Espinoza pulling away from
jockeys at old Del Mar

Aug 15, 2006 3:00 AM

Once around the race track, or, with apologies to the late Rodney Dangerfield, did you hear about the woman who was so ugly she drove men to celibacy?

With Patrick Valenzuela hors de combat, Victor Espinoza is dominating the Del Mar meet like no jockey since Kent Desormeaux in 1993.

Espinoza, winning races in bunches, had 34 victories through 23 days, placing him 11 in front of runner-up Martin Garcia.

"The young riders are doing well, too," said veteran agent Richie Silverstein, who represents Martin Pedroza. "Espinoza and Corey Nakatani are having hot meets, but relative newcomers Mike Baze and David Cohen have made the most of their opportunities.

"But it’s been pretty fair across the board. Guys like (Clinton) Potts came in and are winning races, so it’s fun to watch different guys win. It makes me work a little harder as an agent and it’s taking a lot of money out of my pocket. As far as the gamblers, they’re getting a treat at Del Mar."

A recent California Horse Racing Board regulation that uncouples horses in the mutuel wagering owned by the same party is designed to increase field size.

"I think that will happen," said former racing secretary Tom Knust, an agent for the past six years who currently represents Valenzuela and Corey Nakatani. "We’ll get better fields. I think years ago when we had enough horses it was a good idea to couple them, but now we need the horses, and the people who complain about uncoupled entries are the ones who complain about different owners not being coupled.

"Racing in California has reached a point where it needs those extra horses to have more competitive fields, generate more mutuel handle and increase purses," Knust continued. "There is the perception of skullduggery, but I think there are enough regulations in place to overcome that. Integrity is everything, but I think we have enough safeguards so that uncoupled entries are not affected."

Adds Steve Knapp, one of the most active trainers at the entry box: "We need that rule because we need horases to make races go and when they’re coupled, they’re not counted as an additional starter to help our entry box.

"I have about 50 horses, so it doesn’t make that much difference to me, except when we have to double up our horses because there are only so many races to run in, and you’ve got to run them. If you miss one race in the (condition) book, it’s another three weeks before you get another shot to run. That’s almost a month of training for your owners, and they want to run."

Dan Hendricks, trainer of Santa Anita Derby winner Brother Derek, on his former mentor, Hall of Famer Richard Mandella: "He’s the consummate horseman and very detail-oriented. I couldn’t have worked for anyone better. He settled me down and taught me everything. I owe my whole career to him."

Asked if he was a wild young Turk during his tour with Mandella, now 55, Hendricks said: "I think so. Let’s leave it at that."

Mandella on his 34-year-old son, Gary, and the 47-year-old Hendricks: "One is family and the other one is like family. I’m just proud to be associated with them, that’s all. It kind of adds to my pleasures in life at this stage. It’s nice enough to train horses that once in a while do good. To see people who have been involved with us go on and do good is just icing on the cake."

Chimed in veterinarian Dr. Rick Arthur on Hendricks: "Frankly, he was a bit of a bleep-off when he was younger. He was like an ornery young brother. But he’s a natural horseman. Mandella taught him to pay attention to the horses. That was the key."

The homestretch

Lava Man is favored to win Sunday’s Pacific Classic, but it’s unlikely the former claimer can handle Eastern heavyweights Bernardini, Invasor and Bluegrass Cat in the Breeders’ Cup Classic on Nov. 4.

”¡ David Flores says Del Mar’s maligned main track "seems pretty good in the afternoons, but in the mornings, it’s still a little hard. There are so many horses out there and they don’t have that much time with the breaks (to renovate the surface)."

”¡ Agent Knust reports Valenzuela is "clean and sober right now" in a Pasadena hospital, but additional info on the jockey’s condition from the California Horse Racing Board and Valenzuela’s attorney, Neil Papiano, could be imminent.

”¡ Kiaran McLaughlin hopes to get one race into Belmont Stakes winner Jazil before the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic. "He won’t run until Oct. 7 (Jockey Club Gold Cup), or possibly he would train up to the Breeders’ Cup," McLaughlin said. "We have another Horse of the Year candidate in Invasor. He’s won three Grade I races in a row, so he’s the leader in the handicap division." The Argentine-bred son of Candy Stripes is undefeated in the U.S., winning the Pimlico Special, the Suburban and the Whitney, with eight wins from nine career starts. The 4-year-old’s only loss came in the UAE Derby, where he finished fourth.

”¡ Bill Mott says he plans to have the fillies Splendid Blended and Sweet Symphony ready to run at Belmont, possibly in the Grade I Ruffian at 11/16 miles on Sept. 10.

”¡ Good news, bad news: The good: NFL Monday Night Football begins next month. The bad: "Jeopardy" will be pre-empted for five months.