Updated on 09/17/2011 10:00AM

Price should be right on improving Olmodavor


PHOENIX - There are a lot worse places than New Orleans to be this time of year. And festivities aside, when Fair Grounds is dangling $500,000 in front of you and you have a nice horse, well, bring on the beads.

That's exactly what Dick Mandella is doing. He is bringing Olmodavor, a promising son of A.P. Indy, from his Southern California base for a crack at big money and Grade 2 status in Sunday's New Orleans Handicap at Fair Grounds. The 1 1/8-mile race won't be easy. Tough veterans such as Best of the Rest, Balto Star, Booklet, Bonapaw, Valhol, Mineshaft, Sunday Break, and Tracemark are after their share of the pot, too. But it's primarily because of that depth that Olmodavor is appealing. Some of those horses are sure to take more money at the windows than Olmodavor, making him an extremely attractive proposition.

Olmodavor, a lightly raced 4-year-old, has raced only once in a stakes race, finishing second in the Strub, a half-length ahead of Tracemark, but seven lengths behind Medaglia d'Oro.

"In the Strub he came from well back," said Mandella. "He didn't give Medaglia d'Oro any kind of a run, but he closed well up the rail. He doesn't have that much experience, but I'm thinking that he should be going in the right direction off that."

Olmodavor has run just six times. He won a maiden race impressively last April, then was a strong second in his first try vs. winners. A turf route didn't go so well for him at Hollywood last June, so Mandella freshened him up and that appears to have paid off. Olmodavor came back in a 1 1/16-mile, first-level allowance race at Santa Anita on Oct. 20 and romped by four. He cut back to seven furlongs to take on high-powered optional claimers at Hollywood on Dec. 13 and romped again, this time by three.

He was originally targeted for the Grade 1 Malibu at seven furlongs at Santa Anita on Dec. 26, but Mandella opted to give him more time. Olmodavor resurfaced in the Strub, and while he was no match for Medaglia d'Oro, the message was clear - here was a horse with a future.

While he came from way back in the Strub his sprint wins show he has tactical speed. That should serve him well in the New Orleans Handicap, as will his proven ability to finish. That's because there is a lot of speed signed up here. Booklet, Balto Star, and Bonapaw all figure to go, because that's what they do. That should leave Best of the Rest and Valhol in the second flight, likely with Olmodavor close by. Sunday Break and Tracemark figure to come from a bit farther back. Considering the pace should be hot and contested, that may leave this race ripe for a closer. Olmodavor may be ready for a breakthrough, and fits the bill, and, at 8-1 or so, can have you throwing beads all night.

A sleeper from Godolphin

In the quest to find a Derby horse I have often looked east, way east, to Dubai. Godolphin Racing has had some high-profile runners, and while there has been promise, there has been no Derby winner yet. Godolphin's best prospect was Street Cry, but he was injured on the eve of the Derby and was unable to run.

This year, little attention has been paid to the Godolphin cast, primarily because they made so little impact in the United States last season as 2-year-olds.

But maybe now Godolphin can pounce unexpectedly. It's easy to dismiss Godolphin after being burned by the hype and promise of such high-profile runners as Street Cry, Essence of Dubai, and China Visit. But that may well be a big mistake.

The UAE 2000 Guineas a few weeks back was supposed to highlight the Godolphin 3-year-olds. Oops. South African-bred Victory Moon rallied from well back to defeat Western Diplomat, a Godolphin runner, by a half-length, getting the mile in 1:37.04. Godolphin's leading hope, Bourbonnais, was another 1 1/4 lengths back in third, while Endemaj, a maiden winner at Bay Meadows last September, was fourth. Dublin, a Group 3 winner at Goodwood last summer, was seventh, with Sharp Impact and Dubai Lightning eighth and ninth, respectively. In other words, there didn't appear to be any Derby horses here.

A Godolphin horse a bit earlier on the card did grab my attention, however. In a one-mile maiden race, Al Saqaar, a half-brother to China Visit, the 2000 UAE Derby winner, crushed 15 opponents in 1:36.60, .44 seconds faster than Victory Moon ran in the Guineas. China Visit was good enough to finish a strong-closing sixth to Fusaichi Pegasus in the 2000 Kentucky Derby.

Al Saqaar is by Quiet American, sire of 1998 Derby winner Real Quiet. Al Saqaar is expected to come back in the UAE Derby later this month and if he makes like China Visit, he could possibly head for Kentucky. In this year with so many big 3-year-olds out or ailing, he would merit a long, long look.