Updated on 09/16/2011 7:13AM

Comebackers collide

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ARCADIA, Calif. - Closing day of the Santa Anita winter meet seemed a long way off when the season began back on Dec. 26. Jockey Pat Valenzuela had not ridden in nearly two years; trainer Richard Mandella was in the middle of a 3-for-51 slump that lasted through January.

Now, four months later, it's closing day and the whole picture has changed. Valenzuela has re-established himself as a top rider, sixth in the standings. Mandella, ranked seventh among tainers here, is hot again, having won eight of his last 21, and 15 of his last 68. Valenzuela and Mandella meet Sunday in the Grade 1 San Juan Capistrano Handicap, the longest race of the year at 1 3/4, and a fitting finale for both.

Continental Red is Valenzuela's mount; Cagney is Mandella's starter. Those two will receive most of the betting attention in the $400,000 San Juan, race 7 on a 10-race card that includes the San Simeon for turf sprinters. Ten entered the San Juan, including Keemoon, a filly who finished second in the San Luis Rey; and Kerrygold, who has made a career of finishing in the money in turf marathons.

The horse to beat is Continental Red, who trainer Ian Jory has developed into a top turf runner. Previously stuck in allowance races, the California-bred gelding emerged this winter in Grade 2 races. Runner-up twice, he scored his first graded win March 16 in the San Luis Rey.

"We haven't done anything different, he's just matured," Jory said. "I don't think the distance will be a problem. His disadvantage is he doesn't have a huge finish. He makes the lead and waits."

Valenzuela has ridden Continental Red in all three starts this meet, and will try to give Jory his first Grade 1 win since Cal-bred gelding Best Pal won the 1990 Hollywood Futurity. Owned and bred by Sharon Fitzpatrick, Continental Red has won five races and $510,853 from 39 starts, and should get first run at pacesetter Speedy Pick. From there, Continental Red must hold off Cagney.

Mandella tried Cagney on dirt in the 1 1/4-mile Santa Anita Handicap. "Had it been 1 1/2 miles on dirt, he might have had a chance. He came a little too late," Mandella said. Cagney finished fifth in the Big Cap, and Mandella noted, "this is more what he wants - 1 1/2 miles, 1 3/4's on turf." Cagney, to be ridden by Mike Smith, has won five races and $264,991.

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