08/29/2014 2:05PM

Hovdey: Finding what makes Sammy Mandeville run


It seems almost quaint, dealing with 3-year-olds on the grass when there is such an exciting mix of main-track performers roaming the land. California Chrome, Wicked Strong, and Shared Belief are trending like mad. But Adelaide? Mr Speaker? Not so much, and once past the midsummer Secretariat Stakes at Arlington Park, there’s no real buzz to the division, in national terms, unless a couple of them break out to meet their elders.

Nevertheless, with its purse of $300,000 for 9 furlongs worth of work, the Del Mar Derby still clings to the relevance of its past and will be presented on Sunday for the 70th time, no less. Eight run, topped by La Jolla Handicap winner Enterprising, who will try to give Glen Hill Farm its fourth Derby trophy. The intriguing supporting cast includes the French expatriates Flamboyant, third in the Secretariat, and Aventador, who was not embarrassed when seventh to The Grey Gatsby in the Prix du Jockey-Club, the French Derby.

When the Del Mar Derby was moved to the grass in 1970, it became the middle leg of an enticing West Coast series that included the Cinema Handicap at Hollywood Park and the Volante Handicap during the Oak Tree meeting at Santa Anita. Budding young turf stars like John Henry, Majestic Light, Fiddle Isle, Tell, and Queen’s Hustler availed themselves of the opportunities, and went on from there.

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Now the Cinema is gone and the Volante has morphed into the Twilight Derby, overshadowed in recent years by its use on Breeders’ Cup undercards at Santa Anita. The late-season Hollywood Derby, always a draw, is being rescued for the fall meet at Del Mar but will not be run until the end of November, for a purse that has yet to be announced.

That leaves Sunday’s Del Mar Derby pretty much a stand-alone event, as well as the final major race of the summer over a newly installed turf course that has been denigrated, aerated, doused, and praised by turns during a restless seven weeks. Twice racing was suspended on the course for softening and twice resumed, amid assumptions – warranted or not – that it was a contributing factor in several fatal injures, a situation that has management holding its breath for the duration of every race.

Such concerns have not fazed Enterprising in the least. The son of Elusive Quality, trained by Tom Proctor, has soared above his competition in both the restricted Oceanside and the La Jolla with inspiring stretch kicks that have left his opposition gasping. One of them has been Sammy Mandeville, who was beaten 1 1/2 lengths in the Oceanside and 1 3/4 in the La Jolla, and will try again on Sunday. Doug O’Neill, his trainer, was asked if he’s found enough in his colt to make up the difference.

“I’m still looking for it,” O’Neill said. “That colt of Proctor’s is tough. But every trainer, owner, and groom likes to think that a young horse will get better with each start, and Sammy has done nothing since his last race for us to believe otherwise.”

Owned by the W C Racing of Glenn Sorgenstein and Josh Kaplan, Sammy Mandeville is a son of Rock Hard Ten who cost $55,000 two years ago as a yearling. His name is a product of an Internet-spawned lark that combines a beloved pet with a street name to create what proudly becomes your own name as either a, 1) stripper, 2) porn star, 3) host of NPR radio, 4) or category to be named later. Mine would be Caesar del Lago. I kid you not.

Sammy Mandeville, the Thoroughbred, made his belated bow sprinting at Santa Anita last April, then won a maiden race at 1 1/8 miles, after which he was put on a plane with a couple of stablemates in early June for a road trip to Belmont Park. One of them was stable star Goldencents, also owned by W C Racing, who was heading for the Met Mile.

O’Neill has been looking for the key to successful travel ever since the days of multi-millionaire Lava Man, a West Coast terror who never could seem to replicate his best form in strange surroundings out of town, whether it was New York, Florida, Dubai, or Japan.

“Now if we’re going to travel like that I love to take three or four to try and make it as normal of a setting as possible,” O’Neill said. “We also took a filly, and it sure made Goldencents comfortable. He ran huge, but I’m afraid the experience might have been a little overwhelming for Sammy.”

Goldencents finished a close second to Palace Malice in the Met, while Sammy Mandeville was well beaten by the upwardly mobile Tourist in a first-level allowance. Tourist was most recently found finishing second in the Secretariat.

“Fortunately Sammy came back without any hiccups, “ O’Neill said. “He hasn’t missed a beat training since we went back to work with him before the meet. Whether or not he can handle Enterprising, though, we’ll see. He’s a monster.”