05/31/2013 4:29PM

Hollywood Park: Affirmed requires leap of faith

Shigeki Kikkawa
Den's Legacy (above) would benefit if Manando and Broadway Empire hook up in a speed duel in the Affirmed.

INGLEWOOD, Calif. – If the key players in the Grade 3 Affirmed Handicap Sunday at Betfair Hollywood Park all reproduce their last effort, the race will be easy to predict.

It won’t be.

Manando, Broadway Empire, and Den’s Legacy race for a $100,000 purse in the mile and a sixteenth Affirmed, and fluctuating form cycles complicate analysis.

Manando earned a 104 Beyer crushing an allowance last out by daylight, Broadway Empire earned a 100 Beyer finishing second in a fast sprint, and Den’s Legacy finished off the board. Reproduce those efforts? For better or worse, it is not likely.

Before Manando’s smashing comeback, trainer Bob Baffert said the horse was “training really well.” Since then, his works at Santa Anita have been uncharacteristically slow.

“The last two weeks here, they added a bunch of sand,” Baffert said. “It’s hard to gauge your horses. They struggle through it.”

Beyond slower works, Manando faces a potentially challenging pace scenario. “He’s a tough horse; he needs the lead,” Baffert said. “And there is another speed horse in there.”

Broadway Empire is not just any speed horse. He might be a lot better than his first two starts indicate. Trained by Robertino Diodoro, the Empire Maker gelding won his debut at Turf Paradise by more than 16 lengths, earning a 97 Beyer.

The phone started ringing soon after, and Diodoro admits, “The price was a little tough to turn down. My three owners and I met for about two hours and decided to keep him.”

Broadway Empire shipped to California after his debut, but then went limp. “In Phoenix, he was always squealing and bucking in the stall, and then [after shipping] he was just real flat,” Diodoro said. “Sure enough, we scoped him after he breezed and he had crap in his throat.”

Broadway Empire came down with a cough and went nearly a month without a workout. His preparation for the seven-furlong Came Home Stakes on May 11 was imperfect, yet he finished a valiant second behind Let Em Shine.

Since then, “we trained him completely different,” Diodoro said. “We trained like we wanted for this race, to go two turns with a lot of long gallops.”

So if Broadway Empire has improved since his comeback, the question is, can he run long?

“The farther we trained him, the stronger he is,” Diodoro said.

“Between breeding, the way he’s built and the way he’s trained, he should.”

Broadway Empire is owned by Randy Howg, Bob Butz, and Rick Running Rabbit. And if the gelding improves first start around two turns, he will give Manando a battle.

If the speed horses get in each other’s way, Baffert-trained Den’s Legacy could be the beneficiary. Baffert said his sixth-place finish in the Arkansas Derby can be discounted. He expects the colt to fire first start in nearly two months.

“He’s doing really, really well,” Baffert said. “He worked really well [May 26].”

The running style of Den’s Legacy is opposite his two main rivals, and he is the likely winner if the race is won from behind.

The other Affirmed entrants are Counting Days, Just Win Baby, Dirty Swagg, Tiz a Minister, and Dice Flavor.