By Richard Rosenblatt
He’s a Hall of Famer, and one of the most well-respected trainers in the business — ever. Pretty successful over the past 30 years or so, too, primarily in southern California.
Every once in a while, though, Richard Mandella has a 3-year-old that rounds into form on the road to the Kentucky Derby (G1).
In 2019, Omaha Beach may have been his best, winning the Rebel Stakes (G2), the Arkansas Derby (G1), and becoming the darling of Derby week as well as the 4-1 morning-line favorite.
Three days before the race, Mandella had to scratch Omaha Beach due to an entrapped epiglottis (a breathing issue). It was a sad morning when Mandella broke the news, somehow managing to retain his dry wit.
“I have done this for 45 years,” he told the Louisville Courier-Journal. “So, I have seen the movie and starred in it. You know, that’s part of training horses. But I had a nice message from Arthur Hancock yesterday and he said, ‘Richard, (Charlie) Whittingham was 73 when he won his first one.’ So, who am I to think I should be doing this now?”
After Forbidden Kingdom demolished his rivals in winning the San Felipe Stakes (G2) by 5 ¾ lengths on Saturday (March 5), Mandella now trains the No. 1 contender in this week’s usracing.com Kentucky Derby Top 10.
“I’m due,’’ he said on Sunday (March 6) when asked about his Derby history.
Mandella also said he was surprised how easily Forbidden Kingdom won, and now that he’s collected 50 Derby-qualifying points, the son of 2015 Triple Crown winner American Pharoah clinched his spot in the Derby on May 7.
Mandella said the next stop for his colt is the Santa Anita Derby (G1) on April 9. In his 48th year as a trainer, Mandella has saddled six Derby starters – his best finish was fifth with Soul of the Matter in 1994, his last Derby was 18 years ago, when Action This Day ran sixth, and Minister Eric 16th.
Maybe he is due.
The one Derby prep on Saturday (March 12) is the Tampa Bay Derby (G2), with qualifying points of 50-20-10-5 to the first four finishers. Classic Causeway, winner of the Sam F. Davis (G3), is the likely favorite for trainer Brian Lynch, with Major General and Shipsational among the top challengers.
Dropping out of our new Top 10 are Rattle N Roll (sixth in the Fountain of Youth) and D. Wayne Lukas’ filly Secret Oath (a bit of uncertainty regarding a Derby run). New this week are Fountain of Youth (G2) winner Simplification and Gotham (G3) winner Morello.
Here’s the Derby Top 10
Note: Derby future wager odds listed as of Feb. 13; BUSR odds are current as of March 7.
1 Forbidden Kingdom (Richard Mandella, Juan Hernandez)
A dazzling 5 ¾-length gate-to-wire San Felipe win moves this son of American Pharoah into the top spot … Won San Vicente at 7 furlongs, and now has a win at 1 1/16 miles … Derby qualifying points: 50 … Next start: Santa Anita Derby, Santa Anita, April 9 … Derby future wager odds: 5-1 … BUSR odds: 16-1.
2 Epicenter (Steve Asmussen, Joel Rosario)
Risen Star winner worked 5 furlongs in 59.60 at the Fair Grounds on March 7, fastest of 21 at the distance … No reason to drop him to No. 2, but oved the way Forbidden Kingdom was let loose to show his talent … Derby qualifying points: 64 … Next start: Louisiana Derby, Fair Grounds, March 26 … Derby future wager odds: 8-1 … BUSR odds: 12-1
3 Simplification (Antonio Sano, Jose Ortiz)
Not difficult to include him high on the list after his thrilling run to victory in the Fountain of Youth against a tough field … Ran second to White Abarrio in the Holy Bull (G3) o
n Feb. 5 … Owner: Tami Bobo … Breeding: Not This Time-Simply Confection, by Twirling Candy … Derby qualifying points: 50 … Next start: … Florida Derby, Gulfstream, April 2 … Derby future wager odds: 12-1 … BUSR odds: 16-1
4 Mo Donegal (Todd Pletcher, Irad Ortiz, Jr.)
Scratched from Fountain of Youth with slight fever, but don’t really think owners wanted to run in this spot, plus he drew outside post 12 … A fast-closing third in the Holy Bull (G3) and a win in the Remsen (G2) in December make him a strong Derby prospect. Derby qualifying points: 12 … Next start: Wood Memorial, Aqueduct, April 29 … Derby future wager odds: 12-1 … BUSR odds: 22-1
5 Classic Causeway (Brian Lynch, Irad Ortiz, Jr.)
Sam F. Davis winner set for big test this weekend … worked 5 furlongs in 59.95 at Palm Meadows on March 5 (2nd of 30 at the distance) … Derby qualifying points: 16 … Next start: Tampa Bay Derby, Tampa Bay Downs, Saturday … Derby future wager odds: 16-1 … BUSR odds: 16-1
6 Ethereal Road (D. Wayne Lukas, Luis Contreras)
Worked 5 furlongs in 1:01.4 at Oaklawn on March 6 (7th of 14 at the distance) … Plans are to move forward through Arkansas on the road to the Derby … Derby qualifying points: 20 … Next start: Arkansas Derby, Oaklawn, April 2 … Derby future wager odds: 15-1 (mutuel field) … BUSR odds: 16-1.
7 Smile Happy (Kenny McPeek, Corey Lanerie)
Worked 4 furlongs in 49.02 at Gulfstream (33rd of 76 at the distance) … Runner-up in Risen Star to Epicenter … Derby qualifying points: 30 … Next start: Florida Derby, Gulfstream, April 2 … Derby future wager odds: 6-1 … BUSR odds: 16-1
8 Messier (Bob Baffert, John Velazquez)
Tough to say what’s next for a colt that would be rated much higher if not for Baffert’s suspension by Churchill Downs … Horse has done nothing wrong: won Robert B. Lewis by 13 lengths … Worked 4 furlongs in 48.60 at Santa Anita on March 7, 13th of 40 at the distance … Derby qualifying points: 0 … Next start … Santa Anita Derby, Santa Anita, April 9 … Derby future wager odds: 2-1 (mutuel field) … BUSR odds: 12-1
9 Morello (Steve Asmussen, Jose Lezcano)
Despite being bumped at start from post 9, he still stalked leaders and won 1-mile Gotham by 4 ½ lengths … Question now is whether he can stretch out to get 1 ¼ mile Derby distance … $250,000 purchase at the Fasig-Tipton Midlantic Sale last May … Owner: David Lyon’s Blue Lion Thoroughbreds, Craig Taylor and Diamond T Racing … Breeding: Classic Empire-Stop The Wedding, by Congrats … … Derby qualifying points: 50 … Next start: Wood Memorial, Aqueduct, April 9 …. Derby future wager odds: 10-1 (mutuel field) … BUSR odds: 16-1
10 White Abarrio (Saffie Joseph, Jr., Tyler Gaffalione)
Holy Bull winner training up for one more prep before Derby … Worked 4 furlongs in a blazing 47.12 at Gulfstream on March 6 (2nd of 125 at the distance) … Derby qualifying points: 12 … Next start: … Florida Derby, Gulfstream, April 2 … Derby future wager odds: 15-1 … BUSR odds: 20-1
Over the years while working at The Associated Press, Rich Rosenblatt became a familiar name to legions of the horse racing fans and industry insiders with his award-winning articles on horse racing and his stories from the backstretch.
In addition to being an astute observer of sports, Rosenblatt is the co-author of The All-American Chili Cookbook. His work has been seen in just about every publication in the world, including The New York Times, The Washington Post and Time Magazine.