Ageless The Tin Man earned a repeat victory in the $250,000 American Invitational Handicap (gr. IIT) Sunday on the Hollywood Park turf, which isn't all that remarkable until you consider that his first win in the 1 1/8-mile event came in 2002.
It was four years since the 8-year-old Affirmed gelding last appeared in the American, which proved to be the first graded stakes victory of his career. Sunday's win for the Richard Mandella trainee was his 10th triumph in 25 starts and pushed his earnings to $2,376,860 for owners/breeders Ralph E. and Aury Todd.
"Right now any winner feels good," said Mandella, a Hall of Fame trainer who has had a rough time of it in 2006. "I thought it was two years ago when he won this."
Mandella joked that The Tin Man is finally beginning to figure things out. Asked if he thought the gelding is as good as ever, the trainer said, "He looks it to me."
The Tin Man had not raced since his second-place finish, 3 1/2 lengths behind David Junior, in the $5 million Dubai Duty Free (UAE-I) March 25. Sunday's race was just The Tin Man's fourth since October 2004 – three of them victories.
Facing just four rivals as the even-money favorite after the scratches of Quasimodo and second choice Willow O Wisp, this one had to rank as one of the old pro's easiest.
The Tin Man, ridden by Victor Espinoza, broke best from the inside and established an easy lead while clicking off fractions of :23 4/5, :47 4/5 and 1:10 4/5. El Don was stalking on the outside and Fourty Niners Son bounded along on the inside but were content to chase as The Tin Man took a breather entering the far turn and kicked clear in the stretch. Espinoza didn't ask The Tin Man for his run until they reached the furlong marker, and he held off the late charge of Hendrix under steady handling for a three-quarters length victory. The final time was 1:46 1/5 on a firm course.
"Man, it is easy when they run like that," Espinoza said. "Just on cruise control. The old man, boy he just likes to run. Loves to run. He has such a big heart. Richard really knows how to train this old man."
The Tin Man joins Bold Tropic (1980-81) and Takarian (1999, 2001) as the only two-time winners of the American. He also joins John Henry as the oldest American Handicap winner at eight.
Hendrix, ridden by David Flores, defeated Fourty Niners Son and Corey Nakatani for second by 1 1/4 lengths. El Don held on for fourth by a neck over Mr. Wolverine.
The Tin Man paid $4, $3 and $2.10. Hendrix returned $4.20 and $2.10. Fourty Niners Son was $2.10 to show.