09/10/2003 11:00PM

Mandella big in the game again

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DEL MAR, Calif. - In recent years at Del Mar, the juvenile stakes have been dominated by trainer Bob Baffert. But Baffert's streak was halted this summer by Richard Mandella, who made a clean sweep of the major stakes for 2-year-olds when Siphonizer captured the Grade 2, $250,000 Del Mar Futurity on Wednesday's closing-day card.

"I'm a 2-year-old trainer," the Hall of Fame trainer said, partly in jest.

As if to put an exclamation point on the season, Mandella also finished second in the Futurity with Minister Eric. Earlier in the meet, he won the Grade 1 Del Mar Debutante with Halfbridled. Mandella teamed with jockey Julie Krone to win both the Debutante and Futurity.

Krone is going to cause the track's three paddock lawn jockeys, all of which resemble males, to be updated. The lawn jockeys are adorned with the silks of the winners of the season's three biggest races, and Krone swept them all, including the Pacific Classic with Candy Ride. She won nine stakes at the meet, more than any other rider.

As she did with Halfbridled, Krone brought Siphonizer through along the rail. Siphonizer squeezed through inside of pacesetter Gulf of Mexico, led by one length at midstretch, and was all out to prevail by a half-length over Minister Eric. He paid $12.80.

Perfect Moon, who won the Best Pal Stakes on Aug. 17, finished another two lengths back in third.

Cooperation, the 2-1 favorite of the crowd of 16,006, finished fourth, ending Baffert's record Futurity win streak at seven. Gulf of Mexico faded to finish last in the field of five.

Gulf of Mexico led through fractions of 22.26 seconds and 44.51 for the first half-mile. Siphonizer hit the six-furlong split of 1:09.42, and he completed seven furlongs in 1:23.10.

Siphonizer has now won twice in three starts. He won his debut here on Aug. 2, then finished fifth as the favorite in the Best Pal, a race in which he was trapped behind horses at a critical point. "He just could not get out," Mandella said.

Siphonizer, a son of Siphon, is owned by B. Wayne Hughes.

BC history on Mandella's side

The last time the Breeders' Cup was held at Santa Anita, Mandella won two of those races, plus two undercard stakes. In the decade since, the trainer has been voted into the Hall of Fame, and has won multiple runnings of the Pacific Classic, Hollywood Gold Cup, and Santa Anita Handicap. But he has not won another Breeders' Cup race.

That could change next month. Mandella has leading contenders for both 2-year-old races, with the colts Siphonizer and Ministers Eric, and the filly Halfbridled.

Siphonizer and Ministers Eric "both look great," Mandella said at his Del Mar barn Thursday morning. Both will be pointed for the Norfolk Stakes on Oct. 5 and the Breeders' Cup Juvenile on Oct. 25, though they could skip the Norfolk, Mandella said.

"The main thing is to have them at their best for the Breeders' Cup," he said.

After checking on Siphonizer and Minister Eric, Mandella then sent Del Mar Debutante winner Halfbridled out for a five-furlong workout, which she accomplished in effortless fashion in 1:01.60 under Krone.

"I kept having to remind myself how deceiving she is," Krone said.

"She went very nice," Mandella said. "This was the perfect atmosphere for her. It was quiet. Fillies can get a little too serious. It was nice to have a quiet day."

The last few stragglers were emptying out of Del Mar on Thursday morning. The track finished its season on Wednesday, and the main track was only going to be open through Friday. Mandella wanted to get another work into Halfbridled before heading back to Santa Anita to begin final preparations for the Sept. 28 Oak Leaf Stakes and then the Oct. 25 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies.

Most top trainers try to take a vacation during the fortnight in which Fairplex Park is operating, but Mandella said he's too anxious to leave.

"The Breeders' Cup is coming up. I'm pitching. I'm in the game," he said, laughing.

After what, by his standards, were merely average recent years, Mandella has come back blazing this year. He finished fifth in the trainers' standings at Del Mar with 12 victories, and his 24 percent win rate was the second best of the top nine trainers. He swept the Del Mar Futurity and Del Mar Debutante, and also won the Del Mar Oaks with the flighty filly Dessert.

"I've taken my barn down to 40 horses, instead of having 40 at one track and 30 or 40 at another," Mandella said. "It's allowed me to concentrate better on the 40. The fruit of the exercise has been this meet."

* Storming Home, who was disqualified from a victory in the Arlington Million after ducking out sharply in the closing strides, ran straight and true on Thursday morning when working seven furlongs on Del Mar's turf course in 1:29.20 with jockey Goncalino Almeida aboard. Almeida "has been helping us a lot this meet," said John O'Donoghue, the assistant to trainer Neil Drysdale. Storming Home is scheduled to make his next start in the Clement L. Hirsch Memorial Turf Championship at Santa Anita's Oak Tree meet on Sept. 28.

* Also on Wednesday, Fancee Bargain rallied powerfully in the late going to win the CERF Handicap, a restricted sprint for older fillies and mares. Frank Alvarado rode the winner for trainer Art Sherman.