01/05/2006 12:00AM

Mandella giving Turnbolt a two-turn chance

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ARCADIA, Calif. - Rock Hard Ten is retired. Congrats is about a month away from a comeback. So, trainer Richard Mandella, who dominated the stakes races for older horses at Santa Anita one year ago, is searching for replacements.

Mandella last year won the San Pasqual Handicap, Strub Stakes, and Santa Anita Handicap. He will take aim at this year's San Pasqual on Saturday with two runners, Spellbinder and Turnbolt, both of whom are racing in good form but have yet to win a graded stakes race.

But the San Pasqual, a Grade 2 race worth $150,000, came up so light that both have a decent chance, with Turnbolt perhaps the more intriguing of the two.

At the least, appears to have more upside. He has raced just 8 times, yet has won 3 of his last 6 starts, and is coming off the fastest race of his career, a second-place finish in the six-furlong Underwood Stakes at Hollywood Park. The San Pasqual, at 1 1/16 miles, will be the first race around two turns for Turnbolt, but Mandella believes that Turnbolt, a son of Deputy Minister, is capable of stretching out.

"I think he wants to do it," Mandella said on Thursday morning, after Turnbolt tuned up for the San Pasqual with an easy three-furlong drill in 39.80 seconds on a track rated good. "He's a good thinker. He's smart. He does what you ask him to do."

Mandella took over as Turnbolt's trainer in November, after he had made seven starts for Ron Ellis. The Underwood was Turnbolt's first start for Mandella.

"He's stocky," Mandella said. "He's got the stout build of a sprinter, but he's got the stride of a router. I hope this works. If it doesn't, he can go back to sprinting. But he's lightly raced. The jury's still out."

, by contrast, has more established form. He has largely made a living in allowance and lesser stakes races. Spellbinder was third most recently in Hollywood Park's Native Diver Handicap. The second-place finisher in that race, Bully Hayes, is among the entrants in the San Pasqual.

With Turnbolt coming out of sprints, he figures to be forwardly placed. But the front end could be occupied by High Limit, who is returning to the main track after a pair of disappointing grass races during the summer. High Limit, who won last year's Louisiana Derby, has a history of running well fresh. This will be his first start at Santa Anita.

is also moving back to the main track, but he has been far more effective on turf. He was third in the Oak Tree Breeders' Cup Mile in October in his last start, which was his first outing since May. He has won twice in six starts on the Santa Anita main track.

The consistent Melanyhasthepapers has finished in the money in 7 of his last 8 starts. Sam Forli is making his first start on dirt, and only his second start since December 2004.