08/14/2013 3:17PM

Del Mar: Mandella prefers Sandy Blue for Sarach rather than Oaks

Shigeki Kikkawa
Sarach, winner of the Honeymoon Handicap, cuts back to a mile for Friday's Sandy Blue Handicap.

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DEL MAR, Calif. – The other morning, trainer Richard Mandella was poring over the past performances for the $90,000 Sandy Blue Handicap on Friday at Del Mar, as well as the prospective lineup for the Grade 1, $300,000 Del Mar Oaks on Saturday, trying to figure out what would be the best option for his 3-year-old filly Sarach this weekend.

Sarach would be one of the top choices in the Sandy Blue, a one-mile grass race that drew 12 entrants, a maximum of 10 of whom will start. However, several fillies in the Sandy Blue, including Charlie Em, Ighraa, and Sarach, were expected to be entered in the Del Mar Oaks.

“My filly’s already won a graded stakes,” Mandella said, referring to Sarach’s victory in the Grade 2 Honeymoon Handicap at Betfair Hollywood Park, “It might make more sense to try this. The other race is pretty salty.”

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Sarach comes off a fourth-place finish when trying to stretch her speed to 1 1/4 miles in the Grade 1 American Oaks. The Sandy Blue affords her the opportunity to turn back to one mile, a distance at which she won twice earlier this year at Santa Anita.

Ighraa, a European import, would scratch from the Sandy Blue if she were to get into the main body of the field for the Oaks, according to Simon Callaghan, who will take over as her trainer after her United States debut.

Paddy Gallagher, who trains Charlie Em, said he was “probably leaning to Friday,” but wanted to see how the Oaks field, which was to be drawn Wednesday, looked. Charlie Em was fourth in the Grade 2 San Clemente, the prep for the Oaks, but she is reunited Friday with Garrett Gomez, who rode her to her only U.S. win since arriving from Europe. Charlie Em also turned in an eye-catching work on turf on Aug. 4.

Pontchatrain is stepping into stakes competition for the first time, but beat allowance runners here on July 28 in her turf debut in a manner suggesting better days are ahead. She led from start to finish that day, though not by design.

“I didn’t expect her to be in front, but nobody wanted it,” said Tom Proctor, who trains Pontchatrain. “She’s coming back a little quick, but what are you going to do?”

Oscar Party had two good efforts at Churchill Downs earlier this year before being sent to west, purchased, and turned over to trainer Jim Cassidy. She was third in the Grade 3 Regret last time out to multiple stakes winner Kitten’s Dumplings.

There are only seven races on the Friday card, owing to earlier sunsets this late in the meet. Del Mar prefers to keep Friday first posts at 4 p.m. – the day is marketed as “Four O’Clock Friday” – rather than run eight races and begin at 3:30.

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