11/26/2008 12:00AM

Softer spot for Mambo in Seattle


The horse that almost won the 2007 Travers Stakes for trainer Neil Howard is due to arrive this week to winter at Fair Grounds. The horse that almost won the 2008 Travers Stakes for trainer Neil Howard already is at Fair Grounds, worked six furlongs Monday, and was one of nine entered in the Tenacious Handicap, the Saturday feature.

That would be Mambo in Seattle, who figures as an odds-on favorite in the $60,000 Tenacious despite two disappointing runs since his microscopic defeat at the hands of Colonel John in the Aug. 23 Travers.

The 2007 Travers near-misser, Grasshopper, was shipping from Churchill Downs and won't be ready to race until late winter or early spring, Howard said. Grasshopper won the Mineshaft Handicap and just missed in the New Orleans Handicap last year.

Mambo in Seattle could be bound for the Mineshaft-New Orleans Handicap double, too, but first there is the matter of getting the colt back on track. Mambo in Seattle won three straight before coming out on the wrong end of the Travers photo, but post-Travers, he finished a distant fourth to Curlin in the Jockey Club Gold Cup and a flat seventh of 11 on Oct. 25 as the 6-5 favorite in the Fayette at Keeneland.

Excuses could easily be made for both losses. The track at Belmont was a sloppy mess, and Mambo in Seattle did not seem to run his race. And while not totally hapless on all-weather surfaces, Mambo in Seattle appeared to struggle in the Fayette. Jockey Corey Lanerie, aboard at Keeneland, "was very adamant that [Mambo in Seattle] didn't seem to handle the Polytrack like we would've hoped," Howard said.

All things considered, Mambo in Seattle's connections decided that the $60,000 Tenacious made more sense for their horse than the more prestigious but significantly stronger Clark Handicap this week at Churchill Downs.

"While this race is tough in itself like any race is," Howard said, "getting away from that other kind of situation seemed a little bit better right now."

Win or lose, Howard said Mambo in Seattle will get "a busman's holiday" after the Tenacious. The Mineshaft doesn't come up until Feb. 7.

Jones stable smaller, but still strong

Making good on his promise to trim his stable, trainer Larry Jones has settled in for his second winter at Fair Grounds. Thirty-six of his 38 allotted stalls are filled, with Old Fashioned and Kodiak Kowboy to ship in after they start in Aqueduct stakes this weekend.

Jones also will have a division at Oaklawn for the winter.

When he announced over the summer that he would begin downsizing his expanding stable, Jones had 114 horses in training.

"We've basically halved it since then," Jones said Wednesday from Fair Grounds. "The beauty part is, there are no new additions. What we have now is what we'll have."

Jones still gets on his own horses in the morning and is very much a hands-on kind of trainer. Running a sprawling, spread-out stable never seemed like his cup of tea.

"At most, I was getting four hours sleep at night," Jones said, "and I was sitting at the desk a whole lot more than I like to sit. Plus, we added horses so fast, we didn't have quality help. We were picking up anyone who had a pulse."

Jones should figure prominently in Fair Grounds stakes racing all meet. He has Stones River for Saturday's Tenacious, but that is his third-best older horse. Solar Flare, who flopped in mud last time out, has ability, and Honest Man is a candidate for the New Orleans Handicap.

Jones's top 2-year-old fillies are Just Jenda and Magical Carpet Ride, and the 2-year-old colts Friesan Fire and It Happened Again both are stakes-caliber horses. And that doesn't even account for Old Fashioned, who would rank as the top New Orleans-based 2-year-old were he to win the Remsen this weekend.

So, even with fewer horses, it will not be easy to keep up with the Jones barn.