10/05/2010 4:34PM

Meteore bids to join Mandella's Cup team

Benoit & Associates
Meteore wins the 2009 La Jolla Handicap.

INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Considering trainer Richard Mandella's record on Breeders' Cup Day in past years, anything he starts in those major races merits respect.

He had two winners on the 1993 program and a remarkable four victories in 2003. Both of those days of racing were held at his home base of Santa Anita. This year, Mandella will send a small team to the Breeders' Cup at Churchill Downs on Nov. 5-6. The extent of his team will be better known after Saturday's card at Hollywood Park.

So far, Mandella has Champ Pegasus bound for the BC Turf after winning the Clement Hirsch Turf Championship at Hollywood Park on Sunday. Crown of Thorns, second in the Goodwood Stakes last Saturday, could run in the BC Dirt Mile or Classic.

This Saturday, Mandella starts Meteore in the $150,000 Oak Tree Mile, which is a Breeders' Cup-sponsored Win and You're In race for the BC Mile on Nov. 6.

Meteore won the Grade 2 La Jolla Handicap at Del Mar in 2009, but has lost six subsequent starts. He has mixed form, running well at times and disappointingly on other occasions. A sixth-place finish as the 2-1 favorite in the Grade 2 American Handicap at Hollywood Park on July 4 was followed by a game second to Enriched in the Grade 2 Del Mar Mile on turf in his last start, on Aug. 28.

"He is kind of a character," Mandella said. "He can get a little full of himself."

Meteore must run well in the Oak Tree Mile to justify a start in the BC Mile. The Oak Tree Mile is led by Sidney's Candy, unraced since winning the Grade 2 La Jolla Handicap in his turf debut at Del Mar on Aug. 14 for trainer John Sadler.

Sidney's Candy is the horse Mandella fears.

"He probably can't beat that horse of Sadler's that ran so well at Del Mar," Mandella said.

To an extent, the same could have been said last weekend of the Sadler-trained Twirling Candy in the Goodwood. Twirling Candy was the 3-5 favorite but could finish only fourth after pulling early in the race.

Crown of Thorns was beaten a half-length by Richard's Kid after racing on the lead, dropping back to second. and then running well to the wire, finishing 2 1/2 lengths ahead of Dakota Phone.

"He came out of his race great," Mandella said. "I'll focus on the [Dirt] Mile right now, but I'm not going to shut out the idea of the Classic. I'll keep that as an option."

Mandella was thrilled with Champ Pegasus's victory in the Clement Hirsch Turf Championship, the colt's second consecutive stakes win. The BC Turf will be his first start at 1 1/2 miles.

Asked if he could win three races on Nov. 6, Mandella had a quick answer.

"Oh yeah, easy," Mandella said, laughing. "I'm just happy to have such nice players coming along."

Mr Gruff on tight schedule

Time is running out for the two-time stakes winner Mr Gruff to be ready for the Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint on Nov. 6.

Unraced since finishing third in the Grade 1 Shoemaker Mile at Hollywood Park in May, Mr Gruff will not have a prep race, trainer Ron Ellis said over the weekend. He rated Mr Gruff's chances of making the BC Turf Sprint as "50-50."

Earlier this year, Mr Gruff won the Grade 3 San Simeon Handicap on the hillside turf course at Santa Anita. The gelding recently missed a workout, Ellis said.

"He hasn't quite been himself," Ellis said.

Ellis expressed concern about the five-furlong distance of the BC Turf Sprint as being below Mr Gruff's best distance. Owned by Gary Broad, Mr Gruff has won 5 of 9 starts in his career. If Mr Gruff does not start in the BC Turf Sprint, Ellis said the 6-year-old gelding will be pointed to turf sprints at the Santa Anita winter-spring meeting.