02/03/2006 1:00AM

Willing to give Turnbolt second shot at route


PHOENIX - With a pedigree that shouts route - he's by Deputy Minister out of a Seeking the Gold mare - Turnbolt's first route assignment in Santa Anita's Grade 2 San Pasqual Handicap on Jan. 7 was highly anticipated. The jury remains out, however, on whether he can handle the distance. Turnbolt ran decently in the 1 1/16-mile San Pasqual, finishing fourth by 1 1/4 lengths, but the result wasn't exactly what his connections were hoping for.

"He didn't run bad the first time, but, honestly, I was a little disappointed," said his trainer, Richard Mandella. "I thought he'd run really good, but he didn't run bad. We're hoping it was maybe confusion and he'll figure it out better this time."

"This time" is Sunday's Grade 2 San Antonio Handicap, a 1 1/8-mile event that will give Mandella and the rest of us a better notion of where Turnbolt stands. Can he be a force going longer, or will it be time to move back to one turn?

Turnbolt first burst on the scene last spring and summer with a series of strong sprints at Del Mar and Hollywood, including two allowance wins. He closed the year by finishing second, beaten three lengths by Bordonaro, in the Grade 3 Vernon Underwood at six furlongs at Hollywood on Dec. 3. That run looks even better now, since Bordonaro came right back to easily win the Sunshine Millions Sprint last week and has established himself as one of the nation's top sprinters. Finishing third in the Underwood was Captain Squire, who is a multiple graded stakes winner.

After the Underwood, Turnbolt made his 2006 debut in the San Pasqual. He seemed to get the right trip. He sat fourth early, moved up to threaten in third into the lane, but couldn't sustain his run, finishing more than a length behind winner High Limit. Was that a sign Turnbolt couldn't get the trip, or was it merely a case of inexperience? Mandella is surely hoping it was the latter.

Turnbolt may be a comer, but he's got his work cut out for him in the San Antonio. He faces Buckland Manor and Spellbinder, both of whom finished ahead of him in the San Pasqual.

His pedigree, talent, and human connections, however, give Turnbolt every chance to thrive in this type of situation, possibly allowing him to jump up and pull the upset.

Two for the ages

There are those horses who are forever tied together - Affirmed and Alydar, Sunday Silence and Easy Goer, Dr. Fager and Damascus, Swaps and Nashua. It may not be on quite so grand a scale, but in my mind Phone Trick and Groovy fall into that category. They faced each other only once, with Groovy easily winning the Grade 2 Tom Fool in 1986. It was Phone Trick's only loss and came while giving Groovy 14 pounds. The race also resulted in a career-ending injury for Phone Trick.

Phone Trick died last fall at 23, and just a few weeks ago Groovy was euthanized, also at 23.

Rarely have two top sprinters come onto the scene so close together. On their day, each was unbeatable. Phone Trick won 9 of 10, and while many back East first considered him a Southern California specialist, they immediately embraced him when he romped in the Grade 2 Bold Ruler, beating the East's best. Groovy was always a favorite of the Eastern contingent, and who could blame them? He was capable of big efforts, setting track records at Belmont and Finger Lakes for six furlongs in consecutive starts.

They also had their differences. Phone Trick was with Mandella throughout and did nothing but sprint. Groovy went through several trainers and tried longer distances early in his career, setting the pace in the 1987 Kentucky Derby before faltering to finish last of 16 behind Ferdinand and finishing sixth behind Snow Chief in the Preakness two weeks later.

Groovy was a sledgehammer; he would destroy the opposition with amazing early splits. Phone Trick was a vice, maintaining a high cruising speed that eventually crushed his foes.

The game has been blessed with some marvelous sprinters the past few decades: Kona Gold, Cherokee Run, Chinook Pass, Housebuster, Very Subtle, Safely Kept, Meafara, Gulch, Orientate, and Speightstown. But I can't think of one I would take against those other two, who now are linked in death as they were in life.