No place like home for Mandella

Maybe it was after that 1993 Breeders' Cup at Santa Anita that trainer Julio Canani began calling Richard Mandella "The Pope." The nickname was conferred out of reverential respect for one of the best horsemen in the West, or anywhere for that matter. Well, "The Pope" has had unprecedented success when the Breeders' Cup takes its show to Santa Anita. And he's preparing what just might be the fastest 2-year-old in the country for the Cup's return on Nov. 2-3.

Mandella seemed incapable of doing anything wrong that day in 1993, as if he indeed had divine guidance: He saddled two Breeders' Cup winners, Kotashaan in the Turf and Phone Chatter in the Juvenile Fillies, and he won two more stakes, with Memo and Region, on the undercard.

A decade later, also at Santa Anita, Mandella had one of the most successful days any trainer has ever experienced, or even witnessed. He saddled four Breeders' Cup winners: Halfbridled in the Juvenile Fillies, Action This Day in the Juvenile, Johar (in a dead heat with High Chaparral) in the Turf and Pleasantly Perfect in the Classic. Keep in mind that in those days, there were only eight Breeders' Cup championship races. Mandella won half of them.

And now, nearly a decade later, "The Pope" waits patiently for the return of the Breeders' Cup to his home track, where he'll saddle a fleet filly named Beholder in the sport's championship event. Mandella has pre-entered Beholder in both the Juvenile Sprint and the Juvenile Fillies. But he said Thursday that she'll "more than likely" run in the Juvenile Sprint, where, of course, she'll have to take on the "boys."

"We just wanted to keep our options open," Mandella said about also pre-entering Beholder in the Juvenile Fillies. "I think she'll get two turns one of these days; I'm just not sure when that day will be."

Beholder announced her prominence and proclaimed herself to be one of the favorites for the Juvenile Sprint with a recent allowance victory at Santa Anita. She grabbed the lead shortly after the start, dragging jockey Garrett Gomez to the front, and cruised through an opening half-mile in 44.02 seconds. And from there, as they say, she improved her position. At the wire, where Gomez had her firmly in hand, she was clear by 11 lengths, completing the six furlongs in 1:09.

To provide some context, two days later at Santa Anita, Merit Man, who's also pre-entered in the Juvenile Sprint, won the Tim Conway Stakes in 1:10.56. And that same day, Coil, an accomplished older horse, won the Santa Anita Sprint Championship in 1:09.89. He's pre-entered in the Breeders' Cup Sprint.

"I think she's just getting better and better," Mandella said about Beholder's breakout victory, "although I don't see how she could be much better than she was that day. She's good. But I was surprised how good she was. You can never anticipate a performance like that."

That was Beholder's first start on dirt. Prior to her victory at Santa Anita, while racing on a synthetic surface, she had finished second by a nose in the Del Mar Debutante to Executiveprivilege, an unbeaten filly who'll be one of the favorites in the Juvenile Fillies. Beholder also finished behind Executiveprivilege in her debut at Hollywood Park.

"We've always thought highly of her," Mandella said about Beholder. "When we got her started, we weren't pressing her and knew we had left her room to improve. And she just keeps improving."

At this point, though, no more improvement is necessary. With anything like her most recent effort, she'll put herself and "The Pope" back in the winner's circle.