Updated on 09/17/2011 11:25PM

Rock Hard Ten latest hot ticket for Mandella

Rock Hard Ten has not raced since winning the Santa Anita Handicap in March, but his trainer, Richard Mandella, has put him through a series of strong recent workouts.

ARCADIA, Calif. - It has become a fall tradition. Oak Tree opens at Santa Anita, temperatures soar into the high 90's, fires break out in the hills surrounding Los Angeles, and trainer Richard Mandella gets hot, hot, hot.

It happened in 1993, when Mandella won four races on the Breeders' Cup card, including a pair of Breeders' Cup races. It happened a decade later, when Mandella won a record four Breeders' Cup races, including the Classic with Pleasantly Perfect. And this year, Mandella has set his sights again on the Classic, this time with Rock Hard Ten, who has a key prep on Saturday in the Grade 2, $500,000 at Santa Anita.

Rock Hard Ten has not raced since capturing the Santa Anita Handicap in March, but a strong series of workouts over the past two months scared away all but five rivals in the 1 1/8-mile race. The Goodwood will be run under warm, desert-like conditions, similar to what Pleasantly Perfect encountered in the 2003 Classic. It was nearly 100 degrees at Santa Anita on Thursday, and while it was spectacularly clear at the track, fires 30 miles west threatened homes on the border of Los Angeles and Ventura counties.

The Goodwood is Oak Tree's major prep for the $4 million Breeders' Cup Classic, which will be run this year at Belmont Park on Oct. 29. Saturday's race, the fifth on a 10-race card, will be televised nationally by ESPN in a two-hour telecast beginning at 4 p.m. Eastern. The telecast will coincide with an NTRA National Pick 4 wager that includes the Goodwood, the Super Derby from Louisiana Downs, and the Jockey Club Gold Cup and Joe Hirsch Turf Classic from Belmont Park.

Oak Tree's stakes schedule is front-loaded with preps for the Breeders' Cup. On Saturday, the Goodwood anchors a card that also includes the Grade 1, $500,000 Yellow Ribbon Stakes for female turf runners heading to the Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf, and the Grade 2, $200,000 Oak Leaf Stakes for 2-year-old fillies eyeing the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies.

Megahertz, the tiny mare who has won 8 of 12 starts at Santa Anita and comes off a second-place finish in the Beverly D. at Arlington, will be favored in the Yellow Ribbon. The unbeaten Wild Fit, who captured the Del Mar Debutante, will be an overwhelming favorite in the Oak Leaf.

Rock Hard Ten has won all three of his starts since being transferred to Mandella. Because he is coming off a layoff, he may be fresh and lay closer than usual. The pace of the race should be moderate, with Gotaghostofachance and Preachinatthebar the most likely to take up the early running.

"I'm a little worried about the pace," Mandella said. "It could end up a paceless race. But I'm just happy to have him back."

Preachinatthebar is one of two Goodwood horses trained by Bob Baffert. At midweek, he elected to keep Roman Ruler here, rather than go to the 1 1/4-mile Jockey Club Gold Cup. The Goodwood is at 1 1/8 miles, which might be more suitable to Roman Ruler.

"I didn't want to cook him by sending him back there," Baffert said Thursday morning. "I would have had to bring him back here after the race, and it's a tough race. This way, he can run here, and then we can see how things shake out."

Choctaw Nation was fourth, beaten by just three-quarters of a length, in the 1 1/4-mile Pacific Classic last time out. His late run has always seemed more effective at middle distances. He is not nominated to the Breeders' Cup, and thus would have to be supplemented to the Classic for $360,000. Trainer Jeff Mullins has said Choctaw Nation's main goal over the next few months is a return to the Dubai World Cup, in which he finished third earlier this year.

"There's a little shot he'd go to the Breeders' Cup," Mullins said. "It depends on how he runs this time. He's trained good. I thought he ran a good race in the Pacific Classic. Borrego slipped through, we had to go wide, and he just got beat."

Gotaghostofachance turned in a super effort when second to Imperialism in the Pat O'Brien at Del Mar, his first start in 11 months. He could prove the one to catch.

Total Impact returned from a seven-month layoff to capture the Windy Sands Handicap at Del Mar. He was second in last year's Goodwood, one of six second-place finishes he has had in 10 starts at this track.

The field

Goodwood Breeders' Cup Handicap
Purse: $500,000; 1 1/8 miles; Grade 2

1 Roman Ruler D. Flores 114 2-1
2 Rock Hard Ten G. Stevens 121 1-1
3 Preachinatthebar J. Santiago 114 12-1
4 Total Impact R. Douglas 117 10-1
5 Gotaghostofachance J. Court 113 20-1
6 Choctaw Nation A. Solis 116 9-2

* Odds by Michael Hammersly
* Television: Saturday, 4-6 p.m. (Eastern), ESPN