DEL MAR — Gentlemen defeated his stablemate Siphon by four lengths in June in the Hollywood Gold Cup, but their intra-barn rivalry figures to be closer Saturday in the $1-million Pacific Classic. Many horsemen here even think Siphon will win.
Trainer Richard Mandella, who trains the South American imports for different owners, believes Siphon has a better chance Saturday than he did at Hollywood Park, saying he was rusty after a three-month layoff.
"He's fitter for this race," Mandella said. "It should be a closer battle this time."
Siphon and Gentlemen met once before the Gold Cup, Siphon winning this year's Santa Anita Handicap while Gentlemen finished third, three lengths behind. In last year's Pacific Classic, Siphon softened up Cigar with some quick early fractions, then another Mandella trainee, Dare And Go, won the race, ending Cigar's winning streak at 16 races.
After the Big 'Cap in March, Gentlemen stayed home while Siphon made the long trip to Dubai, where he finished second to Singspiel in the $4-million World Cup. Siphon was sore after that race and missed the Californian, a prep race for the Hollywood Gold Cup.
Siphon, winner of the Hollywood Gold Cup in 1996, has won 12 of 23 races. And he has won most of his $2.7 million in earnings since he left South America and was sent to Mandella in 1995.
David Flores, whose record with Siphon in the last seven races is four victories, two seconds and a third, was injured in a spill at Del Mar a week ago and will be replaced Saturday by Chris McCarron.
"I've never ridden Siphon, but I'm looking forward to it," McCarron said. "He has the speed to go to the front. I just hope that if he does that, he won't have to run too fast on the lead."
Of the six starters, Crafty Friend, River Keen and Percutant also have the speed to race on or close to the pace. The other horse in the field is Lord Jain, 30-1 on the morning line.
McCarron is winless in four tries in Del Mar's richest race. He finished second with Best Pal in 1994, the year Tinners Way won his first of two Pacific Classics.
Brereton Jones, former governor of Kentucky, is at Del Mar with a special interest in Siphon. Jones' Airdrie Farm, near Lexington, Ky., will manage the breeding rights for the 6-year-old Brazilian-bred after he's retired.
"There's not a better sire prospect around," Jones said. "They breed some good horses in South America, and I don't think their stallions are a negative anymore. Siphon is capable of passing on a soundness that's lacking in a lot of the American pedigrees."
Gentlemen and Siphon will be battling for more than the $600,000 winner's share of Saturday's purse. They are the leaders among the horses eligible for $500,000 in participation bonuses for the MGM Grand Classic series. Based on high finishes in the Big 'Cap and the Hollywood Gold Cup, Siphon has 17 points and Gentlemen 15. The points leader after Saturday earns $250,000 and the next horse in the standings earns $125,000.
Horse Racing Notes
Jockey Corey Nakatani will not appeal his suspension, which starts Monday and runs through Sept. 10, the last day of the Del Mar meet. "There was a mitigating circumstance that we considered," said Nakatani's attorney, Darrell Vienna, also a trainer. "In the last three months, he's had 80% of his thyroid removed. That can cause an imbalance to your endocrine system, which could affect behavior. But we've decided to accept the penalty and move on." Nakatani, who pushed apprentice Ryan Barber off his horse after a race Sunday, will not be able to ride at other tracks during the suspension.
In another stake at Del Mar on Saturday, Track Gal will try to win the Rancho Bernardo Handicap for the third consecutive year. The only other back-to-back winner of the stake has been Mama Kali, in 1975-76. With 120 pounds, two fewer than she carried last year, Track Gal is the high weight for the $100,000 race.
Hot Wire, the well-regarded 2-year-old who won for trainer Bob Baffert on opening day, has a minor shin problem and won't run again until Santa Anita's winter meet. . . . Baffert's Anet, second in the Haskell Handicap, may move to turf for the Del Mar Derby on Sept. 1. . . . Baffert, who's running Lord Jain in the Pacific Classic, has never met a post-position draw he didn't like, but he didn't attend Wednesday's. It was because Del Mar neglected to invite him.
Richard Mandella's Wild Rush, third in Hollywood Park's Swaps Stakes, runs Sunday in the Remington Park Derby in Oklahoma City. Gary Stevens, who rides Gentlemen, has the assignment. Stevens has also picked up the mount on Marlin in the Arlington Million in suburban Chicago on Aug. 24.
Chris McCarron rode three winners at Del Mar Thursday.