02/28/2007 1:00AM

Mandella's pair not your typical Big Cap titans

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ARCADIA, Calif. - Richard Mandella was giggling so hard he could hardly get the words out.

Last Sunday, Boboman, the winner of the Hollywood Turf Cup in December, worked five furlongs in company in 58.80 seconds, an uncharacteristically quick workout for a Mandella-trained runner. Boboman's next start, Saturday's $1 million Santa Anita Handicap, was still six days away, but the 6-year-old horse seemed more than ready. The trainer could hardly contain himself.

"Wait until they see this dude," he said, cackling.

At his advanced age, Boboman will make his first start on dirt. Owned by Alain and Gerard Wertheimer, Boboman is one of two Big Cap hopefuls for Mandella, who will also start El Roblar, a 5-year-old horse who was third in the Grade 2 San Antonio Handicap on Feb. 4. Mandella is seeking his fourth win in the Santa Anita Handicap, Santa Anita's richest race. Mandella swept the first three positions in 1997 with Siphon, Sandpit, and Gentlemen, then won with Malek in 1998 and with Rock Hard Ten in 2005.

Last summer, Boboman would have been an unlikely candidate to start in the Big Cap. Boboman, who began his career in France in 2003, had been off for more than two years - primarily because of splint bone injuries - and had made only one start in this country, an eighth-place finish in an allowance race in 2004.

"He had nothing real serious, just glancing blows," Mandella said of Boboman's physical problems.

The splint bone, Mandella said, "is a bone that causes trouble. You give them a couple of months to get them back. That happened twice when he was ready to run. That was the most serious thing. He's in good shape now."

Through the summer and fall of 2006, Boboman showed steady improvement in five starts, winning two allowance races and pulling a 9-1 upset in the Grade 1 Hollywood Turf Cup on Dec. 9.

His next start was too bad to be true. In the Grade 2 San Marcos Stakes on turf at Santa Anita on Jan. 21, Boboman finished eighth as the 6-5 favorite. He was later found to have displaced his soft palate and subsequently underwent a throat procedure, Mandella said.

"It was simple and he's responded much better," Mandella said.

Boboman could have started in the Grade 2 San Luis Obispo Handicap on turf last weekend, but Mandella was more intrigued by the 1 1/4-mile Big Cap, even though Boboman must face defending champion Lava Man.

"Boboman's a Grade 1 winner, and a mile and a quarter is a distance that might help," Mandella said. "If he doesn't like the dirt, he won't like it any better in a little race. We can go on to better things.

"It's the Santa Anita Handicap. It's $1 million and we'll give it a shot."

El Roblar, who races for Jess Jackson's Stonestreet Stables, is making his first start in a Grade 1 in the Big Cap. A winner of 4 of 9 starts, including a division of the Oceanside Stakes at Del Mar in July 2005, El Roblar was sidelined for much of 2006 because of a hock injury.

A 5-year-old, El Roblar has made two starts this year, finishing fourth on the hillside turf course in the Impressive Luck Handicap on Jan. 10 and third in the San Antonio.

Mandella said El Roblar is improving and has an upset chance on Saturday.

"He was a little fresh the other day," he said of the San Antonio. "The first race, he didn't get a lot out of it.

"He looks like he's blooming. It would be a perfect time for him to come into his own."