Submitted by John Conte on Friday, August 16, 2013 at 12:00 AM
Arlington Million: Mandella phenom hails from familiar pipeline
ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. − It has been a long time, nearly a quarter-century, since trainer Richard Mandella was dispatched on a scouting mission to South America by Hollywood Park chairman and prominent horse owner R.D. Hubbard. On that first trip, to Argentina in 1989, Mandella found a horse named Leger Cat. Imported to North America, Leger Cat won multiple graded stakes and earned $1 million. More important, he opened a pipeline that supplied Mandella with a series of excellent racehorses.
First came two Brazilians, Sandpit followed by Siphon, then another Argentine in Gentlemen. After Gentlemen, a pair of Chileans, Malek and Puerto Madero. Redattore, a Brazilian import who won two Grade 1’s for Mandella, raced through the end of 2003. But then the pipeline ran dry. It has been a long time since Mandella trained a South American of note.
Mandella, to this day, claims not to know why he and not some other horseman regularly got sent some of the best racehorses in South America. “The owners must have looked in the Yellow Pages and seen my name,” he suggested. But when horse after horse, year after year, changes hemispheres, holds his form, and wins important U.S. races, it starts to seem like a particular trainer might have a certain knack. And it should come as no surprise if Indy Point, the most exciting South American that Mandella has trained in years, on Saturday becomes the first of them to win the Arlington Million.
A 4-year-old with hot-looking past-performance lines from Argentina, Indy Point, made his U.S. debut July 24 in the Wickerr Stakes at Del Mar. It felt like a blast from Mandella’s past. Stalking a good pace in the one-mile grass race, Indy Point surged to the lead in the final furlong, won by 1 1/4 lengths going away, and galloped out like a horse just getting warmed up. That’s what Mandella saw, too. Mandella waited to make sure Indy Point had taken his race the right way, and then he decided to run him in the Million.
“He’s just done so well, I think it would be a mistake to not go and try to win the Million,” Mandella said.
Mandella has tried to win the Million eight times and succeeded once, with The Tin Man in 2006. Three of his South Americans came to Chicago, leaving unfinished business behind. Leger Cat was eighth in 1993, and Redattore a distant third in 2001, but Sandpit’s history at Arlington is long and frustrating. In 1995 he got trapped on the rail and finished second to Awad. In 1996, Sandpit – normally a cool customer – pitched a huge fit behind the gate, had to be wrestled into his starting stall, and checked in a flat third. Still going strong at age 8, Sandpit rallied too late to catch Marlin and was second again in 1997.
In a 13-horse field with high-quality opposition, Indy Point will need better Arlington luck than Sandpit ever had to win the Million, but he might have the goods to deliver. It took Indy Point four starts to win for the first time, but he has since won six of nine and never has finished worse than third in his 13 career outings. At age 2, he won the Group 1 Estrellas Juvenile at one mile on dirt by three lengths. At 3, Indy Point finished second in the first leg of the Argentine Triple Crown, the Argentine version of the 2000 Guineas, and swept through the next two legs in the series, winning the Group 1 Jockey Club at 1 1/4 miles on turf by two lengths and the Argentine Derby at 1 9/16 miles on dirt by three. Facing elders in his final South American race last December, Indy Point made the lead in midstretch but was caught by a horse he might not have seen until it was too late, coming home second of 22 in Argentina’s biggest race, the Group 1 Pelligrini.
Soon after, Mandella got a call like the ones he used to receive almost every year: Did he have an interest in training a South American star? Indy Point arrived in California in good order last December.
“He settled in, and he really took to things very quickly and well, probably as well as any horse I’d ever had sent over,” Mandella said. “But just when I got ready to run in the American Handicap six weeks ago, he picked up a little virus.”
If a little virus is the biggest obstacle a South American import faces, consider the horse’s transition a success. Horses raised in the Southern Hemisphere must reverse their seasons upon arrival in the United States. When Indy Point came to Mandella over the winter, the horse had left home during high summer. It’s no small thing for an animal’s internal clock and calendar to flip 180 degrees.
“Typically, it takes six months for a South American’s coat just to change over,” said Ken McPeek, a trainer who has delved deeply into South American bloodstock. “These horses have to entirely switch their seasons, and that’s not simple. They’re raised one way, and suddenly it’s the other.”
The South American breaking and training experience can be much different from the American standard. Some horsemen are based in European-style training yards, others stable at the racetrack.
“There are some stables that are immaculate, but there are other stables down there that are different,” McPeek said. “But it gives you a good idea that a good horse can come from anywhere. I’ve seen good horses stabled in an alley that have to walk across four lanes of traffic to get to a racetrack.”
Daily training can radically diverge (gallops without a saddle; workouts at lightning pace) from what will be asked of a horse in a major U.S. outfit. A North American trainer often is best served by starting from the ground up, treating the newcomer like a 2-year-old. The first thing Mandella did with Indy Point was give him weeks and weeks to acclimate, schooling the colt in light American training while his body adjusted. Indy Point came steadily around physically while mentally grasping his changed routine.
“He’s a good enough horse you don’t have to reinvent anything,” Mandella said. “He has a very good temper, very good-natured. He’s stout, hearty, looks like a weightlifter. It takes a pretty good boy to gallop him.”
Indy Point, a son of Indygo Shiner is still owned by his Argentine connections, and he is part of what seems to be a revitalized flow in the South American equine pipeline running north. The gap in time between Indy Point and Mandella’s most recent high-class South American did not occur because a formula stopped working. Rather, in the mid-2000s, the market for South American bloodstock, and their direction of export, changed markedly. Racing interests in the Middle East – particularly Dubai’s ruling family – began scouring the continent for young horses of promise, willing and able to outbid any rivals for a horse they coveted.
“Invasor changed the complexion of everything,” McPeek said. “That drove the market up and up.”
Invasor, the Breeders’ Cup Classic winner inducted into the Racing Hall of Fame this summer, was foaled in 2002 in Argentina but raced in Uruguay, where he dominated at the highest level. Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid al Maktoum bought Invasor and sent him to race in Dubai, where he finished fourth in the UAE Derby before winning all five of his U.S. starts and the 2007 Dubai World Cup. Argentine-bred and raced Asiatic Boy was purchased by Sheikh Mohammed bin Khalifa al Maktoum, sharply winning the UAE Derby the same night Invasor triumphed in the World Cup.
With many of the best young South Americans already sold away, the chances of a North American trainer like Mandella winding up with an older horse of consequence declined accordingly. Since Asiatic Boy, however, the South Americans sent to Dubai generally have failed to live up to expectations, and the dynamic might have begun shifting again. Last year, multiple Group 1-winning colt Suggestive Boy showed up in California with Ron McAnally, another trainer with a long South American history. Two more South Americans of promise, Di Giorgio and Safety Belt, have yet to run in the United States, but are stabled with McAnally’s string at Del Mar.
The trip Indy Point makes this week from California to Chicago will be far less demanding than his last bit of major travel. Indy Point is up against last year’s Million winner, Little Mike, and several capable European shippers, but by now the lessons Mandella has taught should have firmly set. Indy Point’s best South American form can win the Million, and his best South American form is what history has taught handicappers to expect Saturday.