01/02/2004 12:00AM

Super G I: Father's daughter


ARCADIA, Calif. - The death of John Franks on New Year's Eve rekindled memories of many fine runners, from champion and Breeders' Cup winner Answer Lively to the grand mare Heatherten.

His horses ranged far and wide, always in the care of quality trainers and pitched at the proper level, which is why Franks led all North American owners in races won through six seasons during the stable's heyday in the 1980's.

For Franks, an oilman by trade, the racing business was about more than sheer quantity. He sought quality as well, which is why he led the earnings list five times over a span of 12 years. In fact, Franks was one of only six owners in the 20th century to top both the winners table and the money list in the same year. The others make for good reading: H. Guy Bedwell, C.V. Whitney, Calumet Farm, Marion Van Berg, and Dan Lasater.

Except for a small contingent in the Jack Van Berg barn, the Franks runners did not maintain a regular presence on the West Coast. Beyond Perfection's victory in the 1990 Del Mar Debutante for Van Berg was Franks's most prestigious California trophy.

It was the race he nearly won, however, that gave Franks a permanent place in West Coast racing history. The Santa Anita Handicap of 1986 has become one of those indelible moments for any serious racing fan - a gut-twisting thriller between two thoroughly committed animals that was in doubt right to last few strides - because no one forgets where they were or how they felt the day Herat almost upset Greinton in California's greatest race at odds of 157-1.

"Absolutely I remember it," said Gary Mandella, who was just a lad of 14 at the time and still a few years away from following in the footsteps of his father, Hall of Fame trainer Richard Mandella.

"Howell Wynne was a good friend, and he owned part of Greinton, but I don't think he was having a real good time when it looked like Jack [Van Berg] might win it with this huge longshot," Gary recalled. "All we could think was, 'Oh my God! This horse is going to beat Greinton!' "

More than 70,000 fans jammed the Santa Anita grandstand that cloudy March day, and it seemed as if every one of them was in screaming cadence as the two horses headed down the stretch. Getting 10 pounds from Greinton and a cagey, front-running ride from Rafael Meza, little Herat held a daylight lead to the sixteenth pole. Greinton needed every ounce of his considerable class, coupled with Laffit Pincay's determination, to catch Herat and win by just three-quarters of a length.

Gary Mandella, training on his own now for a year, is hoping a whole lot of Herat has rubbed off on the 3-year-old filly Super G I, who runs at Santa Anita on Sunday in the Santa Ysabel Stakes at 1 1/16 miles. Stakes winner Salty Romance heads a field that does not include division leaders Halfbridled and Hollywood Story.

Super G I (as in "government issue") was bred by John Franks from a mating of his Danzig stallion Lost Soldier and the Herat mare Super Glued. While he was known for his large racing operation, Franks was not shy about sending good horses to market as well. Major stakes winners Sharp Cat, Royal Anthem, and Lady Tak were all bred by Franks.

Super G I has a long way to go to join those ranks, but she is off to the right kind of start. She won her only race on Nov. 15 at Calder for trainer Joe Cantanese and a partnership that included California private clocker and handicapper Toby Turrell. Subsequent to that start, West Coast-based syndicate manager Bob Feld secured a share of the filly for his Bongo Stable owners and sent her to Mandella. So far, her new trainer likes what he sees.

"I know she broke her maiden sprinting," Mandella said, "but within a couple days of having her I felt pretty strongly that this filly's future was going to be going long.

"I'm not that familiar with Lost Soldier, but I am familiar with Herat, and there's a lot of him in her," Mandella added. "She a little bit small, but she moves big and acts like she wants to run all day, which was Herat's deal. On top of that, she's pretty cute, a real nice package, and pretty lovable to look at."

As far as stepping right into a two-turn graded race off a maiden sprint, Mandella doesn't see the Santa Ysabel as much of a jump.

"I know it looks a little aggressive," Mandella conceded, "but I'm not sure this race is much tougher than a one-other-than. Anyway, it's probably the one stake you get to run in all winter long at Santa Anita without Halfbridled to deal with."