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OAK TREE AT SANTA ANITA : Sandpit Gives Brazil Something to Samba About


Brazil produces coffee and soccer players and inspires movie makers and composers, but it never has produced a racehorse who has done much in the United States.

Brazil's long wait for a substantial thoroughbred might be over. After Sandpit's 1 1/4-length victory Sunday in the $300,000 Oak Tree Invitational at Santa Anita, Jose Luiz Pinto Moreira, the director of the Brazilian breeders association, said: "This horse may be the best one we've ever sent to this country."

The 5-year-old white-faced chestnut beat four others in the 1 1/2-mile race in a way that makes trainer Richard Mandella regret that he wasn't nominated for the $2-million Breeders' Cup Turf at Churchill Downs on Nov. 5. It would cost Sandpit's owner-breeder, construction engineer Sergio Menezes, a supplementary fee of $400,000 to make the horse eligible.

After the Oak Tree, Menezes left the Breeders' Cup door slightly ajar, but instead of that race Mandella seemed resigned to getting an invitation to run in the Japan Cup in Tokyo on Nov. 27. The purse is $3.5 million and the entry fee is only $2,700.

Sandpit, ridden by Corey Nakatani, won in 2:25 and earned $180,000, which was about $68,000 more than his purse total for 14 previous races. He won four of 12 starts in Brazil before Mandella started him at Del Mar this summer, for a second-place finish in his debut and a five-length victory in a minor stake on Sept. 10.

Mandella trained Kotashaan, winner of last year's Oak Tree and the 1993 horse of the year and grass champion in North America, and reports of his overall success with turf horses reached Menezes, who sent two horses to the Santa Anita-based trainer. Mandella and Menezes didn't meet until Sunday.

Sandpit arrived in California shortly after finishing fourth in the $317,000 Gran Premio Carlos Pellegrini, one of Brazil's premier races.

"I didn't know much about him," Mandella said, "and I knew that I hadn't seen that many horses from Brazil run well here. But his record showed that he had run well in the Pellegrini under a lot of weight (132 pounds). . . . We just took our time with him until he was ready to run."

Sandpit paid $4.80 as the favorite over the second choice and second-place finisher, Grand Flotilla, who might still have earned a trip to the Breeders' Cup. It was seven lengths after Grand Flotilla to Approach The Bench in third place.


Gary Stevens, who rode Grand Flotilla, guided Supremo to a neck victory over Desert Mirage in the $200,000 Norfolk Stakes later in the day. Supremo's stablemate, Strong Ally, was a nose out of third.

This was the 25th edition of the Norfolk and has been called the weakest, with no unrestricted stakes winners in the field. Supremo's time of 1:43 2/5 for 1 1/16 miles was three-fifths of a second slower than the time the filly Serena's Song posted Saturday in the Oak Leaf. But Richard Mulhall, who trains both Supremo and Strong Ally, made no apologies for suggesting that Supremo will run in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile on Nov. 5.

"The top horses back East are the same horses we've been running against," Mulhall said. "On Target beat us by only a half-length in the Del Mar Futurity. Timber Country beat us by a half-length (when Supremo was third) in the Balboa, and we finished ahead of Timber Country in the Del Mar Futurity. So there will be no big surprises for us in the Breeders' Cup."

Timber Country won Saturday's Champagne at Belmont Park, becoming the favorite for the Juvenile. On Target had a troubled trip while finishing third in the Champagne.

Supremo, running coupled with Strong Ally, paid $3.40 and earned $120,000.

"This is the first time I've had the chance to train Supremo when he wasn't sick," Mulhall said. "He was coughing before the Balboa (at Del Mar on Aug. 24), and we almost didn't run him, but the cough went away a few days before the race. Then he started coughing again, and I missed 10 days (of training) with him before the Del Mar Futurity (on Sept. 14)."

Horse Racing Notes

Pat Valenzuela, absent from riding the last three days, has been replaced by Chris Antley aboard Eliza for today's $100,000 Lady's Secret Handicap at Santa Anita. Valenzuela told the stewards at Belmont Park, where he was scheduled to ride Saturday, that he was suffering from food poisoning. He told Santa Anita's stewards that he couldn't ride Sunday because he missed his flight from New York. Valenzuela, who has a history of drug abuse, once rode under contract for Eliza's owner, Allen Paulson, who canceled the arrangement because of the jockey's repeated absences. Valenzuela has been aboard for all four of Eliza's stakes victories, including the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies in 1992. Valenzuela was not listed on any horses on Wednesday's card. . . . Hollywood Wildcat is the 4-5 morning-line favorite in today's five-horse Lady's Secret. She's won only one of four starts since winning last year's Breeders' Cup Distaff at Santa Anita.

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