04/17/2007 11:00PM

Melancon knows Embossed well


ARCADIA, Calif. - The last time trainer Niall O'Callaghan and jockey Larry Melancon teamed together at Santa Anita, they won the 2001 San Antonio Handicap with Guided Tour.

"I told him to stay to the left," O'Callaghan wisecracked on Wednesday about his instructions to the jockey.

Melancon and O'Callaghan will be back at Santa Anita on Sunday to start Embossed in the $250,000 San Juan Capistrano Handicap. It is the longest stakes in California, and a race with a rich history.

The Grade 2 San Juan is run at about 1 3/4 miles on turf, starting at the top of the track's unique hillside turf course. The San Juan course has a rare right turn on the hillside, before a gradual left-handed bend that leads to the main turf course oval.

O'Callaghan says Melancon may need more instructions.

"A right and a left?" O'Callaghan said. "Now it's more confusing."

Judging from Melancon's success on Embossed, the team should fare well in the San Juan regardless of O'Callaghan's advice.

Owned by Gary Tanaka, Embossed, 5, has won 4 of 21 starts and $306,233. The highlight of his career is a victory in the Grade 3 Kentucky Cup Turf at 1 1/2 miles in a 34-1 upset at Kentucky Downs last September.

Melancon, a veteran on the Kentucky circuit, has ridden the Irish-bred Embossed to his three wins in the United States. But Melancon was not aboard the ridgling in his two starts this year, a sixth in the Gulfstream Park Breeders' Cup Handicap in February and a second in the John Connally Breeders' Cup Handicap at Sam Houston on April 7.

At Gulfstream, O'Callaghan said, Embossed had trouble at the start.

"He had an incident at the gate," he said. "I thought he could have been in the top two in that race."

At Sam Houston, Embossed was 11 lengths off the pace on the backstretch of the 1 1/8-mile turf race and finished second by three-quarters of a length to Mending Fences.

"He dropped out of it," O'Callaghan said.

In the San Juan, Embossed may be closer to the front. The race has a probable field of nine, including A.P. Xcellent, Boule d'Or, Church Service, Fitz Flag, Icy Ridge, On the Acorn, One Off, and Sweet Return.

Sweet Return is the 117-pound topweight. He won the Grade 1 Hollywood Derby in 2003, but has never started at 1 3/4 miles.

Ex Caelis needs a few more works

Ex Caelis, third in the Raven Run Stakes at Keeneland last fall, is nearing her debut for owner Gerald Ford and trainer Richard Mandella, having been purchased for $825,000 last fall at the Fasig-Tipton Kentucky selected fall mixed sale in November.

Wednesday at Hollywood Park, Ex Caelis worked five furlongs in 59.20 seconds, the second-fastest of 47 recorded works at the distance.

Mandella said that Ex Caelis underwent surgery last fall to have a bone chip removed from an ankle. She is expected to return to racing during the spring-summer meeting at Hollywood Park, which begins on Wednesday.

"I don't have her ready enough to decide" on a race, Mandella said. "She's within three or four works."

Previously owned by Circle C Group Stables and trained by D. Wayne Lukas, Ex Caelis, 4, has won 2 of 12 starts and $296,489. At 2, Ex Caelis was second in the Alcibiades Stakes and fourth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies.

Mandella's top turf horses work

Mandella worked his two leading turf horses - The Tin Man and El Roblar - on Wednesday.

The Tin Man, the winner of the 2006 Arlington Million and three other stakes last year, worked five furlongs in 59.60 seconds. He is being pointed for the $350,000 Shoemaker Breeders' Cup Mile at Hollywood Park on May 28. The Tin Man has not started since winning the Clement Hirsch Turf Championship last September.

"The Tin Man is coming fabulous," Mandella said.

El Roblar, third in the Arcadia Handicap on April 7, worked five furlongs in 1:01.60. He is being pointed for the $300,000 San Francisco Mile at Golden Gate on April 28, Mandella said.

Out-of-competition test being used

The California Horse Racing Board has tested more than 500 horses in an out-of-competition testing program designed to detect the blood-doping agents erythropoietin and darbepoietin, according to Dr. Rick Arthur, the racing board's equine medical director.

Through last weekend, no positive tests have been recorded from the out-of-competition testing, which has been conducted throughout the state, Arthur said. Arthur said that about 100 horses are tested each week.

"We haven't found any and didn't expect to," Arthur said. "Drug testing is about a deterrent. I'd be disappointed if we found one."

Arthur did not divulge the criteria used for selecting the horses to be tested, but did say that horses nominated to stakes are considered, since it is apparent when they could make their next starts.

"We don't choose trainers," he said.

The tests are conducted at racetrack and training facilities that are sanctioned by the racing board. Arthur said the blood tests cost $50 to $100, but that a second test, which would be needed in the event of an initial positive, would cost "several thousand dollars."

"We've tried to make the testing as unobtrusive to the trainers as possible," Arthur said. "I think it's worked out well."

EPO and darbepoietin, a synthetic version of EPO, are typically used in advance of a race as a way to build endurance. The medications are illegal for use in racehorses. Trainers whose horses test positive for such medications could face significant fines and suspensions from the racing board.