10/24/2003 12:00AM

Turf: Mandella may add to career highlights


ARCADIA, Calif. - Trainer Richard Mandella does not have to look far for reminders of the last Breeders' Cup at Santa Anita.

At home in Pasadena, trophies commemorating his two wins that day sit prominently on the fireplace mantel. At his office at Santa Anita, a framed collage hangs on the wall near his desk, a reminder of Phone Chatter's performance in the Juvenile Fillies and Kotashaan's in the Turf.

Although the afternoon of Nov. 6, 1993, remains a defining moment of a Hall of Fame career, Mandella, 52, could surpass it on Saturday when he starts eight horses at Santa Anita, seven in Breeders' Cup races.

To have so many runners on the program has caught Mandella by surprise, even though it was obvious by late summer that he might have a busy Breeders' Cup Day. In the past few years, he has cut his stable in half to 40 horses, partly because of the increasing costs to operate in California and partly to help launch the public stable of his son, Gary.

Saturday, 20 percent of Richard Mandella's stable will be on display at Santa Anita.

"I can't believe what's happened," he said on a recent morning. "Usually you need a lot more horses to get these."

The roster is led by Halfbridled, a heavy favorite for the Juvenile Fillies. His other starters are Action This Day, Minister Eric, and Siphonizer in the Juvenile; Johar and The Tin Man in the Turf; Pleasantly Perfect in the Classic; and Redattore in the Seabiscuit Handicap. Dessert was not entered for the Filly and Mare Turf after she suffered stomach cramps earlier in the week.

Nearly all of the stable's exercise riders and assistant trainers, led by Becky Witzman, will be on hand Saturday, helping to shuttle the horses to and from the paddock and racetrack.

The whirlwind of activity is a change from the 2002 Breeders' Cup, when Mandella took two horses to Arlington Park. The Tin Man ran fourth in the Turf; Listen Indy finished seventh in the Juvenile.

This year, Mandella's stable blossomed at Del Mar, with the rapid maturity of the 2-year-olds, the return of Johar and Pleasantly Perfect from early season injuries, and the development of Dessert, a nervous filly who won her stakes debut in the Del Mar Oaks.

For someone who has specialized in developing older horses, the presence of four 2-year-olds in the Breeders' Cup is the source of joke material for Mandella. "Usually, I don't figure them out until they are 6," he said.

Johar and The Tin Man will complement each other in the Turf. The Tin Man will run near the front, tracking Balto Star and Toccet. Owned by Ralph and Aury Todd, The Tin Man won the Grade 2 San Luis Obispo Handicap over 1 1/2 miles on turf by nine lengths here last February against a modest field.

Johar is considered more of a danger from midpack. Owned by The Thoroughbred Corp., Johar won three consecutive stakes last fall and winter, a span that ended with a late rally to catch The Tin Man in the San Marcos Stakes over 1 1/4 miles in January.

Shortly after that race, Johar was found to have a shoulder injury, which forced him to the sidelines. He has run twice since returning, including a game second to Storming Home in the Grade 1 Clement Hirsch Turf Championship on Sept. 28.

"I've said all along, I think he's first-class," Mandella said of Johar.

In 1993, Kotashaan was a strong favorite in the Turf, and Phone Chatter was the second choice in the Juvenile Fillies. Kotashaan's win helped propel him to the Horse of the Year title.

The magnitude of his success in that Breeders' Cup took time to sink in, Mandella said.

"That was a great day," he said. "I wish I would have had that foresight to know that would happen. I was in too much shock to realize what had happened. By the time I came out of my shock and realized it, everyone had gone home."

Gary Mandella, who trains 20 horses at Hollywood Park, says his father has kept a low-key attitude in advance of Saturday.

"I think he has a lot of confidence in the horses he's running," said Gary, 31. "I don't think it's dawned on him yet what it could all mean if things really went well.

"The last time around, when we did this 10 years ago, most people thought Kotashaan was invincible. There was a lot of relief in getting the job done.

"I think he was a little worried about that," Gary Mandella said. "Maybe a couple of days after the fact, he realized what it meant, who saw it, and what it could mean to his career."

A decade later, Richard Mandella's place in Breeders' Cup history is secure, but the list of milestones may soon need to be updated.