously, he came back well, he’s in great shape and there’s not a race I’d rather win than the Whittingham.”
The grass marathon is named for Charlie Whittingham, a racing icon who reached a training plateau his peers can only dream of approaching.
Whittingham won more than 2,500 races including the San Juan Capistrano Stakes a remarkable 14 times.
A three-time Eclipse Award winner, the “Bald Eagle” was the oldest trainer of a Kentucky Derby winner twice, with Ferdinand in 1986 and Sunday Silence in 1989. Art Sherman surpassed Whittingham by winning the Run for the Roses at the age of 77 with California Chrome in 2014.
“Whittingham was one of my heroes, but he was everybody’s hero,” said Mandella, not one to heap praise lightly and not effusing kudos simply because Charlie’s ghost might be hovering about.
You see, Mandella is headquartered in Barn 4 at Santa Anita, where Whittingham held fort for decades until he died at 86 on April 20, 1999.
“Charlie always talked about a tin can filled with a recipe for peaches that he buried at the barn, and only Molly knew where he hid it,” Mandella said, resurrecting a favorite Whittingham yarn he was wont to spin.
“I’ve dug up every foot of land around there and can’t find the can.”
But back to the business at hand.
“All the horses returning from Dubai had to go through quarantine in New York, then flew home from there,” Mandella said. “Sheikh Mohammad and his CEO of the Dubai Racing Club, Frank Gabriel, went beyond the call of duty to get the horses out safely before the virus shut down racing.
“Gabriel worked 24 hours a day to get it done. He really felt terrible about the cancellation and did everything to make it as right as he could to get them home.”
SPECHT SET FOR OPERATION DESERT STORMER
Steve Specht is a guy you want in a foxhole with you.
Fact is, he paid his patriotic dues in the United States Army back in the day, before turning to his first love, training horses.
Now 70 and based in Northern California, Specht has a longshot’s chance with Tomlin in Sunday’s Grade III, $100,000 Desert Stormer Stakes for fillies three and older at six furlongs.
On paper it’s a daunting assignment, but Specht has authored upsets before, most notably with $69.80 winner McCann’s Mojave in the 2007 Sunshine Millions Classic at Gulfstream Park when it was worth $1 million, the winner’s share being $550,000.
Big, brawny and battle-tested, Specht knows he faces a tough task with Tomlin, a four-year-old Kentucky-bred filly owned by Tom Bachman’s Fairview LLC who last started on March 1, winning a sprint at Golden Gate Field by a nose.
“She’s doing great,” Specht said, “although she tends to get a little heavy and she hasn’t run in two-and-a-half months, but that’s pretty much the situation for everybody.
“I know there are a few in there probably tougher than me. Bellafina for sure kicked my ass a couple times last year (Tomlin was third to her by 10 ¼ lengths in the Grade II Santa Ynez and fifth by 23 lengths in the Grade II Las Virgenes), but I don’t know if she’s the same horse now as she was then.
“I watched Bellafina’s race at Hot Springs (fourth by 10 lengths as the 7-5 favorite in the Carousel on April 25) and she definitely had trouble, broke a little slow, kind of checked down the backside and made a premature move around the turn, but she was finished at the quarter pole.
“However, she runs better at Santa Anita than she does anywhere else (four wins and two seconds from six starts), so we’ll see.”
Like all dedicated horsemen, Specht is thrilled to be back in action although due to virus restrictions he won’t be on site to saddle Tomlin. “It’s been foolish that we haven’t raced till now,” he said, “because the same people are at Santa Anita every day.
“But on the other hand, you’ve got to go along with those in charge who pave the way for us.”
Obviously, times have changed since Specht saddled his first winner in 1969 at defunct Cahokia Downs in East St. Louis, Missouri. “It’s probably been shut down since the late 70’s,” Specht reckoned (it was 1979). “Now the only track there is Fairmount Park.”
Specht was born in Collinsville, Illinois, home of Fairmount Park, “just across the (Mississippi) river from East St. Louis.”
Save for a spell in the Army and “working for a couple different guys,” Specht has made his bones while on his own in racing, where he has 22 head in the Bay Area. “I love the horses and I love the competition,” he said.
“Some of the other things that go along with it, I’m not so keen about.” Important thing is, Steve Specht is still here.
The game needs guys like him.
FINISH LINES: Edwin Maldonado got off to a flying start with his new agent Tony Matos on re-opening day Friday, posting a $42.60 head upset in the third race allowance feature aboard Oil Can Knight for trainer Steve Knapp…Congrats to leading man Flavien Prat, who posted a double on Friday, as She’s So Special ($8.40), the lone filly versus nine males, took the first race, and Oh Marvelous Me ($15.40), prevailed by a neck in race six…Santa Anita Timer Dane Nelson advises several “big” horses were on this morning’s work tab…Bob Baffert’s brilliant 3-year-old filly, Gamine, a May 2 allowance winner at Oaklawn Park, drilled a half mile in 47.60…Doug O’Neill’s graded stakes winning Bliztkrieg went five furlongs in 1:00.40…John Sadler’s Grade I sprint stakes winning Cistron drilled the same distance in 59.20, while Sadler’s Grade I stakes winning Ollie’s Candy, a solid second in the Grade I Apple Blossom Handicap April 18, went five eighths in a bullet 59 flat…Grade I stakes winner Improbable, most recently second in the ungraded Oaklawn Mile April 18, worked seven furlongs for Baffert in 1:24.40.
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|SANTA ANITA STATISTICS|
|(Current Through Friday, May 15, 2020 Inclusive)|
|Drayden Van Dyke||130||26||23||12||20%||47%||$1,713,581|