06/14/2006 11:00PM

Spellbinder threatens to end Mandella O-fer

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INGLEWOOD, Calif. - A sense of humor is helping trainer Richard Mandella as he struggles through an 0-for-17 slump at Hollywood Park this spring.

"I'm walking around silly from losing," he said on Thursday.

The stable has had five second-place finishes at the meeting, including in the Grade 2 Mervyn LeRoy Handicap on May 13. It could be Spellbinder that ends the drought when he starts in Saturday's $250,000 Californian Stakes. The Grade 2 Californian is a prep to the $750,000 Hollywood Gold Cup on July 8.

Spellbinder won the Grade 2 San Antonio Handicap at Santa Anita in February, but has lost his last two starts - a seventh in the Santa Anita Handicap in March and the runner-up finish in the Mervyn LeRoy.

He tends to race near the front, which should give jockey Martin Pedroza plenty of options in the Californian, which is run at 1 1/8 miles.

"He doesn't need the lead, but he likes to run up close," Mandella said. "I don't think he's trained any better. He looks good and trains good."

Spellbinder is likely to have a pace to follow in the Californian. He could stalk Yes He's a Pistol, who won the Santana Mile Handicap at Santa Anita in March, and Ice Cole, who won an allowance race here in his last start.

The real threat to Spellbinder will be the horses from off the pace.

Super Frolic, the winner of the Hawthorne Gold Cup last October, is a closer. Trained by Vladimir Cerin, Super Frolic is winless in his last three starts, all Grade 1 or Group 1 races. He is making his first start since finishing ninth in the Dubai World Cup in March.

Dixie Meister, who is best as a stalker, was third in the Mervyn LeRoy. Trained by Julio Canani, Dixie Meister was second to Yes He's a Pistol in the Santana Mile.

Melanyhasthepapers and Preachinatthebar have won stakes this spring. Melanyhasthepapers won the restricted Cougar II Stakes by three lengths here in April, his first stakes win since last September.

Preachinatthebar won two stakes in April - the Grade 3 Tokyo City Handicap at 1 1/8 miles at Santa Anita and the Grade 3 Texas Mile. He was eighth after a poor start in the Grade 3 Lone Star Park Handicap on May 29, a result that trainer Bob Baffert quickly dismisses.

"When he doesn't break and he gets behind, he's not effective," Baffert said. "It was very muddy and he didn't show."