07/29/2004 11:00PM

Next chapter in the Dubai debate

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DEL MAR, Calif. - It's not around the corner, but it's not exactly like falling over a cliff, either. A trip to Dubai from California is a daunting trip, but one that numerous horses trained by Richard Mandella have made. None, however, was more successful than Pleasantly Perfect, who won the Dubai World Cup in March.

On Sunday, in Del Mar's San Diego Handicap, Pleasantly Perfect will make his first start since returning from Dubai, and put to test the continued debate among horsemen and handicappers over how horses react after the Dubai.

Mandella, who has extensive experience sending horses to Dubai, said he thinks horses can continue to have successful careers after returning from the Middle East, but he believes prudent management is key.

"I think they've got to get enough rest," Mandella said Friday morning. "Probably someday there will be a horse who can come right back and go on. It's the biggest race in the world. A tough race. When you combine that with traveling to a different part of the world, you've got to give something back to them if you want to get something out of them. I think it helps to stay there about a week after the race. And it helps to take an older horse."

Separating work from play

On the track, Mandella's horses are having a strong year. He is sixth in purse earnings nationally. But in the past month, two of his closest friends have suffered serious injuries. Trainer Dan Hendricks, a former Mandella assistant, was paralyzed from the waist down in a motorcycle accident, and Alex Solis, the jockey who regularly rides Pleasantly Perfect, fractured his back and three ribs in an accident last week at Del Mar and is out for at least several months.

"I'm just worried that one of my best friends is going to be in a wheelchair for the rest of his life," Mandella said. "This stuff here is just a job."

In the San Diego, Mandella will go up against Hendricks, who sends out Reba's Gold.

"If anyone beats me, I hope it's Danny, but I'm hoping nobody beats me," Mandella said.

Fundraiser for Hendricks

In an effort to help defray the medical costs being incurred by Hendricks and his family for his hospitalization and rehabilitation, a poker tournament that will double as a fund-raiser will be held at Ocean's Eleven Casino in Oceanside, Calif., on Aug. 12 at 7 p.m.

A maximum of 175 players can buy in for $100. Thirty percent of the proceeds will go to Hendricks, who is married and has three children.

"The casino is donating all the dealers for the night," said trainer Chris Paasch, who is helping to organize the fund-raiser. "We're trying to get a custom-made golf cart made for [Hendricks] so that he can get in and out of his office. We want it to have a bar so he can swing out using his arms and move from the cart to the chair in his office. We'd like to do this as an annual charity event, where we pick some family on the backside that needs a little help. We can give them a push."

Players can sign up at the front side racing office or call (858) 792-4230.

Action This Day jogging

Champion 2-year-old colt Action This Day, who won last year's Breeders' Cup Juvenile but has been a disappointment this year, is back jogging at Mandella's barn without shoes and is pointing for a fall campaign. Action This Day has not raced since the Kentucky Derby.

"He's been back about three weeks now," Mandella said.

Action This Day had spent two months at the Malibu, Calif., farm of his owner, B. Wayne Hughes.

Halfbridled, who was last year's champion 2-year-old filly following her victory in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies, will be returning to California after a freshening at Hagyard Farm in Kentucky.

"She's hacking around the farm," Mandella said. "I'm going back to the sales and will get a chance to look at her, and then she'll come back with me."

Wixoe Express a talented head case

Neil Drysdale has trained his share of quirky horses over the years, most notably Fusaichi Pegasus and Labeeb. Wixoe Express is not a top-class horse like those two, but he has carved out his own niche. He breaks extremely slow in many of his races and at least twice has refused to come out of the gate after the stalls open.

For his last seven starts, Drysdale has employed jockey Matt Garcia on Wixoe Express, even though Drysdale rarely uses Garcia on other horses. They will team up again in Sunday's seventh race.

"They're both, let's say, eccentric," Drysdale said. "The exercise rider who gets on him is also eccentric. They all get along."

Wixoe Express is ridden in the mornings by Paul Roberts, who in the afternoons works on the starting gate crew. The tattooed Roberts can often be seen between races doing push-ups between the stalls of the starting gate.

Wixoe Express "suffers from ADD," Drysdale said. "Because he has a short attention span, he has to be loaded last. If he stays in there too long, his mind wanders."

Drysdale only once put blinkers on Wixoe Express. He refused to break. "They're counterproductive," Drysdale said.

High hopes for Patriot's Pass

The favorite in Sunday's seventh race figures to be Patriot's Pass, who is seeking his third straight victory for trainer Ron McAnally. Patriot's Pass will be making his first start on turf, but the 3-year-old colt is a half-brother to Affluent, who was a two-time Grade 1 winner on grass, including Del Mar's Ramona Handicap.

"I would rather run him on dirt, but there's no races for him on dirt. I don't want him to sit in the barn for a month," McAnally said. "But if he does like the turf, then he's got a shot at one of the 3-year-old races on the grass."

The Del Mar Derby is on the turf Sept. 6. McAnally may have another candidate for that race in Fast and Furious, a recent arrival from France who won four times in five starts overseas.

If Patriot's Pass does not take to the turf, McAnally said his long-term goal might be the $500,000 Super Derby at Louisiana Downs on Sept. 25.

"He's learning more all the time," McAnally said. "He was kind of a dummy to begin with, but with each race, he's getting a little more focused."

Long road to Saleek's debut

Saleek, a son of Unbridled, was purchased as a yearling nearly three years ago for $1.5 million by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum. There were high hopes for him, but at both 2 and 3 he suffered health setbacks that prevented him from racing. Saleek makes his debut at age 4 in Sunday's ninth race.

"He's a beautiful, beautiful horse," said Eoin Harty, who has trained Saleek since age 2. "Unfortunately, he's had several bouts with EPM."

EPM is an infection that can cause a horse to become uncoordinated and in severe cases can prove fatal.

"We've had him close to a race three times, but something has come up," Harty said. "He had it as a 2-year-old, he had it in Dubai when he was ready to run, and he had it as a 3-year-old. He's on constant medication. It can manifest itself in the airway, but most often it causes a horse to be off behind. It can come on dramatically, in hours."

Saleek is making his debut going six furlongs, "but I don't think he's suited to six furlongs," Harty said. "His pedigree says he wants to stretch out."

* In addition to training a string of horses for Sheikh Mohammed's Darley Stable, Harty recently picked up nine runners owned by Stan Fulton, including Vencer, a 3-year-old son of El Prado who was an impressive maiden winner at Hollywood Park before being overmatched in a stakes race. Vencer had been trained by Rafael Becerra.

* Tyler Baze has been suspended for seven days, beginning Thursday, because of the disqualification of his horse We All Love Aleyna in Wednesday's sixth race.