Cigar conqueror Mandella eyes Pacific Classic gold

Aug 16, 2005 1:10 AM

If longshot Congrats wins Saturday’s Pacific Classic for trainer Richard Mandella, it won’t be the biggest upset in the history of Del Mar’s marquee race.

Mandella put that in perpetuity when he sent out Dare and Go to burn Cigar in the 1996 Classic.

Cigar was 1-10. Mandella’s other horse in the race, the speedy Siphon, led Cigar a merry chase for a mile at 6-1, whereupon Dare and Go, at odds of nearly 40-1, took command outside Cigar in midstretch and drew clear to win by 3½ lengths under Alex Solis.

"I was as surprised as anyone that Cigar got beat," Mandella says now, reflecting on the race that drew 44,181, an on-track record for the Classic.

"Siphon definitely was not used as a ”˜rabbit’ in the race," said Mandella, who has fifteen $1 million wins on his Hall of Fame resume. "I talked to Bill Mott about this and he said because Siphon had just beaten Geri (trained by Mott) on the front end, he did not want Siphon to steal away on Cigar. It just worked out our way."

Mandella is no stranger to the Pacific Classic. He also won it with Gentlemen in 1997 and with Pleasantly Perfect last year. Toss in a third by Pleasantly Perfect in 2002, a second by Gentlemen in 1998 and a second by Soul of the Matter in 1995 and you could say Mandella has retired the Cup, except that he’s the Chicago Cubs compared to Bobby Frankel, who’s won six of the 14 runnings. Mandella has a 3-4-1 record from 12 Classic starters, while Frankel boasts a 6-3-2 record. He has started 15 horses, including Bertrando, Missionary Ridge and Marquetry, who ran 1-2-4 in a field of seven in 1993.

Congrats, a 5-year-old son of 1992 Horse of the Year A.P. Indy, hasn’t graced the winners’ circle since capturing the San Pasqual Handicap at Santa Anita last October. While stablemate Pleasantly Perfect fell victim to niggling ailments in recent months, Congrats followed his San Pasqual win with a third in the San Antonio Handicap, a second to stablemate Rock Hard Ten in the Santa Anita Handicap, a distant fifth in the Dubai World Cup, a second in the 71/2-furlong Ack Ack Handicap, and a well-beaten third behind Lava Man in the Hollywood Gold Cup.

In 21 career starts, Congrats has seven wins and earnings of $978,960 for his owners and breeders, Claiborne Farm and Adele Dilschneider.

"He’s doing really good," Mandella said of the bay horse that will be ridden by Tyler Baze in the Grade I Classic at 11/4 miles. "I expect him to run his very best race. I think his race in the Gold Cup wasn’t as good as it could have been. He was a little too fresh. We tried to take a little bit (of speed) out of him for this race and get him to settle back a little bit. I think that will be his best way to go mile and a quarter. The distance shouldn’t be a problem for him. He’s been there a few times."

As for Rock Hard Ten, the three-time stakes winner at Santa Anita last winter including the Big ”˜Cap, has no margin for error if he is to make the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Belmont Park on Oct. 29. He has not raced in five months and needs one prep before the Breeders’ Cup.

"He’s had a couple breezes at Del Mar, easy halves, but he’s pointed at the Goodwood Handicap (at Santa Anita on Oct. 1) and he’ll use that as his prep to the Breeders’ Cup," said Mandella, who turns 55 on Nov. 5. "He’s doing very good. I haven’t had a bad day (with him) in the last two months. He didn’t have any great problems. He just had some aches and pains that we had to deal with and he’s worked through them. That’s all I can tell you.

"Everything has to go just right for him to make the Classic, but it is going good so we’re enthusiastic about our chances."

The homestretch: Mandella on the ill-fated Halfbridled, 2-year-old filly champion of 2003 who never won after capturing the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies from the No. 14 post and ultimately was retired: "I think she did not get in foal to A.P. Indy this year, so I think she’s barren."

Mandella’s male 2-year-old champion of 2003, Action This Day, is at stud at Castleton Lyon Farm in Kentucky. Like Halfbridled, he never won after capturing the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at odds of nearly 28-1. Mandella sent out a promising maiden winner Saturday in One Union, a son of Dixie Union who showed the same determination as his sire in coming back along the rail to win when seemingly beaten in deep stretch.

”¡ The Los Angeles Times picked up more than 100 inches of space in its sports section since the X Games left town last Sunday. Qualifying for the games wasn’t difficult. Wearing an ear ring and tattoos were mandatory and participants had to use the words "cool," "like" and "dude" on their application.