With 36 victories going into the weekend's action, Hall of Fame trainer Richard Mandella won't list 2002 among his greatest years. But as it winds down, he'll have Sunday at Santa Anita's Oak Tree meeting to make it better.
Mandella trained the winners of the $500,000 Goodwood Breeders' Cup Handicap (gr. II) in Pleasantly Perfect, and the $300,000 Clement L. Hirsch Memorial Turf Championship (gr. IT), The Tin Man.
In the process, he picked up a couple of strong candidates for the World Thoroughbred Championships Oct. 26 at Arlington Park.
"I'm thinking the mile and a half (Turf, for the Breeders' Cup), but he's eligible for (the Mile)," Mandella said of The Tin Man, who won his first Grade I.
Facing a field of six in the 1 1/4-mile Hirsch with little speed signed on following the scratch of Night Patrol, The Tin Man had the pace to himself. Jockey Mike Smith took full advantage, going :48 2/5 for the half and $1:12 1/5 for six furlongs.
When heavily-favored Sarafan, part of a Gary A. Tanaka entry with Hawkeye, made his move on the outside of the leaders on the far turn, the 4-year-old Affirmed gelding had plenty left for the drive. He held on by about a length over Sarafan, who was not hard ridden by Corey Nakatani.
The fast final time of 1:58.93 belied the slow start.
"I was well aware of Sarafan, and I knew that he was coming at us in the stretch," said Smith. "But my horse was really reaching the last part of it. As I said, it was just a dynamite race.
"That last eighth of a mile was really fast. I told Mr. Mandella we were going to win a big one with him one of these days."
Nakatani was resigned.
"Nobody went with the horse on the lead," he said. "When the course is that fast, and you get an easy lead on a horse that wants to do it, you're going to win."
The Tin Man won for the fifth time in eight outings this year and improved to five-for-seven on the Santa Anita turf course. He has six career victories in 11 startsThe $180,000 winning purse for owners Ralph and Todd Aury ran his earnings total about $500,000.
The Tin Man paid $7, $3 and $2.20. Sarafan, who is not being pointed to the Breeders' Cup, returned $2.40 and $2.10. Blue Stellar paid $2.20 for the show.
Mandella won the Hirsch Memorial in back-to-back years with Kotashaan in '93 and Sandpit in '94. Kotashaan earned Horse of the Year honors in '93.
He won Breeders' Cup races with Kotashaan and Phone Chatter, both in 1993, and is giving Pleasantly Perfect strong consideration for the Breeders' Cup Classic (gr. I). With only the Goodwood graded stakes victory to his credit, he might need an invitation. The race produced the Classic winner in each of the past two years, however, in Tiznow.
The 4-year-old colt by Pleasant Colony won the Goodwood impressively by more than three lengths over Momentum, who was the runner-up again. Momentum was a much closer second to Sky Jack in the Hollywood Gold Cup (gr. 1) and to Came Home in the Pacific Classic (gr. I) in his last two races.
Ridden by Alex Solis, Pleasantly Perfect was closer to the pace than usual and rocketed by Reba's Gold in the stretch before Momentum could rally. The time for the 1 1/8 was 1:46.80.
"Everything really went our way today," said jockey Alex Solis. "We had a good pace (1:09.85 for six furlongs) in front of us, and by the five-sixteenths (pole) he was already getting into a great position. I got way down on him at the eighth pole and hit him a couple of times left-handed, and he really flew home. He just keeps improving every race."
Does Solis think Pleasantly Perfect is Breeders' Cup Classic caliber?
"Well, there's really no truly outstanding horse out there right now, and he's coming on at the right time. He's lightly raced and he's getting better. So, I would say yes."
Craig Dollase, trainer of Momentum, said he is leaning the same way.
"He's had a lot of seconditis this year (seven seconds)," dollase said. "But I'm very pleased.
"I missed about a week of training up to this race and I didn't get him as tight as I liked to be, but I think he ran well here and I think we'll move forward for the next one. He's had a quarter crack and foot problems all along and it's been a nemesis. If he's OK, we'll go on to the next stage (Breeders' Cup Classic)."
Mandella won the Goodwood in 1995 with Soul Of The Matter. Jockey Alex Solis scored aboard Lively One in 1990.
Owned by Diamond A Racing Corp., Pleasant Colony, out of the Affirmed mare Regal State, was purchased for $725,000 at Keeneland Sept. 1999 sale. He was bred in Kentucky by Clovelly Farms.
Pleasantly Perfect had only one career start before this year. He has won four of eight in 2002 with a pair of seconds. The $300,00 winner's share pushed his career bankroll to $480,000.
Sent off at 7-2 in the field of nine, Pleasantly Perfect paid $9.40, $3.80 and $2.80. Momentum returned $2.60 and $2.20. Reba's Gold, who carved out some lively fractions with jockey David Flores before finishing third, paid $4.20.