08/13/2010 12:21PM

Mabee looks worthy of top grade


This reporter long ago gave up trying to understand the subtleties and sensibilities of the American Graded Race system. The process of choosing a Pope is easier to understand. I have been led by the hand, drawn crayon pictures, and spoken to v-e-r-y s-l-o-w-l-y by the people who compile the list, and still I awakened this morning wondering what in the name of Sunny Jim Fitzsimmons did the John C. Mabee do to fall from Grade 1 grace last year to the Grade 2 ghetto for this year’s version.

Never mind for a moment the fact that the winners of the Mabee over the past decade have included the multiple major stakes winners Megahertz, Black Mamba, Precious Kitten, Musical Chimes, and Affluent. That doesn’t seem to cut it.

But if, in fact, the scoring is a result of some cumulative scoring based on the other horses who have appeared in the Mabee over the past few years, consider this: among those who lost the race were champion Golden Apples, Breeders’ Cup winner Intercontinental, and major stakes winners Dublino, Memorette, Island Fashion, Tates Creek, Moscow Burning, and the late Tuscan Evening, who finished eighth of nine last summer before she really knew who she was.

So let’s all us provincials call the race a Grade 1 in spirit and forget about the small print. If nothing else, when the Mabee is renewed again on Sunday, for a purse of $250,000, the field of eight assembled could provide the answers to a host of lingering questions.

What, for instance, is the difference between a Simon Callaghan, trainer of Beverly Hills winner Turning Top, and a Carl O’Callaghan, trainer of Canadian Stakes winner Princess Haya, other than the fact that one is a reserved Brit and the other is the slimmed-down Irish version of the ebullient Nick Hines.

Can Osunitas Stakes winner Lilly Fa Pootz lift the spirits of the Jerry Hollendorfer barn after losing Tuscan Evening to a heart attack last weekend? Just saying her name tends to bring a smile. Is this the same Gozzip Girl who swooped into California in July of 2009 to win the American Oaks? And can Wasted Tears, star of the one-man Bart Evans show, run her winning streak on the grass to 10 straight in her first start west of Dallas?

The only mare in the bunch with history in the Mabee is Gotta Have her, who finished second last year to Magical Fantasy in what was, at the time, the best race of her career. Racing for the Green Lantern Stable of Richard and Sue Ann Masson, Gotta Have Her went on to finish a troubled second in the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint at Santa Anita last November, so that was a pretty good day. Since then, however, trainer Jenine Sahadi has been occupied with bringing her mare back to those heights.

If Gotta Have Her’s winning performance in the one-mile Royal Heroine Stakes at Hollywood Park last time out is any indication, she’s close. It was an efficient piece of work, with most of her effort saved for the final eighth, accomplished in the style that would suit her well in the nine-furlong Mabee. Sahadi can only hope.

“I couldn’t have asked for anything to have gone differently between the Royal Heroine and now,” Sahadi said Friday morning. “She loves it here. She’s relaxed, and she’s a real lookie-loo, so there’s tons of stuff down here for her to see.”

Certainly, if she runs back to her ’09 effort in the Mabee, Gotta Have Her is the one to beat. Trainers hate the unknown, though, and the X-factor in this year’s package is jockey Mike Smith, who is replacing the injured Tyler Baze aboard Gotta Have Her.

Now, one would think going to the bench for a Hall of Fame pinch-hitter like Smith is hardly a handicap. But Gotta Have Her has her ways, and Baze, aboard for her last 11 starts, is definitely tuned in.

“She has her quirky moments, and she’s borderline antisocial,” Sahadi noted. “I can’t get near her, but Tyler will come to the barn and he’s rubbing on her head, giving her kisses. I just look at them and say, ‘This is bull. I am so jealous.’ But she really does love him.”

Smith, however, has been known to win a few decent races with the odd filly or mare. Azeri comes to mind. Inside Information and Sky Beauty could run a little. Then’s there’s that big mare, Z-something. And, when he steps outside the lines, don’t forget the romantic drama swirling around Smith and his significant other at the time, Chantal Sutherland, in the reality show “Jockeys” of not long ago.

“If ever there was a ladies’ man out there, it’s Mike Smith,” Sahadi said, meaning it strictly in the sense of horse and jockey, of course. “There’s no better dude working with the ladies – fillies and mares, absolutely.”

Whether or not this running of the Mabee has the feel of a Grade 1, a Grade 2 or a Grade Who Cares? matters not. Sahadi knows her mare will need to be on her game.

“I just saw Wasted Tears on the track, and she’s obviously very special,” Sahadi said. “Bart Evans has catered to her every whim – bred her, owns her, trains her and vans her – and she looks well, as does Gozzip Girl.

“So it’s very competitive field,” she added. “I just know my horse. I know when she’s doing great. And she’s doing great.”