06/06/2004 11:00PM

After Belmont, Horse of the Year up for grabs


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Trainers Richard Mandella and Mike Machowsky were too busy cheering for Smarty Jones in Saturday's Belmont Stakes to immediately realize one of the major implications of his loss to Birdstone.

Had Smarty Jones won the Belmont Stakes, the race for the Horse of the Year title would have had essentially ended with his Triple Crown success.

Instead, Mandella, who trains Pleasantly Perfect, and Machowsky, who trains Southern Image, have a chance to win that title with their respective horses. The title could easily come down to a matchup of Smarty Jones against the nation's top older horses at the Breeders' Cup Classic at Lone Star Park on Oct. 30.

"I never thought of that end of it," Mandella said. "I was rooting as hard as anybody for Smarty Jones. I guess it does open up the game."

Both Pleasantly Perfect and Southern Image are unbeaten this year.

Pleasantly Perfect has won two starts - the San Antonio Handicap and the $6 million Dubai World Cup. He is being pointed for the $250,000 San Diego Handicap at Del Mar on Aug. 1.

Southern Image has won three stakes this year - the Sunshine Millions Classic, Santa Anita Handicap, and Pimlico Special. He will start in Saturday's Stephen Foster Handicap at Churchill Downs.

Machowsky met Smarty Jones's trainer, John Servis, at Pimlico when Southern Image was stabled near Smarty Jones.

"I felt horrible for him yesterday," Machowsky said of Servis.

Machowsky feels Southern Image may have an edge on Smarty Jones, an opinion based on his colt's experience.

"It would be an interesting race," Machowsky said. "We both have the same style. I think my horse has an advantage because he's an older horse."

Pleasantly Perfect, 6, and Southern Image, 4, may meet in the $1 million Pacific Classic at Del Mar on Aug. 22.

The pair are unlikely to face Smarty Jones until the Breeders' Cup Classic.

Mandella is eager for that race, even if Pleasantly Perfect could be portrayed as "the bad guy" against fan favorite Smarty Jones.

"I'm looking forward to the Breeders' Cup, whoever shows up," Mandella said.

Curtain comes up on Empire Stable

After finally claiming a horse after months of looking, the four-man partnership that makes up Empire Stable took the opportunity to cheer every move that Court Shenanigans made before and after Sunday's fourth race, Court Shenanigans's first race for them.

It turned out there was a lot to celebrate.

The owners - Nick Mastandrea, Stuart Besser, Nick Mestandrea, and David Kasubowski - and approximately 40 of their friends cheered when Court Shenanigans appeared on the infield television in the warmup, when he broke from the gate, when he reached a stalking position in the middle of the seven-furlong race, and when he reached the front. Their vocal support could be heard throughout the grandstands.

The winner's circle seemed more like a celebration after a stakes than a claiming race.

The four partners work in the film industry. Mestandrea and Kasubowski are partners in Empire Craft Services, which provides food service to film sets; Mastandrea is a first assistant director whose credits include "Identity," "Blow," and "Kate and Leopold"; and Besser is a line producer.

The two Nicks spell their names almost identically. Mastandrea said their families trace lineage to the same Italian village.

Mestandrea and Kasubowski worked on the set of "Seabiscuit," their first exposure to the sport.

"We started coming around every once in a while," Mastandrea said.

After meeting jockeys Luis Jauregui and Gary Stevens and then-exercise rider Corey Black on the film set, they were introduced to trainer Jeff Mullins. In recent months, Mullins had been scouting claims for Empire Stable. They had lost a shake for three claims before taking Court Shenanigans for $16,000 on May 7.

"We didn't know anything about horse racing until 'Seabiscuit,' " Kasubowski said.

Now, they are winning owners.

Adoration works toward Fleur de Lis

Adoration, the winner of the Breeders' Cup Distaff last fall and a stakes winner this year, worked six furlongs in 1:12.40 on Sunday in preparation for Saturday's Fleur de Lis Handicap at Churchill Downs.

Trainer David Hofmans cautioned that Adoration could pass the Fleur de Lis in favor of the Ogden Phipps Handicap at Belmont Park on June 19 if the Churchill Downs main track is "sticky."

"If the weather is good, we'll run," Hofmans said of Churchill Downs. "If it's wet-fast, we'd probably run."

Owned by John and Jerry Amerman, Adoration won the Grade 1 Santa Margarita Invitational Handicap at Santa Anita in March and was second to Victory Encounter in the Vanity Handicap here last month.

Ruis returns from hospital to ride winner

Mick Ruis, the 17-year-old apprentice jockey, had a dreadful start to Friday evening's program that resulted in a brief hospitalization. He ended the evening in the winner's circle.

After Indebted finished last in the first race as the heavy favorite, the filly unseated Ruis and stepped on his back.

He was taken to nearby Centinela Hospital for precautionary X-rays, but was cleared and returned to ride the last two races. Ruis won the eighth on Salt Wells in a maiden claimer, but said he was very sore when he returned to the jockeys' room.

"After that, it started hurting," Ruis said. "The next morning it hurt bad."

Ruis, who won the riding title at Turf Paradise last winter, finished the week with 21 wins, leaving him in sixth place in the standings.

For a rider who began his career in April 2003, Ruis has made substantial progress. Still, he wonders if he might have been better off waiting to start his career at an age older than 16.

"I probably started too soon," he said. "I didn't belong here."

Ruis's business has picked up since he returned from Phoenix earlier this year, even though he is competing with fellow apprentice Alex Bisono for some mounts.

Wednesday, Ruis has five mounts. It is possible he could finish this meeting in the top five in the jockey standings.

"I'd like to see how far I can go," he said. "I'm so green. I can't wait for what the future holds."

Musical Chimes to face males in Whittingham

Musical Chimes, the winner of the French 1000 Guineas in 2003, will face males in a stakes for the first time in Saturday's $350,000 Charles Whittingham Memorial Handicap at 1 1/4 miles on turf.

Trained by Neil Drysdale, Musical Chimes, 4, is winless in three appearances at 1 1/4 miles or farther - a second in the Yellow Ribbon Stakes, an 11th in the Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf at Santa Anita last fall, and a third in the French Oaks over about 1 5/16 miles last spring.

In her only start of 2004, Musical Chimes finished second against males in a one-mile allowance race here on May 30, rallying to within three-quarters of a length of the winner.

The rest of the probable field for the Grade 1 Whittingham is Bayamo, Continuously, Even the Score, Irish Warrior, Just Wonder, Seinne, and Vangelis.

There are also two Grade 2 stakes on Saturday's program - the $250,000 Californian over 1 1/8 miles and the $175,000 Hollywood Breeders' Cup Oaks for 3-year-old fillies over 1 1/16 miles.

The Californian candidates include Buckland Manor, Choctaw Nation, Ender's Shadow, Total Impact, Publication, Nose the Trade, and Wild and Wicked.

Three fillies who were well beaten in the Kentucky Oaks on April 30 are candidates for the Hollywood Oaks - Hollywood Story (who finished fifth), House of Fortune (eighth), and Class Above (11th). They will face Elusive Diva and M.A. Fox, the first two finishers from the Railbird Stakes on May 2.

'Raymond' star has horse in training

Actor Brad Garrett ("Everybody Loves Raymond") received an owner's license on Saturday. He has a horse in training with Paul Assinesi at Santa Anita.

For Garrett, it marks his first involvement as an owner. The licensing procedure opened up opportunity for numerous jokes.

"I was never that happy about the cavity check," he said. "I haven't done one of those in a long time. Well, once when I flew to Cincinnati."