07/17/2006 11:00PM

Refreshed, Whittingham is back

She's an Eleven, taking the Melair Stakes with Garrett Gomez up, is expected to run in Sunday's Fleet Treat.

DEL MAR, Calif. - A clean break. That's what Mike Whittingham now says he needed. He got one over the past year. Whittingham, who trained such top horses as Breeders' Cup Classic winner Skywalker and the outstanding mare Ack's Secret, but always was in the shadow of his father, Charlie, walked away from training more than a year ago and went to work for a commercial plumbing company.

On Tuesday at Del Mar, though, he was back in a more familiar spot - on the backside of a racetrack, training the five horses he has here, including the mare Defined Borders, who runs in Thursday's seventh race.

"I just felt like I was in a downward spiral, and once you're going that way, it seems like it's hard to get back," he said. "I thought I just had to stop and start over. Hopefully I'll train some ones like I had before."

Whittingham got back into the game through the patronage of long-time owner Jack Mandato, who owns the popular Charlie G.'s steakhouse in Tarzana, Calif.

"I'm just getting started through the kindness of Mr. Mandato," Whittingham said. "Not only is he a client, but he's a good friend. He talked me into coming back, and I'm thrilled to be here."

Whittingham, 60, said the past year offered him a chance to have a day or two off every week, instead of the daily grind of the track, and he took his motorcycle up and down the state visiting friends.

"Believe me, working for a commercial plumber is hard work," he said. "It's hard labor if you're young. I'm 60. I think I'm fit and a kid. It was hard work, but rewarding.

"I also got some days off, which was new. After awhile, I'd get to where I was complaining if I had to come in and work on a Saturday. I had a lot of time to see people, and I traveled with my bike all over California."

Garcia looking to keep improving

Apprentice jockey Martin Garcia battled Russell Baze for supremacy in northern California earlier this year and he kept up a similar pace at Hollywood Park, where he finished third to Victor Espinoza and Patrick Valenzuela. He will be riding at Del Mar for the first time this summer.

"I'm completely happy with how everything has gone," Garcia said. "It's been a lot better than I thought. It's hard to come to a new place where nobody has used you and everybody else is established. I've been meeting new people, and people are putting me on good horses. Good thing for me is I have the best agent, who works so hard for me."

Garcia is represented by former jockey Roger Olguin, who last rode at Del Mar nearly 40 years ago.

"It's a lot different," Olguin said, looking from the backside over to the six-story grandstand, which replaced the small, original grandstand in 1992.

Spellbinder switching to Nakatani

Spellbinder, who has lost three straight races since capturing the San Antonio Handicap at Santa Anita in February, will be reunited with jockey Corey Nakatani for the Grade 2, $300,000 San Diego Handicap at 1 1/16 miles on Saturday. Nakatani won a pair of races on Spellbinder last year. Martin Pedroza rode Spellbinder in his last six starts, which included the San Antonio victory.

"He's training great," said trainer Richard Mandella on Tuesday morning after Spellbinder worked in preparation for the San Diego. "I expect him to run well."

Spellbinder's breeze did not make the work tab.

The San Diego is expected to have a large field that might include Giacomo, the 2005 Kentucky Derby winner, who has not raced since finishing fifth in the Santa Anita Handicap on March 4. Also expected for the San Diego are Dixie Meister, Papi Chullo, Preachinatthebar, Publication, Rathor, Southern Africa, Texcess, and Yes He's a Pistol.

"It's not an easy field," Mandella said. "Funny how that works."

Gomez at Del Mar on Saturday

Jockey Garrett Gomez, who relocated from California to New York this spring, will make a Del Mar appearance on Saturday to ride Rathor in the San Diego and Amorama in the Grade 1, $400,000 John C. Mabee Handicap for female turf runners. Both Rathor and Amorama are shipping in from New York for trainer Bobby Frankel.

Rathor won three straight races before finishing sixth of seven last time out in the Suburban Handicap at Belmont Park.

Amorama won last year's Mabee while trained by Julio Canani. She has lost six straight since the Mabee.

In addition to Amorama, the Mabee field is expected to be Dancing Edie, Katdogawn, Live Life, Memorette, Moscow Burning, and Revealed. Hallowed Dream is possible.

Another dance for Making Haste

Trainer Mel Stute is a racetrack's dream. He bets his money, and he runs his horses - a lot. His 2-year-old filly Making Haste already has raced eight times since her debut in March, and she'll likely be in action again on Friday in the $125,000 California Thoroughbred Breeders' Association Stakes, Stute said Tuesday morning.

"There's a very good chance she'll run if it's a small field," Stute said.

Considering there were only 10 fillies nominated to the race, Stute should get his wish.

Making Haste has yet to win, but she has finished in the money four times. She was bred and is owned by Stute's wife, Annabelle.

"She's tough. She keeps threatening to give horses to Gary," Stute said of their son, who also trains. "She's got three with him now."

In addition to Making Haste, others expected for the 5 1/2-furlong CTBA are Ces't Mark, Prenuptial, Sharoana, Smart N'Quiet, Swiss Rose, Won More Penny, and possibly A.V. Flynn.

She's an Eleven sizzles

She's an Eleven, who is scheduled to run in the $100,000 Fleet Treat Stakes for California-bred 3-year-old fillies at seven furlongs on Sunday, zipped five furlongs in 57.80 seconds at Del Mar on Tuesday in her final prep for the Fleet Treat.

She's an Eleven is returning to face statebreds after a pair of disappointing races against open company.

Her expected rivals include Cascade Rain, Devons Smokin, Getback Time, Harbor's Halo, Kalookan Lessie, Quarterly Report, River's Prayer, Silly Little Mama, and Star Quality.

Sunday's major race is the Grade 1, $400,000 Eddie Read Handicap for older turf horses. The field is expected to include Aragorn, Fast and Furious, Fourty Niners Son, Hendrix, Quasimodo, Silent Name, and Sweet Return.